Sunday, May 1, 2011

Responsibility to Protect (R2P): White Man's Burden Redux

by William A. Levinson

The so-called "Responsibility to Protect" is a favorite concept of President Obama's foreign policy advisor Samantha Power. But beneath the humane sounding rhetoric lies an ugly reality.

The "About" page of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) says:

If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

This statement differs little from 19th century justifications for colonialism, and it is instructive to compare it to the following:

  1. "Take up the White Man's burden--Send forth the best ye breed," from Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden."
  2. "Underneath the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag," a song from the Philippine insurrection of 1898-1899. The Krag was the Krag-Jorgensen Rifle, which was then in service in the American Armed Forces.
  3. Ann Coulter's "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" is a more recent expression of the above sentiments.

There is in fact some justification for these positions. The Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which is reflected in Rousseau's Social Contract, says a government derives its authority and legitimacy through service to its people. Frederick the Great said, for example, that the prince is the first servant of his people. The Mandate of Heaven, and the Social Contract as embodied explicitly in the Declaration of Independence, add that the people have a right to depose a government that does not serve them:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This principle gives or gave the people of Libya, Iraq, Iran, and so on the right to overthrow their governments. It also invites civilized nations to assist them, although would-be interventionists must first consider the likely costs in both lives and treasure along with the omnipresent danger of taking sides in a civil war.

ICRtoP's application of this concept to Israel ("Israel's Bombardment of Gaza is not Self-Defencets a war Crime" [sic] as posted on its Web site) is, however, dishonest because Israel is a modern democracy whose people can "alter or abolish" their government through purely nonviolent means during any election. Israel's residents, whether Jew or Arab, can worship as they please and express opinions nonviolently without fear of repression. Israel cannot imprison or otherwise punish anybody without due process in a legal system similar to that of the United States, United Kingdom, and other civilized nations.

It is actually the Palestinians under so-called self-rule in Gaza and even the West Bank who often live or die at the whim of their so-called governments. Freedom House's 2010 report gave regions under control of the Palestinian Authority a rating of 6, with 7 being the worst possible, for political freedoms and civil rights. The report describes violence against political opponents, lack of a free press, extrajudicial executions, and government-sanctioned violence against women:

Rape, domestic abuse, and 'honor killings,' in which women are murdered by relatives for perceived sexual or moral transgressions, are not uncommon. These murders often go unpunished.

The Mandate of Heaven, the Social Contract, and ICRtoP's own definition of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) therefore subject not the government of Israel but rather Hamas and Fatah to violent overthrow by their own people with the possible intervention and assistance of outside powers.

Kipling's "The Widow's Party" argues both for and against this course of action. The soldier who tells the story describes how his regiment overthrew a despot and then built a road and a courthouse, and the latter along with other British institutions is why India is now the world's largest democracy. The poem also describes the price: "Half my company's lying still," and the U.S. can relate to that through its experience in Iraq.

The first step in shutting down ICRtoP's dishonest anti-Israel agenda is however to call R2P by its proper name: the 19th century's White Man's Burden in 21st century packaging.


William A. Levinson

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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