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   205 8 Conclusion War is a racket. It always has been. —Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, US Marine Corps The concept of humanitarian interventionism has recently endured new challenges as a result of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Presented as a straightforward case of humanitarian intervention, the invasion was intended to “liberate the people of Iraq from a cruel and violent dictator,” in the words of President George W. Bush.1 Indeed, Bush’s speeches during the lead-up to war contain numerous claims of America’s humanitarian intent. True, the humanitarian justifications for war were not the only justifications; many security-based arguments also were advanced (such as the need to protect the United States against Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections, which later proved nonexistent). But overall, the war was presented as an idealistic action that advanced moral principles as well as US national interests; and it was supported as such by a wide range of liberal intellectuals.2 But the Iraq war has gone badly indeed, and the humanitarian effects of this particular intervention must be regarded as negative. In this context, some recall the earlier interventions in Yugoslavia with nostalgia. To state the matter simply, Yugoslavia is remembered as the “good war”—which achieved genuinely humanitarian outcomes—and it thus offers a welcome contrast with the Iraq fiasco.The Balkan nostalgia also results from electoral politics: Democratic politicians are drawing attention to the “successful” US bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina as examples of how intervention should be undertaken. By emphasizing the positive aspects of these campaigns, Democrats are trying to show that they too are capable of using military force (with the implied additional claim that they can do so more effectively, more competently, and more humanely than their Republican opponents). But the benign image of the Balkan interventions extends well beyond Democratic circles, and it is bipartisan to a significant degree. The main purpose of this book has been to debunk this benign image, and 206   First Do No Harm to argue that it relies on a series of myths. In this conclusion, I briefly reconsider some of these myths. The Effects of Intervention When judging the merits of any humanitarian intervention, the main consideration must be the effects of intervention, that is, whether the intervention improved or worsened living conditions in the target country.3 In Iraq, of course, the results have been disconcerting, as the US invasion of that country clearly worsened conditions, by any reasonable standard. There are many indicators of this failure, but the most salient is the annual death rate for Iraqis, which has increased significantly since the invasion.4 I have argued at length here that external intervention in Yugoslavia also produced negative effects, especially from a humanitarian standpoint. One important finding is that intervention helped create the conditions that led to war: In Chapter 3, we saw that the International Monetary Fund imposed draconian structural adjustment programs on Yugoslavia after 1979, which lowered living standards to depression levels. These conditions, in turn, generated political conflict, as citizens from various ethnic groups sought to blame scapegoats from rival groups for the country’s problems; opportunistic politicians such as Slobodan Milošević sought to advance themselves by playing the ethnic card and thus exacerbated latent conflicts. The communal violence that resulted from structural adjustment produced tragic results. Western governments were complicit in imposing these IMF programs. The US government seems to have played an especially important role in guiding the Fund’s actions with regard to the Yugoslav federation and also more generally. US and IMF officials disregarded evidence that structural adjustment was producing destructive results. In several instances, Western decision makers missed important opportunities to alleviate Yugoslavia’s economic crisis and refused to ease up on their demands for austerity. In 1990, for example, Yugoslav prime minister Ante Marković urged the Bush administration to provide financial relief to his country, including a possible postponement of debt payments. External financial support at this crucial point could have reduced some of the worst effects of the economic crisis, and thus bolstered Marković and his multiethnic government. At the same time, debt relief would have undercut such demagogues as Milošević, who were taking advantage of the desperate conditions . It should be recalled that in 1990, Prime Minister Marković was the most popular politician in Yugoslavia, and he received high public opinion ratings throughout the federation. With outside financial support, he might have prevented the federation from...


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