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The problem with “immaculate intervention”

George Friedman, chief executive of STRATFOR, the geopolitical intelligence company, highlights the illogic of humanitarian wars in an article for Real Clear World.

Friedman notes how defenders of humanitarian wars claim to be neutral, but they are not:

The doctrine [of humanitarian war] becomes less coherent in a civil war in which one side is winning and promising to slaughter its enemies, Libya being the obvious example. Those intervening can claim to be carrying out a neutral humanitarian action, but in reality, they are intervening on one side's behalf. If the intervention is successful - as it likely will be given that interventions are invariably by powerful countries against weaker ones - the practical result is to turn the victims into victors. By doing that, the humanitarian warriors are doing more than simply protecting the weak. They are also defining a nation's history.

Friedman calls humanitarian wars "immaculate intervention", because "most advocates want to see the outcome limited to preventing war crimes, not extended to included regime change or the imposition of alien values. They want a war of immaculate intentions surgically limited to a singular end without other consequences." However, this is naive and never happens.

Friedman concludes that humanitarianism provides no rational basis for conducting a military intervention:

 A doctrine of humanitarian warfare that demands an immaculate intervention will fail because the desire to do good is an insufficient basis for war. It does not provide a rigorous military strategy to what is, after all, a war. Neither does it bind a nation's public to the burdens of the intervention. In the end, the ultimate dishonesties of humanitarian war are the claims that "this won't hurt much" and "it will be over fast." In my view, their outcome is usually either a withdrawal without having done much good or a long occupation in which the occupied people are singularly ungrateful.

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