Kenneth Roth
Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Re: What is the legacy of the Iraq War?

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The fear of intervention, says Roth.

Kenneth Roth

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993, has investigated human rights abuses around the globe, with special expertise on issues of justice and accountability for atrocities committed in the quest for peace; military conduct in war under the requirements of international humanitarian law; counterterrorism policy including resort to torture and arbitrary detention; the human rights policies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations; and the human rights responsibilities of multinational businesses. Mr. Roth has published more than 100 articles and chapters on a range of human rights topics. Before joining HRW as deputy director in 1987, Mr. Roth was a federal prosecutor for both the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University.

And I fear that one consequence of the Iraqi debacle is that we are much less likely to intervene. On the one hand there’s just a shortage of troops. You know everybody’s preoccupied in Iraq, or to some extent with Afghanistan. On the other hand there is a . . . no more stomach for military action. I think people have just had it with . . . with these adventures overseas, want the troops home, and are not about to launch into another one. And . . . and . . . And in a third respect, the Bush administration has discredited the concept of humanitarian intervention by trying to justify the Iraqi war after the fact as a humanitarian intervention, when we all knew at the time it was supposedly to find the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Or it was to attack the non-existent links with international terrorism. But if . . . if we knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction; if it was clear there was no Al Qaeda connection, Bush would not have gone in just because Saddam was a tyrant. But after the fact by trying to justify the Iraq war as a humanitarian intervention, one that I don’t think is justified; because bad as a tyrant Saddam was, there was not the mass slaughter at the time that would have justified humanitarian intervention. Bush has given the term . . . given the concept a bad name. He’s really tarred what is, I think, a very high-minded concept with his fairly base political needs. And in the process, I think it’s people say like the people in Darfur who are paying the price. Because, you know, why is the international community only willing to go into Darfur with the consent of the Sudanese government? You know consent that has been withheld for a very long time. It’s because there is no more, you know, stomach. There is no more capacity to . . . to use military force; but also because people are now skeptical of this concept of humanitarian intervention. And so in that sense, the people of Darfur, or of Eastern Congo, or of others facing mass atrocities are very much paying the price of this . . . this cheap resort to war in an effort to justify it after the fact as a humanitarian intervention.

Recorded on: 8/14/07