Humanitarian Interventions

Last night I went to a lecture by Samantha Power, she of A Problem From Hell fame. If you ever get a chance, see her speak -- she's amazing. And for that matter, buy her book (or buy it for me -- yes, I lack all shame), she's an incredible mind and was somehow able to make an hour on Sudan and genocide an uplifting, informative, and inspiring experience. Anyway, I have some projects on Sudan in the works (some of them pre-lecture!) so stay tuned for that. Right now, I want to talk about humanitarian interventions for a sec.

CW here is that the American people don't much like the idea of committing troops in order to save lives. That, ostensibly, is why Bush had to go through the WMD rigamarole in order to invade Iraq, and why Clinton couldn't deploy to Rwanda. So I did a little bit of research tonight, and I feel safe in calling bullshit.

So far as I can tell, Clinton felt himself unable to intervene in Rwanda, mostly because of the Mogadishu fiasco. But even for Clinton, a draft-dodging president with the Somalia mess on his record, interventions were possible. When he pushed airstrikes against Serbia, Americans were solidly in his corner. In February of 1999, a month before the air strikes began, Americans opposed them 45%-43%. They also weren't paying attention to the issue, 70%-30%.

On March 24th, when the strikes began, Americans supported them, 50%-30%. Quite a switch. In April, poll after poll showed support in the high-50's to low-60's for sending in ground troops if the strikes failed. In May, support dropped, but mainly because Americans thought the war was mishandled (59% thought we had screwed up by announcing no ground troops would be deployed). More interesting, a poll testing a variety of different arguments for and against the war found the most convincing ones were those that mentioned the moral obligation to stop genocide. Everything else -- pleas for self-interest and stability and the preservation of American lives -- was in the low 50's or below, mention genocide and support popped up to the 60's. By June, support has sprung back up with around 56%-60% of Americans believing we'd done the right thing.