From Fri Feb 11 11:50:08 2000
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 22:10:48 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Subject: Edward Herman: A New Interventionism?
Article: 88703
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

A New Interventionism? Evil Empire

By Edward S. Herman, In These Times, 21 February 2000

Whereas even Samuel Huntington, the conservative Harvard political scientist, has lashed out at the rogue superpower bullying and unilateralism of recent U.S. policy, and most leftists consider this country to be a major human rights violator, David Moberg sees the United States, despite its checkered record, as the agent to spread human rights (see A New Interventionism, February 7). He claims that human rights have become a principle in international affairs, presumably guiding policy (not as a cover for selective intervention), and he urges the left to take a more positive position to help the United States do more for global human rights.

Moberg says, The United States, as the most powerful nation, has a responsibility to create a more uniform and accountable system, not to abuse its power. This is on an intellectual par with saying, The lion, as king of the jungle, should be nicer to antelopes. Both statements suffer from the same failing: They make moral appeals that fly in the face of the nature of the actor, the forces that affect its behavior and the actual record. Moberg must be aware that the United States supported Suharto in Indonesia for 33 years, and that the basis for this—the favorable investment climate he provided to transnationals and his political alignment with the West—completely overwhelmed consideration of his human rights record. This priority system has been operative for many decades, and numerous studies have shown that U.S. aid has been inversely correlated with support of unions and a positive human rights performance, precisely because governments like Suharto's serve the primary U.S. values.

This hasn't changed for the better under the new interventionism. The new U.S. aggressiveness following the ending of any Soviet containment has been built on a distinctly business base, which is why the Clinton gang referred to Suharto in 1995 as our kind of guy. Moberg seems unaware that human rights violations in Chechnya, Mexico, Yugoslavia and elsewhere may be related to the chaos produced by U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism (including IMF and World Bank lending policies). The new U.S. interventionism complements and uses the new chaos to achieve ends that have nothing to do with human rights and commonly exacerbates violations.

Moberg offers no evidence that human rights is now a guiding principle in state policy. He may have been fooled by Clinton and Blair's allegedly humanitarian war in the Balkans. But the attack on Yugoslavia was not aimed to help human rights and indeed had a severe negative human rights impact (see Noam Chomsky's The New Military Humanism, excerpted in the September 19 issue of In These Times). And these are the same two leaders who have continued to supply arms to Turkey and who, when Indonesia decided to oppose the electoral route to freedom in East Timor by force, didn't lift a finger to prevent major human rights abuses by their client state.

Moberg also is extremely kind toward the U.S. use of sanctions. There has been a serious health toll in Cuba from sanctions, but Moberg focuses mainly on the fact that they were based on hostility to Castro, not human rights values. Writing in Foreign Affairs (May-June 1999), John and Karl Mueller contend that sanctions of mass destruction have caused the death of more people in Iraq than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction [nuclear, chemical, biological] throughout all history. Moberg, by contrast, says that while sanctions against Iraq and Serbia are losing whatever legitimacy they had, ordinary people suffer without much hope of long-term gain. With both countries, the United States and Britain have made entire populations hostages: using anti-civilian bombing in clear violation of international law in Serbia and with a catastrophic civilian death toll in Iraq. But Moberg finds no human rights violations in U.S. policy, only ineffectiveness. He calls for policy adjustments, not war crimes trials for the responsible thugs.

Progressives must recognize that in the existing political economy interventionism is almost always harmful to the target population and should be opposed and its roots and ill effects exposed. While it is reasonable to use the establishment's human rights rhetoric to press for actions that may mitigate damage and even be positively helpful, the idea that interventionism can be reformed into a positive human rights program is untenable. In a long-term perspective, what is needed is a movement that will change the structure of power that yields a persistently ugly result.