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Mark Lance

A couple things: There have been numerous instances in which the UN - with backing of the US and Europe - have endorsed interventions by local groups in regional conflicts with support and training from western powers. So I don't think there is any sense in which this is unprecedented.
Second, the reason is typically that a more local response is likely to cause less popular backlash than troops from the US and Europe, which is the quoted justification McMahon gives here.

So while I agree that there are all sorts of unintended consequences of the sort you mention - all of which of course depend greatly on the specifics, you seem to be imagining a taliban-like army being raised, whereas I imagine McMahon has in mind something under the auspices of the Arab league - you don't seem to really take seriously this argument. And surely there is something to it, right? The US is rather universally distrusted - and not just for the fantasies mentioned in your quote but for all too real history - in the region, and the presence of US troops will certainly cause some to side with whomever we are fighting. Whether that is the decisive consideration or not, it is worth considering seriously.

Schliesser, Eric

On the first: yes, phrased like that it's fairly common. The question is if these cases also fall under humanitarian intervention. As I said, I am unfamiliar with such examples (but I may be wrong).
Second, if McMahan had mentioned the Arab League I would have addressed it. He wrote about "Shiites, Kurds and...Sunnis."
Both your comments mention multilateral institutions; McMahan seems less focused on them.

Mark Lance

Not sure how you are delimiting humanitarian, but plenty of these cases have been interventions into civil wars. So relevantly similar.

OK, so there is a big difference strategically between working through institutions and working through non-governmental armed groups. But the point about the negatives of US ground intervention apply either way, and need to be taken seriously, and your main objection - asking others to take the risks - applies irrespective of that issue. Also, it seems to me that involving the Arab League or other institutions would be a friendly amendment of the McMahon position, and I was just wondering your opinions about that.

Schliesser, Eric

I doubt my opinion is worth much here. But I suspect that the Arab League is split between those that primarily wish to defeat the Shiite [Iran/Hezbollah]/Allawi [Assad] alliance and are using IS (while not being especially fond of it) as a proxy in their war against that alliance, and those that find IS the worst threat.

Jeff McMahan

Schliesser makes a number of good points here but I do not think they undermine the case I made in my article. I have not advocated a humanitarian intervention “by proxy,” in which the “killing and dying is farmed out to indigenous others” who are “to die for [my] principles.” A proxy war, as I understand that term, is a war fought by some for the benefit of others. But as my short article made clear, and as Schliesser at one point acknowledges, I see the principal beneficiaries of military action against the Islamic State as those who live in the cities currently under occupation and those who live in nearby areas who are threatened with the same fate that those under occupation have suffered. What I have advocated is a humanitarian rescue and campaign of defense conducted primarily by the victims’ fellow citizens, who are themselves, along with their families and co-religionists, also the most imminently threatened of the further potential victims of the Islamic State. In this sense Schliesser is right to see what I have advocated as largely a counter-offensive in a pair of now overlapping civil wars. The labels “humanitarian intervention” and “civil war” are mutually exclusive except when there is an external intervention in support of one side in a civil war (or pair of civil wars). And that is what I have argued for. I think that the states and organizations that Schliesser refers to has “the hegemonic powers” ought to support to the greatest degree possible the expulsion of Islamic State fighters from the cities they occupy. (When these fighters have invaded, subjugated, and occupied cities whose citizens they then subject to draconian law with executions of those with different religious beliefs, the sale of women as sexual slaves, the training of children in techniques of beheading, and so on, I think the word “purge” is entirely apt.) But one constraint on the ability of the hegemonic powers to fight against the Islamic State in ways that are not counterproductive is the one I adumbrated and that Lance cites more explicitly – namely, that the more the fighting is conducted by perceived crusaders, the more local resistance – and foreign recruitment – it is likely to provoke. So the expulsion of the Islamic State and the nullification of the caliphate are much more likely to be effective if they are carried out by the more decent parties to the original civil wars. Schliesser is right that civil wars are often even more savage than interstate wars. But a substantial proportion of the Islamic State fighters are not original parties to the civil wars in Iraq and Syria but fanatics from all over the Middle East, Europe, the US, and elsewhere in the world. They are an international group of devotees of a political and religious entity whose hegemonic aspirations are far more comprehensive than any imagined by any of Schliesser’s “hegemonic powers.” One last point. The word limit for my piece was 700. I took 850 and could take no more. If I had been able to, I would have acknowledged that thus far the Assad regime has slaughtered far more innocent people than Islamic State has. I advocated humanitarian intervention on behalf of the potential victims of the Assad regime in both Al Jazeera and the Huntington Post in September of 2013 and still believe that I was right to do so. A military campaign that would expel the Islamic State fighters but leave Assad in power would be tragically incomplete.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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