Good essays on the genocides of the 1990s from a leftist perspective?
April 13, 2020 3:53 PM   Subscribe

I identify as a leftist anti-imperialist. However, I struggle to reconcile this mindset against the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.

I am trying to find an articulate argument about US intervention in these conflicts that doesn't deny the reality a la Chomsky but that also balances arguments for intervention with concerns around imperialism and around the US's suspect motivations in "humanitarian" intervention. I realize this is an incredibly thorny problem and that leftist foreign policy analysis is all over the place, but I need something more intellectually honest than Chomsky that offers a principled analysis that holds US power to account while still offering a path for mitigating harm. Does that exist? I would prefer articles but if there is a must-read book out there I'd be willing to consider reading it. Thanks as always for your help and recommendations.
posted by zeusianfog to Law & Government (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This article covers the ways in which the ethnic divide in Bosnia was exploited by bourgeois rulers of Europe (and the US) ... and at the time of the 2012 commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre, it was those same politicians that received the derision of the crowd. A series of labor strikes was going on at the time as well.

"Often strikers from both sides have even exchanged solidarity letters. Last year, the ruling class was shocked to see solidarity even among the civil war veterans from both sides – Bosnian army veterans decided to give part of their pensions to their Serb counterparts, who were still fighting with the government in Banjaluka (the administrative centre of the Serb Republic) over theirs."
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power
posted by thack3r at 5:21 PM on April 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

If you want to understand the Bosnian genocide from the perspective of the people on the ground who perpetrated it and who endured it, I highly recommend Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maas.

He was stationed in the area and reported on the war for the Washington Post. The stories he tells are heartfelt and searing. He does not engage in any geopolitical analysis, but instead describes the human impact on both the perpetrators and the victims. In a way, it is argument that outside intervention was necessary on humanitarian grounds, geopolitics be damned. So it may speak to your conundrum.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:13 PM on April 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

IMHO, Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil is a must-read to understand what even a small amount of extra international intervention would have accomplished in the context of the Rwandan genocide. There is also a documentary by the same name.

A couple of things about Dallaire: he was the force commander for UNAMIR in the period leading up to and during the genocide. While I wouldn't describe him as a "leftist" by any stretch (he subsequently would be appointed to the Canadian Senate as a Liberal Senator, a position from which he's since retired to pursue NGO work rehabilitating former child soldiers), he seems to have an immense amount of clarity about the role of Belgian colonialism in setting the stage for the genocide. He also assumes a great deal of responsibility for what happened, which is quite unfair to himself. However, it gives him a great deal of credibility when he points fingers, because he's the last person to let himself off the hook.

Specifically regarding the U.S., he argues that even limited steps such as the following would have made a difference:

- The U.S. sending a small contingent of Marines that were stationed nearby to -- at bare minimum -- secure and hold the U.S. embassy in Kigali to send a message to the MRND government that the world's superpower was still watching. The MRND was emboldened by the general abandonment of UNAMIR by Belgium, and had a country such as the U.S. put some troops on the ground, if for no other reason than to maintain a diplomatic presence, he believes it would have at least tempered the speed and ferocity with which the killing was taking place. Instead, the U.S. closed its embassy and pulled out its diplomatic corps.

- Dallaire requested "no boots on the ground" electronic countermeasures jamming of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines' radio signal by the U.S., which was well-equipped to do so. RTLM was the primary means by which directives about the prosecution of the genocide were being widely communicated. The U.S. turned Dallaire down on the basis of "free speech."

But it's also important to remember that various European powers bear a great deal of responsibility for the international indifference to the genocide. They were far, far more concerned with the war and genocides in the former Yugoslavia (in relative terms) than they were in anything happening in Rwanda. France, for example, played a role in training and equipping the Interahamwe youth militias.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:01 PM on April 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power

As a former student of Power's, I don't think it's really accurate to call her a leftist in this context. When it comes to foreign policy, she's pretty much a liberal interventionist. However, the book is a must to read if one wants to understand the international politics of modern genocide.
posted by lunasol at 7:50 PM on April 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

Both Dallaire and Power are describing the case for intervention. I think of the International Crisis Group as a good source of information on how outside powers can intervene effectively.

For the argument against humanitarian intervention, the realist George F. Kennan comes to mind. He's certainly not a leftist, but throughout his career, he often argued that the US ought to act with greater prudence and restraint. For example, he was opposed to the Vietnam War. With the end of the Cold War, he argued that the US should take on a more modest role in foreign policy, and focus on tackling its urgent domestic problems.

From a 1999 interview with Richard Ullman:
... this whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable. If you think that our life here at home has meritorious aspects worthy of emulation by peoples elsewhere, the best way to recommend them is, as John Quincy Adams maintained, not by preaching at others but by the force of example. I could not agree more.

R.U.: But are there not occasions—such as mass murder in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo—when violations of human rights are so horrendous that standing by and doing nothing places us in the position of virtual accomplices of a murderous regime? What would you urge as US policy in instances when we clearly have the resources and the power to prevent or right enormous wrongs with minimal harm to ourselves, and where we would be accompanied in intervening by a number of other states that collectively make up the evolving international system?

G.K.: I hope you will forgive me, Dick, but I stand somewhat aghast at your question, because it seems to me to imply that we should not simply engage in a brief humanitarian intervention—which might be feasible—but should seriously consider taking over, and this for an indefinite time, a good part of the powers of government in a number of non-European countries, and to run things there in our own way rather than in ways that are traditional to their societies. You think, I gather, that we have the resources to do that. This, I greatly doubt. Neither dollars nor bayonets could secure success. It would take a lasting commitment on the part of people and government to make even a beginning at this task, and for this I can see no reason or possibility. We had, as a rule, nothing to do with the origins of the ways in which regimes in other continents oppress elements in their own populations; and I see no reason why we should be held responsible for these unpleasant customs and see ourselves as guilty if they continue to be observed.

Europe, naturally, is another matter. Yes, of course, we cannot stand aside and profess to have no interest in such abominations as the Holocaust or Milosevic's efforts to deport or destroy the entire Muslim population of Kosovo. Such undertakings strike at the roots of a European civilization of which we are still largely a part. Our participation in NATO would alone preclude any tendency on our part to take a wholly detached posture toward these developments.

But even here there are limits to what others should be encouraged to expect of us and what we should expect of ourselves. The resources on which we would have to draw in any greatly expanded involvement in Kosovo would be bound to become increasingly competitive with domestic requirements. And any participation by our armed forces in serious combat in that region would be something for which neither our public opinion nor congressional opinion is adequately prepared. And beyond that there is the fact that Kosovo is only one part of the problem of the Balkan region as a whole; and this is clearly a problem for the Europeans themselves. They, not we, would be the ones who had to live with any long-term solutions to the problem. We cannot solve it for them, and should not try to do so.

These thoughts, and others like them, cause me to feel that what we ought to do at this point is to try to cut ourselves down to size in the dreams and aspirations we direct to our possibilities for world leadership. We are not, really, all that great. We have serious problems within our society these days; and it sometimes seems to me that the best help we could give to others would be to allow them to observe that we are now confronting those problems with a bit more imagination, courage, and resolve than has been apparent in the recent
posted by russilwvong at 9:13 PM on April 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

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