There’s an argument that seems to resurface from non-interventionists whenever the U.S. takes military action for humanitarian reasons. The line of reasoning goes something like this: (a.) The U.S. can’t intervene against all oppressive autocrats, so (b.) the U.S. shouldn’t intervene against any oppressive autocrats.
“[W]hy is this humanitarian emergency the one that needs urgent action?” asks Matt Yglesias at Think Progress. “What about Saudi and Bahraini forces firing on demonstrators? What about the ongoing civil war in Ivory Coast where the health care system has completely collapsed?”
Rep. Jerry Nadler makes a similar point. “If we’re intervening for humanitarian reasons, why not the Ivory Coast or Darfur? Why here?” he asks. “We cannot intervene at every situation.”
Let’s apply this logic to some other humanitarian policies. U.S. international food aid programs? There are a lot of starving kids out there, but we can’t feed all of them, so why bother? And how can we justify spending billions on an AIDS relief program in Africa when there are also epidemics in India, Russia, and China?
This concern over “hypocrisy” doesn’t obstruct our other humanitarian efforts. So why should it impact our military interventions?
At World Affairs, Jamie Kirchick tears down a similar anti-interventionist argument made by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “The unpleasant reality of being a superpower is that one must deal with these realities, not curl into a ball and do nothing because the world is a scary and difficult place,” writes Kirchick. “So, intervention in Libya? Yes. Tolerating but pressuring in Bahrain and Yemen? Yes as well. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but tolerable if we consciously hew to the goal of freedom.”
It’s true that we can’t do everything at once, but that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing at all.