In defense of Mac McClelland (And the view from where I’m standing)

The indignant responses to Mac McClelland’s personal essay in GOOD about how she used consensual, violent sex to ease the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder she developed while reporting on sexual violence in Haiti are extreme examples of the limiting, self-defeating call-out culture in both journalism and American feminism.

That 36 well-respected women working as journalists, aid workers and researchers deemed it necessary to endorse a letter that shames a reporter grappling with PTSD for things she did not even write is evidence of just how widespread support for self-censorship is among a network that, were it to live up to its ideals, would encourage bold self-expression, but instead mobilizes to stamp it out and sow fear of independent thought. As Jill at Feministe put it in a piece about calling-out in the feminist blogosphere: “We have increasingly focused on shutting down voices rather than raising each other up.”

The letter:

To the Editors:

As female journalists and researchers who have lived and worked in Haiti, we write to you today to express our concern with Mac McClelland’s portrayal of Haiti in “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease my PTSD.”

We respect the heart of Ms. McClelland’s story, which is her experience of trauma and how she found sexuality a profound means of dealing with it. Her article calls much needed attention to the complexity of rape. But we believe the way she uses Haiti as a backdrop for this narrative is sensationalist and irresponsible.

The issue here is that McClelland re-tells the story of the gruesome aftermath of the rape of a Haitian woman, an aftermath McClelland herself witnessed, at the beginning of her piece. But she doesn’t bring up the story to make her piece more shocking –she brings it up because it was the event that set her on a collision course with PTSD. In other words, without telling that story, the rest of the essay wouldn’t make sense. It is a deeply disturbing, completely necessary part of McClelland’s narrative of her own trauma.

Between the 36 of us, we have lived or worked in Haiti for many years, reporting on and researching the country both long before and after the earthquake. We each have spent countless hours in the camps and neighborhoods speaking with ordinary Haitians about their experiences coping with the disaster and its aftermath.

We feel compelled to intervene collectively in this instance because, while speaking of her own personal experience, Ms. McClelland also implies that she is speaking up for female “journalists who put themselves in threatening situations all the time,” women who have “chosen to be around trauma for a living,” who she says “rarely talk about the impact.”

In writing about a country filled with guns, “ugly chaos” and “gang-raping monsters who prowl the flimsy encampments,” she paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia, which serves only to highlight her own personal bravery for having gone there in the first place. She makes use of stereotypes about Haiti that would be better left in an earlier century: the savage men consumed by their own lust, the omnipresent violence and chaos, the danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA.


“This is what a hit piece reads like when it’s cloaked in liberal arts school vernacular,”
Conor Friedersdorf wrote in his response to the letter at the The Atlantic.

I couldn’t agree more.

Nowhere in McClelland’s piece are the terms “heart-of-darkness dystopia,” “savage men consumed by their own lust,” or “danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA” used. And since when is it verboten to call men who gang rape homeless women “monsters”?

Sadly, these damaging stereotypes about the country are not uncommon. But we were disturbed to find them articulated in Ms. McClelland’s piece without larger context, especially considering her reputation for socially conscious reporting.

McClelland’s piece for GOOD is not a scholarly article about Haitian history. It is not even a reporting piece about Haiti today. It is a personal essay about one reporter’s literally physical battle with her psychological demons. (How difficult is it for other media professionals to distinguish between these?) McClelland isn’t obligated to fill her essay with any more context than is necessary to make sense of her own actions.

Ms. McClelland’s Haiti is not the Haiti we know. Indeed, we have all lived in relative peace and safety there.

The Afghanistan I know is not the Afghanistan many of my friends who have lived with more safeguards (and those who have lived with fewer) know. In fact, my Afghanistan –that is, the entirety of my experience in this country up to this moment– is known only to me.

Expats in places like Haiti and Afghanistan are not a uniform group. Some of us take more risks than others, live further outside the parameters of what is considered a sensible foreigner’s lifestyle and break more rules, both spoken and unspoken.

Those who live closer to the edge and those who do not stay long enough to experience the very real bursts of joy and love amidst the suffering, are struck more deeply by trauma. (McClelland definitely falls into the second category, and probably the first as well.)

When discussing the rampant, menacing sexual harassment on Kabul’s streets with other expats, I have actually been told that the problem is not serious, that I am being hypersensitive, that I am exaggerating and overreacting. The people who have said these things are, for the most part, people who do not walk alone, have not stood as frozen witnesses to men trying to drag a screaming woman into a car, have not been groped and cornered by Afghan men, do not have female Afghan friends and do not understand when a man shouts “Hey, foreign pussy!” at them in the local language.

But the women who responded to McClelland’s essay aren’t like that. They’ve lived in Haiti for years, even decades, a fact that makes statements like this even more baffling:

This does not mean that we are strangers to rape and sexual violence. We can identify with the difficulty of unwanted sexual advances that women of all colors may face in Haiti. And in the United States. And everywhere.

Now that is just college freshman bullshit. Again, I have to agree with Friedersdorf:

It isn’t fair to say that this paragraph is loaded with the pathologies of left-leaning political discourse. A journalist writing in The New York Review of Books or The Nation or The American Prospect would seek to correct alleged misinformation about the prevalence of rape in a country by providing the most accurate available statistics about the prevalence of rape there.

And this makes no sense whatsoever:

Unfortunately, most Haitian women are not offered escapes from the possibility of violence in the camps in the form of passports and tickets home to another country. For the thousands of displaced women around Port-au-Prince, the threat of rape is tragically high. But the image of Haiti that Ms. McClelland paints only contributes to their continued marginalization.

Actually, the image of Haiti McClelland paints, mostly in her reporting pieces for Mother Jones, is of a place where the threat of rape is tragically high for thousands of displaced women. It’s not at all clear what the authors are taking issue with here, besides McClelland receiving a great deal of attention while being a relatively new name in mainstream journalism and not a Haiti beat long-termer.

While we are glad that Ms. McClelland has achieved a sort of peace within, we would encourage her, next time, not to make Haiti a casualty of the process.

Oh, come on. Haiti has survived worse.

*

One day, when my time in Afghanistan is over, I intend to write about my life here. I do not intend to write a history of the Afghanistan war or a book about the intricacies of Afghan politics. Other people will write those books. Instead, I will write about the things that happened to me, the choices I made, the people I knew, and how my experiences affected me. Will it be self-indulgent? Absolutely. Because that’s what all personal writing –-including every male war correspondent memoir ever written– is.

I have male Afghan friends I trust with my life, but I have been cornered enough times by both strangers and personal acquaintances to fear the footfalls behind me and the grin of the average man on the street. I have learned to distrust before I trust. And when the time comes for me to write about my traumatic experiences with some Afghan men, I do not want to be told that I am marginalizing Afghan women, whining, or being racist.

Those of us who choose to go to work in places like Haiti and Afghanistan do just that –-we choose to work in extremely troubled places where we are outsiders. But the fact that we made that choice while others had it foisted on them at birth shouldn’t mean we aren’t allowed to write honestly and without shame or self-censorship about how we cope with the mental health issues that are among our occupational hazards.

*

And a few more points: Continue reading

We can’t be friends

American and Afghan soldiers (via Dion at the Wall Street Journal):

In 68 focus groups involving 613 Afghan police and soldiers throughout three provinces, some Afghans praised their American colleagues. But many, when asked what criticisms they had of the Americans, described American troops as “violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology,” the report said.

In an accompanying survey of about 100 U.S. troops, soldiers uniformly gave their Afghan partners poor marks. In a series of focus groups with about 130 Americans in total, the soldiers, asked about their complaints, described the Afghan service members as “cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous and murderous radicals,” according to the report.

The president and the parliamentarians (via Martine at the Afghansistan Analysts Network):

Afghanistan’s MPs have been in strike action that is unusual for a parliament: Since more than a week they refuse to debate. They sit still in the house and only from time to time let steam out by banging their desks, giving them some fun in a frustrating situation. The reason: They want to show their indignation to the President that he still has not made good of his promise to introduce the remaining seven ministers for a vote of confidence and force him to finally oblige (see an earlier blog on these developments here). In order to show that they are serious, they even had not gone into their summer recess which had actually started on 5 June. Now it is almost over without having ever started and the President is still ignoring them. He even chose to travel to Kazakhstan, instead, to participate as a guest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

Afghanistan and Pakistan (via Josh at Registan.net):

Afghanistan and Pakistan have made a habit of engaging in combat with each other over the last few years. I wrote about it earlier this year for AfPak Channel, and later noted an even bigger engagement than had previously been reported. But things have found a way to get even worse.

Militants in Afghanistan launched an attack onto Pakistani forces in Bajaur earlier this week [map]. In response, the Pakistani military moved in force into the area, and destroyed a few bomb factories.

Further south, the Pakistani military got into a scuffle with Pashtuns at the Chaman border crossing who resented being treated like insurgents during a search. A few hundred Balochi tribesman came out to protest the harassment, and managed to block the crossing for several hours until Pakistani troops fired into the crowd to disperse it, wounding eight people. Then, this morning the fighting inside Pakistan resulted in a stray rocket crossing the border and killing four Afghan children.

The right thing: Protection for Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis in the US

Imagine for a moment that you are a 25 year old Syrian.

You’ve just earned your Master’s degree in the United States. After two years, it’s time for you to go home. But the home you left isn’t the one you’ll be returning to. Everything has changed. Instead of happiness at your impending departure from the US, you feel fear, because you will be returning to a country in turmoil and a regime that will stop short of nothing –not even torturing and killing children– to put down a popular, pro-democracy uprising. Will the things you wrote about Syrian politics while living in America be held against you by the government? Will the mere fact that you studied in America mark you as a potential dissident and earn you harassment by the security forces? If you keep quiet and stay away from the protests, will you be caught in the crossfire anyway?

Please take a moment to add your voice to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants‘ appeal for temporary protected status (TPS) for Libyans, Syrians and Yemenis in the United States. TPS isn’t the same thing as asylum. People with TPS can’t stay indefinitely, but they are protected until it’s safe for them to return to their countries of origin.

So far, more than 450 letters were sent urging President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who are presently in the United States.

The more letters we send, the more likely our voices will be heard.  If you haven’t already, please ask our President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to protect the nationals of these countries in turmoil by allowing eligible individuals to remain in the United States legally until the violence and conflict in their home countries have subsided.  Click here to take action now >> 

TPS allows those who qualify to live, work, and study in the United States during the period of designation.  This temporary immigration status does not lead to permanent residency.  TPS may be granted in situations where there are extraordinary and temporary conditions, such as war or natural disaster, in the home country that prevent nationals from returning safely.

Please take action on behalf of Libyan, Syrian, and Yemeni nationals today >> 

Urge our policy makers to do the humane thing and grant TPS to Libyans, Yemenis, and Syrians.

About Kandahar’s new top cop

On April 15, the relentless Taliban assassination campaign in Kandahar claimed the life of Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Khan Mohammad Mujahid. Two days ago, Mujahid’s replacement was named: Colonel Abdul Razziq, the commander of the Afghan Border Police in the 404 Maiwand Zone.

Reading this news, it occurred to me that there could be only one explanation for the choice: a list of the worst people in Kandahar was drawn up and the new police chief was picked from that list.

You see, Razziq is more robber than cop, a nasty truth that annoyingly good journalist Matthieu Aikins brought attention to in his 2009 piece ‘The Master of Spin Boldak.’

[Former counter-narcotics officer] Lalai estimated that Razik pulls in between $5 million and $6 million per month in revenues, money he has invested in properties in Kabul and Kandahar and also abroad, in Dubai and Tajikistan. The racket itself is run directly by a select group of his commanders, who facilitate drug shipments and collect payment from the smugglers. Lalai showed me a list with their names—Janan was among them—and the names of the five biggest drug dealers in Spin Boldak. He said that Razik’s men also had imported shipping containers full of acetic anhydride, a chemical used in heroin manufacturing, from China.

Lalai was the only person I found who would openly accuse Razik of drug smuggling. The conjoined mention of “Abdul Razik” and “drug smuggling” by a Western journalist in Kandahar was enough to cast a chill over most interviews. But on condition of anonymity, two other Kandahari politicians—Achakzai tribal elders with clean reputations and who were widely respected—made similar assertions to me about Razik’s involvement in drug smuggling, his private prisons, his vast wealth, and his entanglement in a network of corrupt high officials and major drug smugglers. An official at the Kandahar office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, who asked not to be named, agreed that Razik was operating his own prisons and conducting extrajudicial executions.

I also spoke to one of Razik’s current commanders, who was initially extremely reluctant and agreed to meet only on the basis of absolute anonymity—Razik would kill him if he knew he was talking, he said. Still, he came forward because he felt that the corruption had swelled to monstrous proportions, and he was anguished about the worsening security situation that was costing the lives of more and more of his men. He said that even as the commander of a company-sized force in a volatile border zone, he was powerless to stop the convoys of drug smugglers that ran through his area. Not only were they better armed than he and his men; some smugglers had shown him letters of protection signed by Razik himself. Many of these convoys, the commander said, were in fact made up of green Border Police pickup trucks headed for the heroin laboratories in Helmand Province’s Taliban-controlled areas. Others were unmarked Land Cruisers headed south into Baluchistan.

“These men are destroying our country,” he said.

Razik’s clandestine smuggling operations have spilled over into the allied fight against the Taliban, thereby bolstering the widely held perception that the ISAF and the central government are favoring certain tribes and marginalizing others. Soon after he assumed power at the border, Razik began to feud with elements of the Noorzai tribe, particularly the Sultanzai, a rival smuggling clan spread between Spin Boldak and Chaman. One notorious incident took place during the summer of 2006 in Panjwaii District, a volatile area just west of Kandahar city. A predominantly Noorzai district, Panjwaii is a lush river valley crisscrossed by thick orchards and mud-walled compounds, and it provides an excellent springboard for attacks on Kandahar city. During the course of the summer, Taliban fighters had infiltrated the valley, and eventually the district governor, an Achakzai, called in Abdul Razik’s border force.

What followed was a debacle. The Noorzais, fearing their tribal enemies, rose up and joined forces with the Taliban. Razik and his men responded to the unexpected resistance with brutality. “They were killing women and children,” said Ustaz Abdul Halim, a Noorzai and former mujahideen commander who lives in Kandahar city. “After that, everyone was with the Taliban.”

But that’s not all! The multi-talented Razziq is also into election fraud.

Observers [during the 2010 elections] were anticipating extreme fraud in Kandahar, where what little security exists is dependent on strongmen. The most notable of these is the young Border Police colonel Abdul Raziq, who commands a large, mostly Achekzai militia based out of the key border town of Spin Boldak. In the 2009 presidential elections, Raziq proved that he could deliver vote counts through his commander network that extends through the districts of Maruf, Arghestan, Spin Boldak, Reg, Shorawak, and Daman. This year, he seems to have been elevated, in some respects, to a role in the elections equal to Ahmed Wali Karzai’s.

Amir Lalai, an incumbent who came in sixth, is a Popolzai jihadi commander with a strong presence in Shah Wali Kot, who reportedly patched things up with the Karzais after falling out during the presidential elections in 2009. Toran Abdul Khaliq Bala Karzai, the number two candidate, is a popular jihadi commander and minor political figure from Bala Karz, in Dand District, with close ties to Ahmed Wali. Fariba Kakar and Abdul Rahim Ayubi can also be considered ‘Karzai-friendly’ candidates.

However, Ahmed Wali Karzai and Raziq’s influence on the list of leading candidates has so far been less than might have been anticipated. Mohammed Ayub “Pahlawan,” a Spin Boldak Achekzai supported by Raziq, has not made that list. And the election, with high vote counts, of Hashmat Karzai and Hamidzai Lalai, two marginal players who are outside of the Ahmed Wali/Raziq nexus, is quite interesting and suggests that some sort of free market — for those with the cash and armed muscle — still exists in Kandahari politics.

In summary: there’s a reason –actually, many reasons– why my Afghan human rights activist friends refer to Razziq as “that assassin.”  But apparently none of those things matter (fuck vetting, right? yeah, fuck that squishy rule of law shit). Now, the drug-trafficking, election-rigging, rival-killing Razziq not only gets to be Kandahar’s police chief, he also gets to keep his old job as Maiwand 404 commander. He’s been promoted from rising thug to arguably the most powerful person in southern Afghanistan. How awesome is that?

Good luck, Kandaharis. I’m sorry you’ve been forced to live in a bad joke that never ends.

“Virginity is a natural stamp,” says Afghan Supreme Court member

IRIN recently published an Afghanistan article that has it all: women being treated as pieces of property (in this case, defective pieces of property), rampant ignorance of medical science, misogynist government officials and cultural practices that turn life into a miserable horror for people unlucky enough to run afoul of them.

It includes one of the worst stories I’ve heard in the past month –and that’s saying something.

Raela* was forcefully taken to a medical examiner on her wedding night after her husband accused her of losing her virginity and beat her. The examination showed she had lost her virginity long before the marriage and the 22-year-old was handed over to the judiciary for prosecution on charges of adultery.

Raela’s incarceration has devastated her family. They have to pay back almost US$10,000 to their former son-in-law, which was allegedly spent on the wedding ceremony.

“They have put their house up for sale and decided to leave this neighbourhood because they cannot live with the dishonour,” said one relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A weak, unprofessional justice sector and deeply ingrained prejudices against women are responsible for the nightmare Raela and other women face.

While virginity is not mentioned in the country’s penal system and other laws, say activists and lawyers, hundreds of women like Raela unfairly face serious formal and informal penalties for the alleged illicit loss of this cultural requirement.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage is a sin under Islamic jurisprudence and the Afghan laws largely derived from it.

“Virginity is a natural stamp,” said Mawlawi Mohammad Qasim, a member of the Supreme Court’s penal bureau. “When it is lost and the reason is proved to be illegitimate sexual relations it implies adultery, which should be punished,” he said adding that an unmarried person caught having sex outside marriage, male or female, could be sentenced to three to five years in prison while married adulterers received heavier penalties.

And Mawlawi Qasim’s beliefs aren’t out of sync with those of the society at large, nor, sadly, with the Afghan medical community.

Medical workers are often called in to prove a woman’s virginity – a requirement for women preparing for marriage.

“Virginity and adultery tests are part of our normal work,” said Del Aqa Mahboobi, a medical expert in Kabul. But there are few facilities and a shortage of female experts to undertake very intimate tests.

The tests involve an examination of the vagina to see whether a girl’s or woman’s hymen is intact, but experts say it can be torn by factors other than intercourse. When forced or coerced, according to Amnesty International, virginity tests degrade women and are a form of torture.

In what seems to be the lone ray of light in an otherwise very, very grim situation, a handful of activists are speaking out against these practices and the attitudes that perpetuate them.

Demanding that men too face the law, Sheela Samimi, an advocacy officer with the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), said: “Can a girl ask [medical experts] to test whether her would-be husband had sex before marriage and when proved wrong would officials prosecute the man as they do a woman?”

With every female victim of adultery, she added, there was a man or men who rarely faced justice.

Payback

A few days ago, I wrote at UN Dispatch that:

The intervening parties in Libya should make it clear to the rebels that no amount of revenge violence against civilian supporters of the Gaddafi regime, or loyalist tribes, or foreign migrant workers or any other group will be tolerated.

Likewise, the international community should be absolutely clear that it expects prisoners of war to be treated humanely, in accordance with international law, regardless of which side they fought for.

Now, here’s the LA Times today:

Rebel forces are detaining anyone suspected of serving or assisting the Kadafi regime, locking them up in the same prisons once used to detain and torture Kadafi’s opponents.

For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.

Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi’s militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. It has launched nightly manhunts for about 8,000 people named as government operatives in secret police files seized after internal security operatives fled in the face of the rebellion that ended Kadafi’s control of eastern Libya last month.

These are profoundly ominous developments.

So, here’s me warmongering out of control

Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece that’s been showing up in my facebook feed for the past couple of days. Greenwald opposes the intervention in Libya, but not for any reasons that hold water.

Advocating for the U.S.’s military action in Libya, The New Republic‘s John Judis lays out the argument which many of his fellow war advocates are making: that those who oppose the intervention are guilty of indifference to the plight of the rebels and to Gadaffi’s tyranny:

[…] in Judis’ moral world, there are only two possibilities: one can either support the American military action in Libya or be guilty of a “who cares?” attitude toward Gadaffi’s butchery. At least as far as this specific line of pro-war argumentation goes, this is just 2003 all over again. Back then, those opposed to the war in Iraq were deemed pro-Saddam: indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Iraqi people at his hands and willing to protect his power. Now, those opposed to U.S. involvement in the civil war in Libya are deemed indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Libyan people from Gadaffi and willing to protect his power. This rationale is as flawed logically as it is morally.

Why didn’t this same moral calculus justify the attack on Iraq? Saddam Hussein really was a murderous, repressive monster: at least Gadaffi’s equal when it came to psychotic blood-spilling. Those who favored regime change there made exactly the same arguments as Judis (and many others) make now for Libya: it’s humane and noble to topple a brutal dictator; using force is the only way to protect parts of the population from slaughter (in Iraq, the Kurds and Shiites; in Libya, the rebels); it’s not in America’s interests to allow a deranged despot (or his deranged sons) to control a vital oil-rich nation; and removing the tyrant will aid the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Why does that reasoning justify war in Libya but not Iraq?

Because there was no imminent massacre looming in Iraq in 2003. The no fly zone over northern Iraq, imposed at the end of the first Gulf War to protect Iraqi Kurds, had been effective. The rest of the country was hushed in fear by a totalitarian state and choked economically by international sanctions, but Saddam Hussein was not threatening to send his soldiers into a population center and carry out a house-by-house slaughter in March 2003. Gaddafi, in contrast, had promised to do just that. And not only had he promised a massacre, he’d also very nearly delivered on that promise.

Even after Western air strikes began, Libyan troops entered Benghazi, killing scores of people and sending thousands fleeing eastward. (Two of my journalist friends were among those who believed they would surely die if they did not get away from the city.)

In Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt argues that “liberal interventionists” and neocons share most of the same premises about America’s foreign policy and its role in the world, with the sole exception being that the former seek to act through international institutions to legitimize their military actions while the latter don’t. Strongly bolstering Walt’s view is this morning’s pro-war New York Times Editorial, which ends this way:

Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world.

Wasn’t all of that at least as true of Saddam Hussein?

Well, no, because, in addition to the reasons I mentioned above, there was no Arab Spring to chill in 2003.

Wasn’t that exactly the “humanitarian” case made to justify that invasion? And wasn’t that exactly the basis for the accusation against Iraq war opponents that they were indifferent to Saddam’s tyranny — i.e., if you oppose the war to remove Saddam, it means you are ensuring that he and his sons will stay in power, which in turn means you are indifferent to his rape rooms and mass graves and are willing to stand by while the Iraqi people suffer under his despotism? How can the “indifference-to-suffering” accusation be fair when made against opponents of the Libya war but not when made against Iraq war opponents?

UNSCR 1973 authorizes the use of force to protect civilians. It was passed in response to the imminent threat of mass killing, not the mere existence of a repressive and often violence regime. The world has no shortage of cruel governments, but instances of regimes planning or carrying out large-scale slaughters of their own people are mercifully rare.

If the lesson the international community took away from the shame of Rwanda was not to wring its hands while the graves overflow, the lesson of Iraq was to not rush into illegal military boondoggles. Both lessons seem to have been applied to Libya.  Action was not taken until the last possible moment and not until it had been sanctioned by a multilateral authority.

But my real question for Judis (and those who voice the same accusations against Libya intervention opponents) is this: do you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression, or to stop the still-horrendous suffering in the Sudan, or to prevent the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast? Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

The only situation among the many mentioned here that comes anywhere close to the magnitude of Libya is the Ivory Coast. It looks increasingly possible that civilians there might soon face the same terrible prospects civilians in Libya are facing now –or worse. If the Ivory Coast appears to be on the verge of a bloodbath, and force is the last option left untried to prevent the unthinkable, then yes, shit, I guess I would support some kind of intervention in the Ivory Coast.

If not, doesn’t that necessarily mean — using this same reasoning — that you’re indifferent to the suffering of all of those people, willing to stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered, to leave in place brutal tyrants who terrorize their own population or those in neighboring countries? Or, in those instances where you oppose military intervention despite widespread suffering, do you grant yourself the prerogative of weighing other factors: such as the finitude of resources, doubt about whether U.S. military action will hurt rather than help the situation, cynicism about the true motives of the U.S. government in intervening, how intervention will affect other priorities, the civilian deaths that will inevitably occur at our hands, the precedents that such intervention will set for future crises, and the moral justification of invading foreign countries? For those places where you know there is widespread violence and suffering yet do not advocate for U.S. military action to stop it, is it fair to assume that you are simply indifferent to the suffering you refuse to act to prevent, or do you recognize there might be other reasons why you oppose the intervention?

In the very same Editorial where it advocates for the Libya intervention on the grounds of stopping government violence and tyranny, The New York Times acknowledges about its pro-intervention view: “not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries.” Are those who merely “condemn” the violence by those two U.S. allies but who do not want to intervene to stop it guilty of indifference to the killings there? What rationale is there for intervening in Libya but not in those places?

[…]

Gaddafi is crazy and evil; obviously, he wasn’t going to listen to our advice about democracy. The world would be fortunate to be rid of him. But war in Libya is justifiable only if we are going to hold compliant dictators to the same standard we set for defiant ones. If not, then please spare us all the homilies about universal rights and freedoms. We’ll know this isn’t about justice, it’s about power.

[…]

But what I cannot understand at all is how people are willing to believe that the U.S. Government is deploying its military and fighting this war because, out of abundant humanitarianism, it simply cannot abide internal repression, tyranny and violence against one’s own citizens. This is the same government that enthusiastically supports and props up regimes around the world that do exactly that, and that have done exactly that for decades.

Greenwald could have gone on and made the point that the European countries involved in the Libya war have even nastier histories in the Arab world than the United States. All that and more would have been true. But this line of reasoning assumes that countries can never learn from their past mistakes and do better.

No UN Army exists. The Security Council is composed of member states and its writ under Chapter Seven is carried out by the militaries of member states. There are no angelic countries and only a handful capable of employing force thousands of miles from their own borders. At the top of that list is the United States, for better or worse.

By all accounts, one of the prime administration advocates for this war was Hillary Clinton; she’s the same person who, just two years ago, said this about the torture-loving Egyptian dictator: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” They’re the same people overseeing multiple wars that routinely result in all sorts of atrocities. They are winking and nodding to their Yemeni, Bahrani and Saudi friends who are doing very similar things to what Gadaffi is doing, albeit (for now) on a smaller scale. They just all suddenly woke up one day and decided to wage war in an oil-rich Muslim nation because they just can’t stand idly by and tolerate internal repression and violence against civilians? Please.

Clinton’s remarks about Mubarak, and the longstanding policies they represented, are repellent. The US should not be propping up oppressive regimes in the Middle East or anywhere else. At the same time, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are not currently planning any massacres (that we’re aware of) or employing violence on the scale as Gaddafi’s military. And scale should matter when the decision is made to intervene militarily.

For the reasons I identified the other day, there are major differences between the military actions in Iraq and Libya. But what is true of both — as is true for most wars — is that each will spawn suffering for some people even if they alleviate it for others. Dropping lots of American bombs on a country tends to kill a lot of innocent people. For that reason, indifference to suffering is often what war proponents — not war opponents — are guilty of.

That’s why military interventions like the one in Libya should be limited in scope, based on a well-informed calculation that they will result in fewer deaths than inaction, and adhere to international humanitarian law. As I wrote the other day, protecting civilians must be the only objective, even if that one day means protecting them from anti-Gaddafi forces.

But whatever else is true, the notion that opposing a war is evidence of indifference to tyranny and suffering is equally simple-minded, propagandistic, manipulative and intellectually bankrupt in both the Iraq and Libya contexts. And, in particular, those who opposed or still oppose intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, the Sudan, against Israel, in the Ivory Coast — and/or any other similar places where there is widespread human-caused suffering — have no business advancing that argument.

I wonder if, as Bosnia descended into mayhem, Greenwald argued that the international community would be hypocritical to act there because it wasn’t stopping tandem mass killings of civilians in Chechnya, Burma, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

I have lived in Bosnia and Afghanistan. I know people from both countries who collected their neighbors’ body parts from the sidewalks and watched their capital cities blown to pieces. I do not think the international community’s limited intervention in Bosnia was made immoral by the fact that it showed indifference to Afghanistan’s ruinous civil war until that war indirectly led to the deaths of thousands of Americans.