Hard power

A people oppressed by years of military rule is a little like a hostage: they're oppressed against their will (no surprise), and they're subject to all sorts of unspeakable brutalities (including murder).  But that's pretty much it.  However difficult it is to rescue hostages (and it's very difficult I'm sure), it's rather easier than rescuing an oppressed people with "democracy" or "humanitarian intervention").  For that reason, Charles Krauthammer's analogizing the Columbian hostage rescue (which used "hard power"–no shooting, however!) to the invasion of Iraq (which used shooting) makes one cringe:

And who's going to intervene? The only country that could is the country that in the past two decades led coalitions that liberated Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan [The only country?  Not only are these situations significantly different from each other, but, Europe participated in all four of them–eds]. Having sacrificed much blood and treasure in its latest endeavor — the liberation of 25 million Iraqis from the most barbarous tyranny of all, and its replacement with what is beginning to emerge as the Arab world's first democracy — and having earned near-universal condemnation for its pains, America has absolutely no appetite for such missions.

And so the innocent languish, as did Betancourt, until some local power, inexplicably under the sway of the Bush notion of hard power, gets it done — often with the support of the American military. "Behind the rescue in a jungle clearing stood years of clandestine American work," explained The Post. "It included the deployment of elite U.S. Special Forces . . . a vast intelligence-gathering operation . . . and training programs for Colombian troops."

Upon her liberation, Betancourt offered profuse thanks to God and the Virgin Mary, to her supporters and the media, to France and Colombia and just about everybody else. As of this writing, none to the United States.

All of this to claim the French are sissies (yet again).  But, as certainly the French know, libertating a hostage from a captor has one clear marker of success: the hostage's life and freedom.  The success metric of an invasion?  Perhaps when they see us, their liberator, as their oppressor.  For then they are truly free.

8 thoughts on “Hard power”

  1. jcasey, 2 questions.
    Is it ever justified for US to be the cop of the world?
    If yes, when? We were in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. But who cares about Rwanda, right?
    And you make few suggestions here on how we should apply our “hard power” only if 1) it’s easy 2) we don’t use guns 3), and “Europe” will back us up.
    Now, I don’t buy into that “hard power” reasoning for the Iraqi war; we didn’t go to Iraq to liberate Iraqi people. That’s an argument that was later brought up. That’s why I think this analogy fails and it is weak. But, if we would’ve argued all along that the only reason for the Iraq war was to free the Iraqi, then I could see this analogy being made.

  2. I don’t have a worthwhile opinion on those questions–and I didn’t make those suggestions you seem to attribute to me (if I read you right).

    I think the analogy fails because a small group of people held hostage is rather unlike an entire country under an oppressive regime. As we have learned in Iraq, you can’t just “liberate” them as you can hostages.

  3. Right, the scale is not even close. But, isn’t the crux of the issue the same? Oppressed people being liberated? Now, if Iraq was a successful liberation is a completely different question.

  4. BN – I think its misleading to describe those in a hostage situation as “oppressed people”. They are more than just oppressed – they are incarcerated. Freeing wrongly incarcerated people from their captors does not guarantee liberation from oppression for those same people. Colombia’s government has a terrible human rights record, so many of their citizens could be considered oppressed, though not incarcerated (many are both, however). Corporeal and political liberation are two very different things…

  5. good point jem.
    So then the analogy was weak before the author even got as far as to compare it to Iraq war. He already linked the hostage situation with liberating “Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan”.
    So, I guess my point is that I assumed that jcasey is ok with the original analogy between the hostage situation and liberating the nations; it’s just the Iraq vs hostage situattion analogy he has a problem with.

  6. I’m glad you brought this topic up because I want to throw something out there that’s a little (maybe more than a little) off from the post. Is anyone else concerned about the rescuers posing as aid workers? Obviously I’m glad it worked for the sake of the hostages, but have the rescuers risked the lives of the other hostages to a greater extant by making the hostage takers less than or completely unwilling to allow aid workers access to the hostages in the future? I admit total ignorance about how the hostage/hostage taker/aid worker relationship works, but I haven’t heard anyone bring this up. Any thoughts?

  7. That is a good question, Nevyn. In one sense, it seems that rescue operations might serve to radicalize FARC even further, making them completely unwilling to negotiate or allow any outsiders in to their organization. Good for these hostages, but probably bad for the remaining hostages…

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