Humanitarian intervention soon evolved into armed intervention:
At the same time as the humanitarian movement was rising up, so too were the new despots that were going to become some of the main targets for this new idealism.
Many of them — like Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gadaffi — were also, in a strange way, products of the failure of the Communist dream. Like Kouchner they too were trying to rework revolutionary theory — but in their case with horrific results.
I have found a sort of fly-on-the-wall documentary made in 1976 which follows Muammar Gadaffi around as he goes about ruling Libya. [...] The interviewer asks Gadaffi to explain why he has sent Libyan troops to fight with the Palestinians against Israel, and why he has sent in Libyan agents to try and overthrow President Sadat of Egypt.
In response Gadaffi launches into an explanation that countries like Libya have a duty to intervene in other nations where the ordinary people are being oppressed by autocrats or oppressive governments — and help free them. That includes helping to liberate Egypt and Tunisia.
But it also means, he says, that politicians like him are justified in intervening in Northern Ireland to help the Provisional IRA. Because they are oppressed by the British government
They too are victims.
What Gadaffi was arguing was a strange mirror image of the theory that Kouchner and the other ex-leftists in Europe were developing.
For they too were heading towards the idea of “armed intervention”.
In the 1980s the humanitarian movement was flourishing — above all in Afghanistan. But in Afghanistan the movement also came up against a big political problem.
Men and women from what was now called “the doctors’ movement” went in over the mountains to help the victims of the Soviet attacks. They were brave and daring and they saved the lives of many Afghan civilians.
But they also helped the Mujaheddin. Under the theory of the humanitarian movement this was fine. The Mujaheddin were resisting the Soviet totalitarianism. They were victims fighting back so it was morally right to help them.
But others didn’t see it that way.
Here is video of the trial in Kabul in 1983 of a French doctor who had been captured by the Afghan army.
He is called Philippe Augoyard. He worked for Aide Medicale Internationale — which was another version of MSF. The trial is absurd — and in the tradition of all communist show trials the doctor reads out a “confession” and admits to “working with the counter-revolutionary bandits”.
But there is also another part of his confession that was both true and embarrassing for all the ex-Marxists and Maoists in the humanitarian movement. The mujaheddin they were helping were backed, funded and armed by the Americans.
Which meant they were helping American global imperialism.
But then a group of French philosophers came to the rescue. They came up with a theory that said it wasn’t bad to work with American military power. In fact, if the humanitarians could harness America’s armed might, they could use it to change the world in a revolutionary way.
The philosophers were led by another ex-Maoist called Andre Glucksmann. He had turned against the left and had developed his own theory which he called “anti-totalitariansm”.
But he wasn’t alone. Glucksmann was part of a group of intellectuals that rose up in France in the late 1970s called the New Philosophers. They saw Bernard Kouchner as an action hero putting their ideas into practice. Another prominent one was the glamorous Bernard-Henri Levy.
Glucksmann put it in stark terms. Everything that oppressed people around the world he called “Auschwitz”. Even famines were called “Auschwitz”.
It was the ghost of the Second World War again.
Glucksmann then said that people with power had a right to intervene in other societies to prevent “Auschwitzes”. And that included using American power.
Maybe, he said, power exercised by the strong was not always oppression. If it was used decently it could liberate the oppressed.
And — Glucksmann said — this didn’t just mean medical help. It included “armed resistance”.