Publication of Bush Memoir Reopens Old Debates

But for Bush, having spent so much political capital mustering a coalition for the invasion of Iraq, and having committed so many resources there, tackling humanitarian crises simply became unfeasible. The shortage of logistical capacity and the dearth of political support -- both domestic and international -- for foreign adventures, meant that the possibility of any other military intervention was practically nil.

The most obvious victim of this new reality was Darfur. At exactly the same time that U.S. armed forces were taking Baghdad, government sponsored militias in Sudan were massacring and raping the inhabitants of Darfur by the thousands. The slaughter in Darfur, which began in 2003, continued for at least five years. But the fact that 150,000 U.S. troops were tied up in Iraq and that foreign intervention was now anathema to the international community meant that the response to the atrocities in Darfur was pitifully inadequate.

And the interventionist spirit of the late ‘90s and early 2000s continues to fade into the past. It is most likely that the African Union’s call last month for international forces to blockade Somalia in order to prevent the Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency from rearming will be ignored. There is little appetite these days for such action, and the beleaguered, starved, and desperate people of Somalia cannot expect the kind of deliverance which Sierra Leone received just ten years ago.

True, the U.S. and others cannot and should not intervene in every trouble spot in the world. If the conflict in Iraq has taught us anything it must be that there are very real dangers in trying to reshape an entire country at the point of a sword. But to discount all intervention as dangerous, neo-imperialist meddling is an unworthy attitude which abandons with cruel indifference those most vulnerable to repression.

Unfortunately, this is the legacy which Bush has left the world. The mistaken Iraqi invasion led to a deep crisis of confidence in the West and to a will-sapping war-weariness. Just ten or eleven years ago, it seemed that the world had finally started to learn the lessons of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and all the other horrors of the twentieth century. Unfortunately the hostility and mistrust of intervention of any kind engendered by the misadventure in Iraq has meant that these lessons are being lost once again.