Tyranny of Good Intentions

What is to be made of the Emperor’s announcement of the "Atrocity Prevention Board", in the waning days of April? Without a doubt it is a carte blanche for "regime change", for intervention wherever, whenever, against whomever. That, then, puts it in a remarkable continuity with the 2008 "Bush Doctrine," itself a logical extension of the Brezhnev one.

Nor is this a recent phenomenon. As early as Obama’s inauguration, it was clear he would embrace continuity, rather than the change he promised. Rather than ending Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointless after the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama made them his own. Instead of hunting al-Qaeda, the troops were hitched into the oxcart of "nation-building" and democracy promotion. Even after the official exit from Iraq, and the recently negotiated exit from Afghanistan, to maintain the client regimes in Baghdad and Kabul, the Empire will need to maintain garrisons and spend further treasure. Which keeps dwindling, as it is.

Meanwhile, the Drone Wars rage on, the molestation at airports has reached unprecedented levels, and the Empire has turned its interventionist Eye elsewhere: Libya last year, and Syria now. Where is the outrage?

The difference is in packaging. The wars of Bush II were easy to mock as a product of greed, and his apparatus of power was arrogant enough to actually admit to will-to-power fantasies. Meanwhile, Bush helped the continuity of Empire when he chose to adopt his predecessor’s Balkans policy. With Obama in the White House effectively bringing a Clinton Restoration, the Balkans were once again trotted out as an example of Empire as the virtuous knight-errant, riding all over the globe to "stop atrocities" not for the sake of profit and power (!) but out of sheer altruism.

Wages of (In)gratitude

One typical proponent of this narrative is Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Last December, in a column accusing Rep. Ron Paul of being a Nazi (!), Cohen argued that "America remains a mighty nation, capable of doing good in the world." As examples, he cited Libya, Bosnia and Kosovo. Earlier this week, he complained that Syrians had to wait for their "liberation" through Imperial ordnance.

Oh, but Libya worked out so well, didn’t it?

Bosnia is a perennial favorite of the "humanitarian imperialist" set, the war that gave them meaning after the collapse of Communism. The recent 20th anniversary of the war’s outbreak brought forth a veritable orgy of self-righteous reminiscence from the journalists who built their careers on hyperbolic sob stories calling for Intervention Now.

Not only was intervening in Bosnia supposed to make the liberal imperialists feel better about themselves (their supreme value, after all), it was supposed to curry favor with "jihadists of all color and hue." The aforementioned Richard Cohen actually suggested, barely two months after 9/11, that the best strategy in the fight against al-Qaeda was "bagging Karadzic", the wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs.

Karadzic was "bagged" in 2008. Yet the only gratitude that has materialized so far has been a string of jihadists like Mevlid Jasarevic and Adis Medunjanin.

Snake’s Delight

As for Kosovo, much can be said about the wisdom – or lack thereof – of using an illegal war and even more illegal secession as any sort of precedent. More so because dozens of high-ranking Imperial officials swore that it wouldn’t be a precedent – for anyone but themselves, anyway.

It was entirely appropriate that the Atrocity Prevention Board got one of its first endorsements from none other than Hashim Thaci, once a KLA terrorist known as "Snake" and now the "Prime Minister of Kosovo" – and on the pages of WaPo-owned Foreign Policy, no less. Not only was Thaci one of the principal beneficiaries of "humanitarian interventionism," but if it becomes a permanent fixture of Imperial policy, it will effectively shield him from an inquiry into his ghoulish dealings: murder, torture, ethnic cleansing, organized crime and trade in body parts.

Atrocities committed by the Empire itself, or its clients and proxies, simply don’t count. Earlier this week, an EU-run "court" acquitted Fatmir Limaj, one of Thaci’s henchmen. He was accused of murder and torture in a KLA death camp. Granted, the mainstream media talk of "mistreatment" at a "prison" – but they also accept at face value the story that the principal witness in the case committed suicide by hanging himself in a public park, an occurrence as unusual as it is convenient.

Meanwhile, news comes that both the Libyan and Syrian “rebels” are appealing to Thaci’s “government” for advice and assistance. Not on how to fight – the KLA certainly couldn’t – but on how to win world sympathy and trigger intervention.

Not When We Do It

The very same journalists, diplomats and advocates that now cheer for "humanitarian imperialism" completely ignored "Operation Flash" – both when it happened, and on its anniversary. On May 1, 1995, the U.S.-trained and -armed Croatian military launched a lightning strike on a UN "safe area" inhabited by ethnic Serbs. But their murder and ethnic cleansing was quite all right – as was the subsequent "Operation Storm," in August that year – because it furthered Washington’s agenda in the Balkans. Likewise the 2004 pogrom of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, organized by the KLA – which was rewarded with "independence" in 2008.

In Empire-speak, an "atrocity" is anything the Other Side does, while the Empire itself and the Designated Victim can do no wrong, ever. Just as the "liberating" and "humanitarian" bombs instantly transform anyone they hit into an enemy combatant, while Empire-backed armed terrorists killed in battle magically become "innocent civilians." There is no logic involved here, just faith: in the absolute righteousness of Self, and absolute wickedness of the Other.

Monsters and Tyrants

In 1821, while he was Secretary of State for President Monroe, John Quincy Adams warned about the danger of embroiling America in foreign quarrels. America, he said, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Were America to enlist “under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence,” she would “involve herself beyond the power of extrication” in things that “assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit…”

Sounds eerily prophetic, does it not? How could Adams, who went on to become President himself (1825-29), have known about the ultimate outcome of weaponizing human rights? Because that "doctrine" is nothing but another coat to disguise the lust for power – and the Founders understood the perils of such lust all too well.

Today, 190 years hence, America’s official doctrine is to roam the world in search of monsters to destroy. In doing so it feeds the real monster: the Empire consuming it from within, body and soul.

It doesn’t make one bit of difference that the supposedly noble Barack Hussein Obama is in charge of such an enterprise rather than the supposedly venal George Walker Bush. For, to quote C.S. Lewis:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

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Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.