The Plank

Justifications

By and

In regards to the U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, Isaac Chotiner writes as if I cannot distinguish between justifications for military action and whether such actions are "right or proper."

Well, just last month I wrote a piece arguing that while Great Britain would be entirely justified invading Zimbabwe and overthrowing Robert Mugabe, that such an action would be "both militarily and politically infeasible." While the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is grave, it does not affect international security in the same way as the jihadist take-over of the Horn of Africa. So, yes, just because "armed reprisal" may be justified does not always make it "right." But the Somali intervention was clearly both.

In addition to Somalia, Isaac cites Israel's war in southern Lebanon last year and Iraq as examples of wars "justified" by contraventions of international law (and other grievances) in which "from my minimal knowledge...'armed reprisal' failed badly." Leaving aside Iraq, which is far too complicated an issue to discuss in this blog post, in the case of Hezbollah, the problem was not that Israel waged war (in self-defense), but that it did not wage war long or thoroughly enough. This has been confirmed by a leading Hezbollah figure who has said that the terrorist group would have surrendered after 10 more days of Israeli attacks.

I'll leave the last word to Eli Lake, Washington correspondent of the New York Sun and frequent TNR contributor, who emailed me about this debate:

Do any of the netrooters remember the 1990s? What are the other
"proper courses of actions" when dealing with terrorists who take over weak
regimes? Sanctions? Diplomacy? Amnesty International letter writing
campaigns? My problem with the netleft at this moment is their failure to
recognize terrorism and the designs of terrorists as coordinated and
deliberate acts of war. When the transitional government is driven from
Mogadishu, there are two options for the civilized world: surrender or fight
back. By the way, Judis wrote a piece about all of this at the time that failed to
even acknowledge the context you brought to light yesterday, a meme he
borrowed from Yglesias. We see a similar dynamic in the left's thumb sucking
on Iran. Enough.

Enough indeed.

--James Kirchick

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