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Supporting Human Rights Means War

March 18, 2011

Some attitudes and patterns persist long enough to become tropes, and among the political bloggers on the left, a popular trope (imported from the ambient politics of our time) is the idea of a chicken-hawk, someone who advocates for war without offering any sacrifices, either in the form of military service or (as is sometime more generally alleged) without a commitment to properly fund the engagement.

I think there's probably some truth to the trope, but I would argue that it undermines itself because the typical target is a white male draft-dodger of privilege advocating for war from a protected political position of power. The reality is that war mongering draws from many different ideological camps. I think it is time that popular perceptions realign with the truth, that we stop being distracted by neo-conservative fuzziness and adopt the following central principle:

The people most in favor of war are the people most in favor of human rights.

Consider as an example the advocates for armed conflict in Libya: Samantha Power, Gayle Smith, Mike McFaul, Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Of these objectively pro-war people there is absolutely no history of military service. Samantha Power and Mike McFaul are political scientists specializing in human rights. Gayle Smith is a former journalist (who may have the most first hand experience of war at least), Joe Biden and Barack Obama are lawyers turned politicians.

I don't have any particular problem with a lack of military service among the political elite, even when those political elite advocate for war as the solution to some foreign policy need. What I have a problem with is the hollowness of the double standard that was applied to Bush, Cheney and others with respect to the same use of force. Being ideologically left doesn't mean one is entitled to apply labels like "chicken-hawk" based on essentially class and party sensibilities.

Moreover, I have not figured out how people who support human rights justify the civilian casualties that result from military interventionism. I thought invading Iraq would ultimately be a good move when I first heard about it. Given what we have learned since then, why hasn't the mind set of supporters of universal human rights changed?