Democrats, Republicans and Intervention

by Henry on January 18, 2006

The Boston Review has just put the results of a very interesting opinion survey online. They’ve asked respondents whether they would approve of military intervention to support a number of goals, and provided a breakdown of how party ID correlates with the answers. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to approve of military intervention to ensure the supply of oil, to destroy terrorist camps, and to assist in the spread of democracy. The differences are much less marked when military intervention is intended to prevent genocide or to assist an ally under attack. When military intervention is intended to help the UN support international law, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be in favour. This provides a valuable corrective to the widely discussed Transatlantic Trends survey of a few months ago, which reported that Democrats were far less likely than Republicans to support interventions aimed at helping the international spread of democracy. As I interpret these results (and I acknowledge that they could be interpreted in various ways), Democrats are more likely than the earlier numbers suggest to favour such interventions – but only if they’re in accordance with international law. The interesting question – which we’ll never know the answer to – is how Republicans and Democrats would have responded to these questions in 2000 or even in late 2001. I suspect that Democrats would have been more likely than today to favour intervention to spread democracy, but that very few Republicans indeed would have been favorably disposed to actions of this sort.

The Boston Review suggests that this is the first in a series of ‘State of the Nation’ surveys that they’ll be running and reporting – this looks set to be a very valuable resource indeed.

{ 30 comments }

1

neil 01.18.06 at 2:57 pm

Your last conclusion is plausible, Bush came to office determined not to get into any of that Clinton nation building stuff. But doesn’t this suggest that Republicans have moved towards the Dems on this issue?

You can’t draw the conclusion about the Dems supporting these interventions only if in accordance with international law as most of the questions did not have this qualification. If this is somehow meant to be implied, then that would not say much for Dems only wanting to stop genocide if this was in accordance with international law. Surely any law preventing such action would be wrong.

It suggests an undue deference to international law by Dems and an undue suspicion by Reps.

2

abb1 01.18.06 at 3:09 pm

I don’t see where this post says or implies anything having to do with the Dems only wanting to stop genocide if this was in accordance with international law.

3

neil 01.18.06 at 3:26 pm

that was my point – Henry’s conclusion – that Dems would only support these types of intevention only if inaccordance with international law – can’t be made from this survey.

4

Louis Proyect 01.18.06 at 4:24 pm

The Boston Review is an odd duck. Although trying to position themselves as left-liberals, they have published Ahmed S. Hashim whose article was described as painting “a vivid and rather chilling picture of the armed opposition to the U.S. occupation.” I deal with Hashim and his patrons at Boston Review here:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/War_is_Peace.htm

5

Slocum 01.18.06 at 4:39 pm

When military intervention is intended to help the UN support international law, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be in favour. This provides a valuable corrective to the widely discussed Transatlantic Trends survey of a few months ago, which reported that Democrats were far less likely than Republicans to support interventions aimed at helping the international spread of democracy. As I interpret these results (and I acknowledge that they could be interpreted in various ways), Democrats are more likely than the earlier numbers suggest to favour such interventions – but only if they’re in accordance with international law.

Given that the UN is not an association of democracies and that many of its members are not only not democracies but are threatened by and, therefore, hostile to the spread of democracy in their neighborhoods, I’m afraid the chances of any UN intervention with a stated aim of spreading democracy are approximately zero.

If one believes that the UN is the sole arbiter of what interventions are legal under international law, then almost by definition, there will be no legal interventions in support of democracy.

It may be sometimes possible for the UN to authorize interventions to stop genocide–but even there, the results there are very mixed at best. Rwanda, of course, was a disaster as was Bosnia. Little has happened in Sudan. East Timor? Better, but my memory is the UN initially put its stamp of approval on Indonesian authority and a couple of extra years of slaughter were the result before the ultimate intervention. I would argue that effective interventions to stop genocide are much more likely if they are undertaken outside the UN (Kosovo).

Putting the UN in charge of determining when interventions to support democracy (or even to stop genocide) are legal and proper strikes me as a way of being able to claim support for those ideals in the abstract while seldom or never putting oneself in the position of having to support actual actions to advance those ideals. One can, therefore, enjoy the pleasure of moral correctness and then count on the veto of Russia, China (or possibly France) to make sure there are no consequences.

6

abb1 01.18.06 at 4:51 pm

Putting the UN in charge of determining when interventions to support democracy (or even to stop genocide) are legal and proper strikes me as a way of being able to claim support for those ideals in the abstract while seldom or never putting oneself in the position of having to support actual actions to advance those ideals.

That’s military actions. Like, killing a bunch of people to ‘support’ a rather abstract idea (‘democracy’). I think never having to put oneself in this position is a very comfortable position.

7

Brendan 01.18.06 at 5:16 pm

‘It may be sometimes possible for the UN to authorize interventions to stop genocide—but even there, the results there are very mixed at best. Rwanda, of course, was a disaster as was Bosnia. Little has happened in Sudan. East Timor? Better, but my memory is the UN initially put its stamp of approval on Indonesian authority and a couple of extra years of slaughter were the result before the ultimate intervention. I would argue that effective interventions to stop genocide are much more likely if they are undertaken outside the UN (Kosovo). ‘

Ahem. Ignoring the remarkable statement that Kosova is some kind of a success, this report (highlighted in CT no less) provides some information to qualify the above statement:

‘ According to war historians, the number of conflicts worldwide declined sharply in the last decade, and their overall lethality is the lowest since the 1950s….’

One of the key reasons for this fall?

‘The number of United Nations peacekeeping operations more than doubled from 1988 to 2005, from seven to 17.

“Until the 1990s, the international community did little to stop wars. Now it does lots,” said Andrew Mack, the director of the University of British Columbia’s Human Security Centre. And it’s working, Mack added, citing a report by the Rand Corp., a U.S. research center, that two-thirds of U.N. peacekeeping efforts succeed.

One of the few exceptions to this trend?

‘If war is falling out of fashion, Americans may be among the last to notice it. The United States has fought 16 armed conflicts since 1946. Only the United Kingdom, with 21, and France, with 19, have fought more, according to the University of British Columbia’s 2005 Human Security Report, which analyzes trends in political violence worldwide.’

http://www.humansecurityreport.info/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=196

The US, the UK and France start wars. The UN stops them.

8

Slocum 01.18.06 at 5:16 pm

That’s military actions. Like, killing a bunch of people to ‘support’ a rather abstract idea (‘democracy’). I think never having to put oneself in this position is a very comfortable position.

No, that’s all actions. Why would security-council member China favor even non-military interventions intended to support the spread of democracy at the same time it goes to great lengths to prevent even the discussion of democracy on the Internet in China? To ask the question is to answer it — it wouldn’t.

9

abb1 01.18.06 at 5:32 pm

Non-military democracy-promoting actions happen all the time and you don’t need anything from security council to act. Soros and his organizations, for example. ‘Intervention’ here is, of course, short for ‘military intervention’.

The UN, of course, is not (and shouldn’t be) in the business of either democracy-promotion or neoliberalism-promotion or communism-promotion or promotion of any other grand idea.

10

abb1 01.18.06 at 5:35 pm

It’s pretty much like separation of church and state. ‘Democracy’ is your church, and that’s fine, but others may prefer to remain loyal subjects of Her Majesty.

11

terence 01.18.06 at 5:36 pm

Personally, like with so many surveys, I find that the questions asked in the Boston Review (MIT) survey are frustratingly inexact.

Would I support an intervention to destroy a terrorist camp?

Yes, but I’d want to be pretty damn sure that it was a terrorist camp and not, say, an aspirin factory. I’d also want to know that civilian casualties were going to be minimal.

Would I support an intervention to spread democracy?

Damn straight if it was a situation like Haiti where the intervention had a good chance of success. Unlikely – for hundreds of reasons – in the case of Iraq.

In many ways I guess my answers would also be influenced by how much I trust the intervening power too. Do I trust their motives (which so often get reflected in outcomes)? Do I trust their knowledge of the region in question? Do I think trust/believe they have exhausted all other courses of actions (which is important because war is almost inevitably brutal and inexact)? In the case of the Iraq intervention, my answer to those questions was no. Which is why I didn’t support that particular attempt to “spread democracy”. Despite loathing Saddam Hussein and sincerely hoping there was some way of freeing Iraqi people from his tyranny.

12

J Thomas 01.18.06 at 5:47 pm

Slocum, I think you might be suffering from the illusion that everybody you oppose is just like you except on the other side.

The chinese might very well support an “intervention” that labeled “democracy promotion”. All that’s needed is that on-the-ground it supports their interests.

Just like our own government that way, we label what we do as “promoting democracy” but pretty consistently we’re looking after what the proponents of the war think of as their interests.

I doubt the chinese have anything in particular against democracy for other people. Just, their leaders don’t want democracy for china at the moment. To the extent they think that democracies tend to be irresolute and incapable of long-term planning, they might welcome democracies in other nations.

13

Thomas 01.18.06 at 6:16 pm

abb1, why should the UN be in the business of UN promotion? I mean, as is obvious from the survey, there are a lot of unbelievers out there.

14

roger 01.18.06 at 6:50 pm

There was a story in the Washington Post today that the U.S. asked the Bolivian military to send chinese made shoulder missile launchers they possessed to the U.S., to be destroyed, before the election of Evo Morales. The army secretly complied. I wonder where that counts in the spectrum of interventions? I guess it you have to prevent democracy before you can grow the right type of democracies.
Interestingly, the commander of the Bolivian army has tendered his resignation since it was discovered that he was literally working for the Americans. Didn’t CT have a discussion about imperialism a few weeks ago?

15

Barry 01.18.06 at 7:18 pm

Remember that ‘spreading democracy’ was something that the USAian right-wingers started talking up only when the ‘vast stockpiles of WMD’s’ turned out to be Republican propaganda. Even now, ‘spreading democracy’ is a ideal reserved only for countries on the Republican hit list for other reasons; just as Dafur is way down there on the Republican hit list for stopping slaughters.

16

james 01.18.06 at 7:53 pm

Brendan – The number of genocides has increased over the same time period. Each instance of Genocide carries a legal obligation to act (war). Slocum was right. The UN is a great place to assert moral correctness without actually doing anything.

The UN also has an interesting definition of success. Sierra Leone was considered by BBC news to be “…the biggest UN peacekeeping success in Africa for many years…” after a large UN peacekeeping force helped the state emerge from a decade of civil war in 2002. The only catch is the fact that the Sierra Leone government had successfully used mercenaries to force a surrender of the rebels in 1996. The UN forced the Sierra Leone government to remove the mercenaries and the war started back up. In the case of Sierra Leone, UN involvement is directly responsible for 6 additional years of civil war. Not exactly a success story.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1061561.stm

http://www.crimesofwar.org/thebook/mercenaries.html

17

Martin James 01.18.06 at 8:25 pm

Here’s an interesting factoid.

Democrats are 57% more likely (10.2%/6.5%)to support the the use of US troops to ensure the supply of oil than they are to support the use of US troops to assist the spread of democracy.

Republicans are 23% less likely (40.9%/53.2%) to support the the use of US troops to ensure the supply of oil than they are to support the use of US troops to assist the spread of democracy.

Wouldn’t have guessed that one.

18

Craig 01.18.06 at 8:53 pm

I wish these kind of polls would include the following two questions:

1. Do you believe Bush has the competence to spread democracy?

2. Do you believe it’s necessary sometimes for the government to curtail democratic principles at the same time we are trying to spread democracy?

I suppose these questions aren’t quite neutral enough for a real poll but they’re exactly the type of questions that need to be asked.

19

pedro 01.18.06 at 9:18 pm

I find the results of this survey rather astonishing. I can’t help but to think that the answers must have been carelessly contextual, i.e. that people were disinclined to consider the abstract issues and rushed to an answer based on their feelings about the current political circumstance.

I am as far away from being a Republican as probably anyone commenting at CT (honorable exception made for Scott Martens), but I am frankly ashamed that the Democrats seem to not support humanitarian intervention quite as much as Republicans do. Stopping genocide seems more like a moral obligation to me.

20

Thomas 01.18.06 at 9:44 pm

Pedro, to be fair, the genocide question includes a reference to civil war, and though the case for intervention in instances of genocide is clear, the case for intervention in instances of civil war isn’t at all clear in the abstract.

21

Barry 01.18.06 at 9:59 pm

Pedro, the only reason that you’re ashamed is that you believe the stated reason. Please remember that ‘democracy’, for Republicans, is only now why they invaded Iraq, because everything else fell through.

22

Brendan 01.19.06 at 4:44 am

Excuse me?

‘ The number of genocides has increased over the same time period’

From the report for which I gave the URL:

‘Instances of genocide and mass killings of ideological foes are also down from 10 a year in the early 1990s to one in 2004, according to Barbara Harff, a conflict historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.’

Incidentally: ‘The UN also has an interesting definition of success.’.

Well I don’t know enough about Sierra Leone to comment. But would I be right in assuming that you are one of those people who would count the current state of Iraq as being a ‘success’?

Even if you’re not, it is self-evidently true that the US also has an interesting definition of success, but we hear someowhat less about that from the UN-bashers. The fact is that many of us look to the UN precisely because in the case of Iraq we have seen what a non-UN intervention looks like, and the word ‘success’ is not the first one that springs to mind.

23

Brendan 01.19.06 at 4:51 am

Incidentally my comment that I don’t know much about Sierra Leone stands. But I do know that it’s a former British colony. I also know that mercenaries are universally loathed throughout the world as the ‘dogs of wars’: hired killers who murder for the highest bidder. Forgive me if I take the word of a man who slaughters for cash with a pinch of salt when he tells me how saintly and necessary he is for the ‘peace process’.

It should also be remembered that the former colonial power Great Britain (not the UN) is to a very large extent responsible for Sierra Leone’s current problems.

Here’s another view: http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/sierra_leone.htm

24

abb1 01.19.06 at 4:56 am

why should the UN be in the business of UN promotion

The UN in the business of peace promotion, and by peaceful means if at all possible. Peace among nation-states, collective security for the nation-states. Theoretically, if the UN calls for an ‘intervention’, then this is a true crisis, true emergency – emergency in the area of nation-states collective security.

The way I see it, the choice is this:
1. to respect and enforce sovereignty and treaties
2. to have powerful world government and
3. vigilantism and various ‘coalitions of the willing’ serving their predatory interests under various pretexts by means of war and violence.

Is there any other option?

25

soru 01.19.06 at 9:39 am

Incidentally my comment that I don’t know much about Sierra Leone stands

Rather than listing all the things you don’t know much about, perhaps it would be quicker to supply two lists:

1. the situations, if any, you do have a reasonable amount of knowledge of.

2. the situations, if any, about which you would not be prepared to make a definitive assignment of blame.

I rather suspect both lists would be short, if not empty.

soru

26

Brendan 01.19.06 at 9:53 am

Ah this is ‘humour’ is it Soru? I’ve heard it can be terribly effective in the right hands.

27

willie mink 01.19.06 at 9:59 am

Off topic, but important–get a note up, Crooked Timber folk, about the conservative branding of a “dirty thirty” radical scholars at UCLA. An alumni organization is paying students to rat out leftist profs. NPR covered it this morning; you can listen to the 3-minute story here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5162955

28

Grand Moff Texan 01.19.06 at 2:54 pm

Democrats were far less likely than Republicans to support interventions aimed at helping the international spread of democracy.

Probably because it’s been a complete bust, while Republicans are still in denial and waving purple fingers, yes. But that just goes to the issue that you raise, Henry, of when the poll was taken.
.

29

james 01.19.06 at 5:46 pm

Brendan – The time period you provided for reference was from 1988 to 2005. That 17 year period had more genocide (120+ based on your numbers) than any 17 year period prior to the creation of the UN. During that same time period, nation states avoided taking the treaty required military action to resolve the majority of these genocides. There wasn’t a decrease in war. One side of the conflict was simply massacred.

30

Brendan 01.20.06 at 4:50 pm

So James you are claiming that there was more genocide between 1988 and 2005 than between 1928 and 1945?

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