Saturday, 6 December 2008

Are we now becoming an interventionist party??

. Flicking through the blogsphere I came across this post by Jim Jepps which says that Nick Clegg is taking the Liberal Democrats into 'pro-war waters'. Frankly, it makes depressing reading. Below I highlight the latest comments by Clegg on Zimbabwe and say that if military intervention was restricted to the distribution and maintenance of aid supply routes then I would support that; this is not interventionism in the service of regime change but in the service of assisting with the saving of lives.

However, Clegg appears has a different direction in mind. In his speech on 'Terms of Intervention' Clegg invoked the 'responsibility to protect' doctrine with reference to Zimbabwe thus;

"responsibility to protect [which] in effect gives a moral or legal right to the outside world to intervene in a country where its rulers are neglecting or brutalising their own people."

Obviously Clegg doesn't just want to protect the people but also change the regime. It is typical of the foreign policy muddles that Clegg's 'good heart, wrong head' gets him into that in the same speech he acknowledges that;

"There is, for example, no regional support for any kind of military intervention.So it would be wrong to attempt any form of military intervention."

You can see the same contradictions emerge in his comments below; Clegg is obviously a frustrated interventionist. One the key building blocs of our electoral success has been a principled opposition to the failed policies of 'regime change' interventionism. Is this really the time for our leadership to start dropping that sacrificing it on the alter of wrong-headed good intentions.


asquith said...

I am not part of the party (really I'm not) but as someone who identifies as part of the liberal front, I am torn.

I believe passionately that human rights are universal. A woman in Iran or in Congo deserves the same rights that those in this country enjoy. Certainly, the misery Saddam Hussein visited upon his people should have been condemned & it is never right to simply accept that some "cultures" don't agree with our views.

However, I am very sceptical as to whether military intervention could achieve this. I wasn't dyed-in-the-wool opposed to the invaion of Iraq, but I was deeply sceptical because I don't think it has worked in promoting human rights.

Far better to encourage opposition movements within countries with poor human rights records & use the non-violent powers of international bodies like the UN & what have you. Additionally, things such as education & contraception & well-deployed foreign aid & trade (I say well-deployed because a lot of what exists is shite) would help a great deal.

Zimbabwe is a nightmare, but what would the British army's attempts to produce a "regime change" bring? Yet I can see why Clegg struggles to make up his mind. He, like me, has firm convictions & would like to act on them. He fears any action might be counter-productive, but also doesn't want to stand idly by.

Darrell G said...


I think we all agree on human rights and we all in that sense share Clegg's perspective but I have to say his pronouncements on this do show we are a bit muddled about foreign policy I think....and as you rightly say 'regime change' is of dubious benefit so, frustration doesnt make good politics in this instance....

I agree about the encouragement of opposition movements providing they have a program that is broadly consistent with the promotion of human rights and democracy. I think this is the way forward and the right thing to do...let people determine for themselves and help them do that but not by jumping in with our own size 9's...

James Schneider said...


Why are you opposed to internationalism? Are you opposed to NATO involvement in Kosovo? What about Sierra Leone? Iraq turned out to be a very bad decision as the 'West' was incapable of improving the situation. In Zimbabwe this might well be very different.

Removing Mugabe and his henchmen would not prove difficult. Paying off parts of the military would not be difficult. Indeed certain aspects of the military are already turning about Mugabe. You'd nominally scrap Zanu-PF but allow its organizational structure and all but the Mugabe clique to reform around Simba Makoni. Pour in aid and expertise and call for fresh elections between the two MDC factions, Makoni's lot, and whoever else develops. Then get the troops out. There's hardly going to be a great deal of resistance. Zimbabwe is in a perilous position which will be greatly improved with Mugabe's removal. The downsides do not outweigh this.

The one thing we must be careful about is assuming that all of Mugabe's actions were unpopular. The seizing of land from White farmers this decade is likely to still be popular. As long as we don't try to reverse these things, the process shouldn't be anything like Iraq.

Interventionism is not bad in of itself. Bad interventionism is. As is war for other purposes dressed up as humanitarian intervention. This would not be.

Darrell G said...


I think the examples you give widely vary in their circumstance but I would like to take up the point specifically about Kosovo. Kosovo is notable for a number of reasons;

a) there was an organised military movement of the people to support.

b) 'regime change' in Serbia was not directly effected by NATO but by a movement of the Serbian people.

So, you cannot conflate that with something like Iraq. Removing Mugabe would probably not prove difficult but then again you could also start a lengthy and costly civil war especially as the Zimbabwean military is unlikely to be too chuffed about foreign troops prowling the land and enforcing their regime. Elements of the military would no doubt break off and support the remanents of Zanu. This is not to mention the possibly lukewarm reception from other African nations whose populace might not be too impressed either.

This is the problem with sounds simple but it isnt....

James Schneider said...

The Serbs had CIA help. Without NATO support the people's revolution would not have taken place.
There was a military movement, there may not need to be one in Zimbabwe.

There are two problems with regime change. The first, as you mention, is the military. It appears they are slowly turning and militaries tend to be rather easy to buy off, as long as you legitimise them. For example, the Nazi General at Stalingrad became an East German general under Soviet control.
The second, would be inter-ethnic strife between the shona and the ndebele. This would occur to some extent.
Even with elements of the military supporting a rump Zanu-PF and ethnic conflict between the Shona and the Ndebele, Zimbabwe would be a far less bad place a month after the regime change, 6 months after the regime change, a year after the regime change. It is difficult to foresee a scenario worse than what we have now taking shape.

As for other African countries not liking it - Fuck them. Who cares? Firstly, it is time to accept that those who suffered the barbarism of colonialism can be barbaric themselves. Secondly, we must pressure African states to stand up for their citizens, not their polities. Raila Odinga, PM of Kenya, has already been vocal in his support of regime change. There will be some African support, especially if invasion seems inevitable.

Intervention is not simple. Its hard, difficult, and ugly. Not intervening is worse. The Lib Dems are not a non-interventionist party.

Darrell G said...


I dont deny it but there is a difference between help and support and a peoples revolution and deposition by invasion. Help and support I can live with and support; invasion followed by deposition I generally don't. People in these countries generally dont like being invaded either...

You say that the two things you mention as being complications would basically not be a problem but I say there is absolutely no way you can know that for sure.

In terms of other African nations I was thinking more about what the general populace would think. We already know that Al-Quaeda is active in Africa...could this not act as another recruiting sargent like Iraq did??

James Schneider said...

If we do it your way then we have to wait for an army to rise up. I.E. a civil war. This army would be funded by those seeking to increase their power over Zimbabwe or to exact wealth once it is finished. A foreign force can act now swiftly and leave quickly.
The question is whether we are willing or not to risk something for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe. Do we sit idly by whilst Mugabe re-cements his position, or do we help the well over 50% of people who voted against him in the recent elections. They want him out. They can't do it peacefully. We can and therefore should help.

As for al qaeda... grow up. Al Qaeda is not some huge organisation which goes round recruiting people at seminars. Al Qaeda itself is practically non-existent. Al-Qaeda ideology (or similar) groups exist all over the world. I thoroughly doubt there are any in Zimbabwe. Please don't try to win an argument by saying al-qaeda. Its silly. Like calling someone a Nazi to win the debate.

Why do you fundamentally not support deposing a despot if it can be done, creating a clearly less bad situation?

Darrell G said...


But with all due respect thats what we are *ALWAYS* told; yet we are still in Iraq years later and will be in Afghanistan for decades to come. The reason for this, as has some out in this debate, is that real life is more complicated than the Neo-Con utopianism of the likes of Andrew Lilico.

We are always told things will be 'less bad' too but that never quite pans out either does it?? Iraq actually saw more civilian deaths than under Saddam Hussein at one point.

Do you not accept the possibility that this will be seen in some circles in a colonial light and that this will a) lead to Al-Quaedas influence even as an ideology growing in parts of Africa and that it will lend Zanu-military rump resistance more support....

I see support for an action like this as merely the expression of a desire to do something (in fact, Cleggs comments virtually confirm that) which has its appeal but I think it is an appeal that must be resisted..

As a supplementary question James, how do you expect our overstretched military and finances to cope with this new commitment??

James Schneider said...

Is there any situation in which you'd support intervention? What about Sierra Leone?

Zimbabwe is not Iraq. Just because Iraq was a total failure does not mean Zimbabwe won't be.

I don't care if this is seen in a colonial light. There is more at stake here.
The al-Qaeda fear is misguided and pathetic.
History tends to show us that militaries do not often form the resistance but go over to the new leader. This is what will, in the main, happen in Zimbabwe.

How will we pay for it? The European states and the US have enough troops (not that many will be required) and enough cash to topple Mugabe. The invasion would actively encourage the people to rise up. I don't see it likely that many shots will be fired. Mugabe can be forced out. We just have to be the people's muscle.

James Schneider said...


read this

James Schneider said...

and this

Darrell G said...


Yes there is and in that regard the headline is maybe a bit misleading. What I will generally not support is intervention to effect regime change. Look, there are loads of horrible, nasty governments that abuse their people. Nobody is here arguing Mugabe is a nice guy.

However, can we fix all that by charging in and effecting regime change? The answer has to be no and nor should we; the chaos that would create is unimaginable.

You should care because the potential chaos it could cause is quite terrifying in itself. No we dont because our troops are tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq and as for cash; well we all know the cupboard is bare and getting more so virtually by the day. We cant be the peoples muscle because then the people tend not to like us; people dont like it when you roll a tank up to their garden and into their country and decide you are going to change the regime.

If you see what Mugabe is saying he is holding onto power by this very strategy of bringing up the spectre of a military intervention by the West. Thanks for the link but ive already read it and published it a bit below, last month :)

James Schneider said...

So there are no circumstances when you would support regime change? Japan in 1945?

Darrell G said...


The circumstances in which I would support it are very, very rare indeed.

Another good reason why troops could not just go in and out of a country like Zimbabwe is the lack of supporting infrastructure for change of that kind by a foreign agency. Japan in 1945 was not a 'failed state' which we went into change the regime of and rebuild totally; it had a war-damaged infrastructure and little possibility of the kind of complications we have discussed considering the population was shell-shocked and war weary.

Look at Afghanistan; despite the fact that alot of people welcomed the Taliban being overthrown we are now back in a stituation where it's influence has again spread so wide it is menacing Kabul.

The cash point relates directly to that; with everything as it is where will the money come from to make the infrastructure developments necessary??

James Schneider said...

And the Zimbabwean people aren't shell shocked and weary from having the lowest female life expectancy on earth, repression of the highest order, and no economy to speak of?

If France, Germany, UK, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, Bangladesh, Georgia etc invaded with the sole purpose of installing the elected Government of the MDC, then got AU or UN peace keepers, regime change without civil war is entirely plausible. I simply find it very difficult to envisage a scenario worse than today.

Darrell G said...


You are obviously envisging a very multilateral approach and I think its all a big IF as to whether those countries would come together. Even so why is regime change preferable to a humantarian intervention by either the AU or UN which had as its sole aim the avoidence of internal politics and sole purpose of distribution of aid??

Has the MDC asked to be installed by foreign fiat?? I doubt it would because it knows the political risks of doing so....the fact is that regimes that are seen as clients of foreign powers struggle to establish themselves and once again I cite Afghanistan.

I dont agree....I think Zanu would fight to the end and things would very quickly degenerate....and like I said the resources are not there for us to establish infrastructure overnight so Zanu would be able to bide its time like the Taliban and come right back at us....

James Schneider said...

Most of Zanu-PF could be given to Makoni. This would prevent large scale Zanu insurgency. Humanitarian intervention is great, but as long as Mugabe is at the helm the country will not get any better. We have an ethical duty to do what we can. I believe we are capable of removing Mugabe and improving that country out of sight by those actions. We could not do that with Iraq. We could have removed Mugabe in 2003 instead of invading Iraq. We must be prepared to act if we can. Perhaps there isn't the will. Perhaps, the logistics are too difficult. But we must try.

As for the AU/UN. The AU will not do anything on its own. It would play a major role once Mugabe was removed, but I do not see it doing so before hand. The UN, in its present form, has proved incapable at protecting the world's most vulnerable citizens from their own governments. There is a role for the UN but if Russia and China won't play ball then NATO and allies (Kenya etc) should bite the bullet and risk being taken to the Hague- just like Kosovo (which was illegal, may I remind you).

Darrell G said...


And maybe they wouldnt like that relationship. I hear loud and clear what you are saying about an ethical duty but the fact is you could say that about any number of countries. This is why these kind of wars dont work because they engender double-standards; for example, we level Iraq but leave Saudi Arabia alone.

Humanitarian intervention is something I could support but regime change isnt. The reality of regime change interventions when we substitute ourselves for the people is that they dont work and often backfire. Nobody is saying we shouldnt act in any way we can but we have to make sure it's in the right way.

Legality or lack of it hasnt come into my argument thus far because I take your point about the weakness of the UN but the reality is that while we support 'coalitions of the willing' it will continue to be weak and be unable to provide the kind of things you want.

James Schneider said...

Humanitarian intervention is good. We could both work together on that front.

As for your Iraq/Saudi Arabia point. We shouldn't have gone into Iraq and we shouldn't be allied to the Saudis. There are lots of repellent regimes worldwide, and we should be doing what we can to improve them. This varies from trade, aid, economic development, political pressure etc etc etc. The final tool, and we should be aware of its availability, is actively removing the regime. When we can, we should. I believe in Zimbabwe we can. You don't. We both believe we can do more, so lets focus on humanitarian intervention.

Darrell G said...


I agree that it is a an area where we can move forward. Of course, I dont have any problem with doing everything possible to improve these regimes though I feel its as much about encouraging people to improve them as well.

On both counts about Iraq and Saudi I you say its more a diffrent tactical approach so ye :)

Anonymous said...

Saying that its ok for the Liberals to become interventionist while The republicans can't infringe other nation's civil liberties is becoming hypocritical.
Instead of defining it as interventionist why can't Americans just split the terminology between supporting Human rights and against military intervention.