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Dependence On Intervention

Via Yglesias, Matt Bai tries to make sense of McCain’s interventionist standards:

“I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa. The government of South Africa has obviously not been effective, to say the least, in trying to affect the situation in Zimbabwe, and one reason is that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of modern colonialism. So that’s a problem I think we will continue to have on the continent of Africa. If you send in Western military forces, then you risk the backlash from the people, from the legacy that was left in Africa because of the era of colonialism.”

Fortunately, he said this “thoughtfully,” so I suppose this means we can forget about his apparent ignorance of the Near East’s colonial past.  By this standard, McCain could not support interventions on most continents, since every one has experienced some form of foreign, usually European, colonialism at some point.  (This is true of Europeans as well–eastern Europeans have experienced Ottoman, German and Soviet colonialism.)   Antarctica would theoretically still be available.  If McCain applied this standard consistently, most of our bases and deployments around the world could be shut down right away. 

While I don’t believe for a moment that McCain’s reluctance to intervene in Africa has something to do with concerns about the legacy of colonialism, McCain’s answer on Zimbabwe is the right one, though it doesn’t go quite far enough.  The complete answer would be: it would be resented as neo-colonialism and we have no reason to interfere in the affairs of Zimbabwe, bad as the situation may be.  A truly superior answer would include the added point: if these countries are ever going to be free of the effects of colonialism (and these effects include the abuses of the regimes created by old, kleptocratic anti-colonialists), they and their neighbours must solve their own problems without the possibility or expectation that outside forces are doing to sweep in and attempt to fix things.  Never mind that the attempt may make things worse or change nothing–even the expectation of intervention is the kind of crutch that you hold out to developing nations only if you want to keep them perpetually in a position of weakness and dependence.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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