When the Bosnian crisis began in 1992, humanitarian groups and the UN came in to help the victims of Serb aggression:
But they quickly began to realise they were being used by western governments as a way of containing a crisis that the politicians did not want to get involved with.
The journalist David Rieff wrote
“The idea was simple, coarse and brutal. Instead of political action backed by the credible threat of military force, the Western powers would substitute a massive humanitarian effort to alleviate the worst consequences of a conflict they wanted to contain
‘Containment through charity’ was the way one UN official put it.”
And then at Srebrenica thousands of civilians gathered together in the enclave — believing they were under international protection. But when the Serbian troops led by General Mladic marched in, the UN troops did nothing. The promise of protection had simply made it easier for the Serbs to kill over 8,000 people.
One of the UN’s special envoys in Bosnia, Jose Maria Mendiluce realised that Glucksmann was right:
“You don’t reply to fascism with relief supplies. Only if we stop being neutral between murderers and victims, if we decide to back Bosnia’s fight for life against the fascist horror of ethnic cleansing, shall we be able to contribute to the survival of the remnants of that country and of our own dignity.”
And then a few months later American air power — under the command of NATO — was used to force the Serbs to negotiate a peace. Almost no-one disagreed. It was a Good War in which the left-wing humanitarians were now allied with their old imperialist enemy — America.
Out of Srebrenica came a strange new hybrid — a humanitarian militarism. And in the 1990s it rose up to capture the imagination of a generation on the left in Europe.
Ever since the collapse of the left in the early 1980s they had been searching for a new vision of how to change the world for the better. Now they found it — a humanitarianism that had the power to right wrongs around the world rather than just alleviate them.
It even had French philosophers behind it.
And one of that generation who was most entranced was Tony Blair, and in 1999 he took this humanitarianism to its moment of greatest triumph.
It was also a moment of triumph for Bernard Kouchner. He became the head of the interim administration in Kosovo — and he set out to create a new democracy.
Many of his staff were leftist revolutionaries from 1968. Even one of the NATO commanders had fought on the streets of Paris.
But Kouchner quickly discovered that victims could be very bad. There was an extraordinary range of ethnic groups in Kosovo.
They all had vendettas with each other — which meant that they were both victims and horrible victimizers at the same time.
It began to be obvious that getting rid of evil didn’t always lead to the simple triumph of goodness.
Which became horribly clear in Iraq in 2003.