The Moral Logic of Humanitarian Intervention

Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker:

Power’s book didn’t offer much discussion of failure, of the limitations of intervention, even in places where it was unclear that American efforts could have succeeded. In Rwanda, which is often cited as an example of U.S. inaction, most of the killing was done so swiftly—eight hundred thousand people in three months—that it’s hard to imagine the American bureaucracy and military orchestrating a response quickly enough to make a difference, and then staying around long enough to insure that violence didn’t recur. But in 2002 the notion that America could police the world didn’t seem so far-fetched. nato had recently taken on three new members. China’s economy was a tenth of its present size. The World Trade Center had been destroyed, but the U.S. had toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq was still a year away.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not pitched as humanitarian interventions. (That came later, as proponents looked for retroactive justification.) But for many in the American foreign-policy establishment the coming decade served as a rebuke to the idea that the U.S. could remake the world.

more here.