Commentary Magazine


Intervention

To the Editor:

Adam Wolfson is missing a point in his contrasting of humanitarian and nonhumanitarian interventions [“How to Think About Humanitarian War,” July-August]. The primary purpose of the war in Kosovo was to punish ethnic cleansing, and thereby deter further atrocities. The U.S. learned a valuable lesson from Munich—namely, that law and order need to be enforced, and doing so is in our national interest. Moreover, the U.S. air force and navy are sufficiently powerful to punish any wrongdoer (except for states with nuclear capabilities) without suffering large casualties.

The promotion of democracy, on the other hand, is much more difficult and requires prolonged occupation by ground troops (as was the case in West Germany and Japan after World War II).

In 1948, the Arab states in the Middle East openly threatened ethnic cleansing (“throwing the Jews into the sea”). It took Israel several punishing wars and retaliatory raids to persuade Egypt, Jordan, the PLO, and, possibly, Syria to come to the negotiating table. All this may have deterred some future conflicts; it did not bring democracy to the Arab world.

Marcel R. Schmorak
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

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To the Editor:

Contrary to the title of Adam Wolfson’s article, there are no humanitarian wars; there are simply just wars and unjust wars. Any war worthy of the name—and our assault on Serbia certainly was—is destructive of both human life and property. How anyone can call such a conflict “humanitarian” defies the imagination.

Mr. Wolfson states that liberal humanitarians are “temperamentally unsuited to the neo-imperial task of remaking an entire political culture” (like Kosovo). In fact, no one is suited to such a task. Outsiders cannot build nations; nor do they want to. A vice president of our local Reserve Officers Association, who deals on a daily basis with sending Army reservists to Bosnia, reports a mass exodus from the reserve forces upon their return. The Bosnia and Kosovo quagmires have been highly destructive of our armed forces.

Robert C. Whitten
Cupertino, California

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To the Editor:

Adam Wolfson deals rather well with an issue of much importance to America’s post-cold-war future. But even if the American public were to adopt Theodore Roosevelt’s internationalist patriotism, as he urges, it is not about to accept the casualties necessary for realistic military engagement. That it can be educated to accept them is highly unlikely, unless it can be shown clearly that either national security or a specific national interest is at stake.

William H. Riddell
Tampa, Florida

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To the Editor:

Adam Wolfson makes many excellent points, but I wonder if he is correct when he says, “Finally, if the McCain phenomenon proved anything, it is that patriotism is not dead in America.” McCain makes an ideal hero for the 1960′s and 1970′s crowd. Liberals can admire his endurance of torture without having to think that he actually may have killed some of the enemy (horror!). It is only permissible to admire a warrior today if we lost the war, and if he was punished by five-and-a-half years of terrible mistreatment.

David C. Stolinsky
Los Angeles, California

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Adam Wolfson writes:

Marcel R. Schmorak’s assertion that the primary purpose of the Kosovo war was to punish ethnic cleansing is hard to credit, given what those who actually planned and prosecuted the war said of their intentions. They claimed to be defending democracy, religious toleration, multiculturalism, and a new dawn in Europe. Even if that was just so much blather, and their only goal was to punish ethnic cleansing, they did a pretty poor job at that, too—fighting the war from the air alone while the Serbs did their worst on the ground. One way or another, it is hard to believe that so weak-willed an approach to international affairs will scare off future offenders. If anything, it advertises to the world our own timidity, military no less than ideological.

I thank Robert C. Whitten, William H. Riddell, and David C. Stolinsky for their insights. One of my points was that while America’s liberal elites strongly supported the war in Kosovo, they saw no need to put their money where their mouths were. Certainly, they are not leaping to fill the army vacancies that Mr. Whitten reports have followed in the wake of Bosnia and Kosovo. One of the most important lessons to be learned from Theodore Roosevelt today is that only an informed and vibrant love of country can sustain America’s leading role in the world—and properly define it. That is a lesson our liberal humanitarian hawks have yet to learn.

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