The Independent View: Foreign intervention should be supported by liberals

Those former left-wing pioneers who founded the neoconservative movement in Washington should not be treated like war criminals or fathers of the ‘new imperialism’. In fact the doctrine should be welcomed and supported by us liberals.

We liberals believe in a society based on liberty, justice and a constitutional government, whether it is in are own country or abroad. But we have struggled since Iraq to maintain the common principles following the Liberal Democrats’ vote against the war. And to hear Nick Clegg at the last conference shun “neo-con wars” was almost unbearable to listen to. Why criticise foreign intervention or the ‘Blair doctrine’ because it is immoral, and then sit along side the new left who support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah? I fail to understand modern Liberals.

Saddam was a fascist dictator who tortured his own citizens and gave financial support to terrorist organisations that declared war against Israel. Removing him from power benefited the West and the Middle East, even though the planning of the war was a disaster for Iraq and the coalition (but that is a different matter.) Now we are faced with Iran, a theocracy ruled by an undemocratic council and with a poor human rights record towards women, homosexuals and reformists. Will we liberals stand by and allow President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to mock and violate international law once more?

Zimbabwe is another nation, too, which is suffering from the exploitations of a tyrant and requires foreign intervention. South Africa and the African Union have allowed Mugabe to go unchallenged for far too long. Britain would be justified in using military force to remove Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe would welcome UK action – the Catholic Church of Zimbabwe said Britain would be morally justified – but there is no chance of this because liberals have ruled out the idea of humanitarian intervention. Iraq has allowed the very idea to be seen as imperialistic in nature.

Whether it will be Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma or Sudan, we liberals will continue to play the Iraq card in relation to foreign intervention. The Liberal Democrats have placed themselves in the isolationist field of foreign affairs, which is both tragic and depressing.

That is why I am an independent liberal. My views and beliefs are different to some, and my support for the neoconservative agenda has isolated me amongst liberals. But if the liberalism we hold so dear is based on liberty and democracy, then we of all people have the moral right to spread it.

* Daniel Furr is an independent liberal, not linked to the Lib Dems, currently studying business at Greenwich University. He is also a part time freelance blogger commenting on politics and international affairs.

Editor’s note: ‘The Independent View’ is an occaional slot for non-Lib Dem members to put across their viewpoint. If you’re an LDV-reading non-party member – or if you know someone you think would be a good contributor – and would like to write an article, please do get in touch with the editor at [email protected]

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46 Comments

  • Iain Roberts 21st May '08 - 12:41pm

    I agree with the principle that intervention can be justified. As a liberal, I believe that societies run on liberal values are genuinely better than others; I’ve got no time for the moral relativists who tell me that tyrannical regimes where women have no rights and people are tortured or worse are OK, because it’s just the way they do things and their culture has different values to ours.

    My objection to the Iraq war (and I believe the objection of many others too) was never that we should approve of the likes of Saddam Hussain.

    The problem was always the real likely outcome: hundreds of billions spent, tens of thousands of lives lost, the middle east destabilised, extremist groups enthused and all the rest of it.

    Similarly with Zimbabwe, we would have to be pretty confident that the end result would be an improvement before launching military action and I’ve never seen anything that suggested to me that was the case.

  • richard cobden spins in his grave 21st May '08 - 1:19pm

    Utter shite.

    We don’t align ourselves with the likes of Hamas and George Galloway, and if you can’t see that liberal opposition to invading Iraq is different to far-left opposition to Iraq I wonder what the hell you’re doing here.

    The reason you “fail to understand modern liberals” is that you’re not a liberal, modern or otherwise. Go to Harry’s Place.

  • One word: Kosovo.

  • Firstly, dealing with Zimbabwe, Africa has failed to address the problem and have yet again played the colonial card.

    [Could you be clearer on what you refer to when you say we “sit along side the new left who support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah”?]

    Sure.
    The comment was aimed at the new left, the RESPECT Coalition, who think Hamas and Hezbollah are forces of good. Even though both believe in destorying the West. The anti-war movement has become extremely anti-American and anti-Israeli.

    Objecting to the Iraq war and thinking Saddam was “not a problem” is pure appeasement.

  • Julian H wrote: “Government intervention does not work. As liberals we understand this, and realise that the world cannot have liberal democracy imposed on it by politicians in Whitehall /DC and their armies. The development of liberal environments must, inherently, be bottom-up.”

    Actually according the liberal ideology the raison d’être of the government is to intervene when some individuals infringe the rights of others.

    But it is of course a different matter, whether a government should intervene another government. The risk is that that will set a precedent, and that those governments who are infringing the rights of their citizens feel that they have also a right to intervene a government which doesn’t. And according some old liberal philosophers each country has the government it deserves.

  • Martin Land 21st May '08 - 4:51pm

    The fundamental, underlying principle of a future LD government should be that we would mind our own business, at every level and in every situation.

  • Anything can be justified, conditional upon the evidence used in support of the case (please take the ‘dodgy dossier’ as a specific example), but accuracy is the only acceptable measurement, as is always proved with hindsight.

    Because I am open to any proposed course of action and prepared to listen I am firmly and distinctly against doctrinaire action.

    The ends never justify the means – simply because the means determine what the ends will be.

    So, on the terms of the third line of the article I welcome the discussion, but resolutely reject any conclusions that it attempts to make.

  • The most depressing thing about our intervention in Iraq was that anyone who knew anything about the history of the involvement of Britain in the area could pretty accurately predict the consequences of the West deposing Sadam Hussein. Blair and Bush were obviously followers of the Henry Ford school – “history is bunk”, but they were warned what would happen by those who knew their history and they ignored them.

    Daniel, I turned 60 this week. I don’t think that age has made me less radical or less angry about the injustices of the world, but perhaps having lived through events that have taken decades to be resolved has made me more pragmatic, and more aware of the long-term consequences of actions.

  • In the case of a successful ‘intervention’ in Zimbabwe, Iran or Burma will it also be the case that the deposed former leader will be put in front of an indequate kangaroo court, inhumanly executed, all the while being degraded and defiled.

    How would this compensate any surviving victims? How would this create peace and reconciliation? How would this promote the civilising effect of universal human rights?

    What would this say about us?

  • David Heigham 21st May '08 - 8:43pm

    Friends, LibDems and classical Liberals have always been cautious interventionists; isolationists we never were. There are two separate grounds for intervening in another country:

    – because that country is a threat to other countries,
    – because that country is damaging its own people more than intervention would.

    The Coalition intervened in Iraq on both grounds, but giving the first priority. Our assessment of threat was a bad misjudgement of the evidence. And it now seems probable that our mis-mangement of the intervention has damaged the people of Iraq more than Saddam was likely to have done.

    But the mess in Iraq no more establishes the case that intervention is always wrong than the appalling failure of pre-1939 appeasement established an assumption that intervention is probaly the right course.The Liberal stance is and was always that we should be prepared to intervene when one or both of these grounds for intervention were clearly established, to do so under such international law as exists, and only to risk intervention when we are confident that we have the means to deliver our objectives and avoid widening conflict.

    The UN was set up principally to deliver a framework of law in which intervention on the first ground could take place. It is slowly coming to accept that its mandate also covers intervention on the second ground. But the UN was also established on the presumption that the risk of widening conflict makes intervention a course of last resort.

    Intervention does not always have to wait for formal UN support. Going after the Taliban in Afghanistan for their harbouring of Osama Bin Laden was immediately supported by a wide range of countries, including Iran. There was a consensus that the case was made.

    What intervention does have to wait for is international acceptance of the case for it. If we cannot convince others, the first question we should ask ourselves is whether our case is as strong as we thought it. Second, we have to remember that action without general international acceptance of the need for it will damage in some degree the the international institutions which are likely to prove very valuable to all of us in the long run: is action now worth that?

    And since the liberal objectives never include running other people’s countries, we should always plan how we will get out of the picture and let the locals run their own show their way. Not easy, as the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan etc. illustrate.

    I’m afraid, Daniel, that liberal interventionism is a very long, damnably slow, horribly hard haul; but it is the only way for us to go.

  • The best way to improve conditions is to set a good example. Leadership is something else which will be vindicated through hindsight after the final curtain has fallen.

    It was not necessary to invade Iraq, and it is proving impossible to occupy and reconstruct her. We may or may not have had the best of intentions, but still, it is clear there has been many violations.

    Various parties (the league of democracies?) may argue it is expeditious to mount an expeditiary force elsewhere, but that will never represent the whole story.

    We can repeat our mistakes, or we can learn from them.

  • Neil Craig proves once more that the Lib Dems made the right decision in kicking him out, & are better off without him.

  • Geoff-
    Hillary made that comment when responding to a hypothetical of Iran nuking Israel. It is not on to be taking things out of context. And your derisive comment about ‘our US cousins’ is a little idiotic too. I don’t think anyone was complaining when they were halting genocide in Kosovo. And, lastly, Fukuyama’s the End of History has been regarded as post-Cold War hubris for some time. I would imagine that most neocons would look to their own cannon of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz.

  • MatGB,

    good is OK, but it isn’t good enough. Good diplomacy ought to obviate the need for intervention at an earlier stage – all intervention is an admission of failure, be that complacency or of avoidable mistakes.

    Neil Craig does have a point in what he says, but he makes it badly and he loses support for straying into personal judgements and ideological definitions.

    Unfortunately it is a big messy world out there, so we won’t ever please all of the people all of the time and decisions will still have to be made.

  • MatGB, Neil does use strong emotive language, doesn’t he?

    Is he in opposition to the people who make mistakes, or the mistakes themselves, I wonder?

    I find it hard to agree with his absolutist line – a bit of reconciliation and forgiveness is always available, but it’s gotta be matched by contrition.

  • Darrell, I think the decline of the west was the reason neo-liberals were desperately in favour of a ‘preventative’ war like Iraq mk2.

    It was intended as a show of strength, but has been a demonstration and cause of weakness – economically, militarily and diplomatically.

    The neo-liberal camp (Blair, Kouchner…) is still in the ascendancy, but is fighting an increasing war from a position of declining strength.

    Diplomacy towards China and the emerging powers (re UN/regional/international oversight, disaster management and humanitarian relief, sporting diplomacy etc) is proving more successful in integrating them into the global democratic system by liberal conversion, rather than the neo-liberal insistency of imposed conclusions.

  • Neil Craig,

    Evidence provides proof. What you wrote was, by your own admission, therefore not evidence.

    It was definitely something, but I’m still searching for the best word.

    Suggestions would be welcome.

  • Neil,

    war creates casualties on all fronts and it takes time to confront this and come to terms with it.

    I suggest in this conflict your balance was your principle casualty.

    Please understand that in order to move forward it is often useful to take a step back.

    At the moment this discussion is becoming increasing intractable, which helps only our common enemies.

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