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The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War Hardcover – Oct 17 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (Oct. 17 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844672891
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844672899
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.3 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,319,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“This is a penetrating analysis of modern humanitarianism. Conor Foley brings all his own experience to bear as he punctures the myths and delusions that have coloured discussion of humanitarian action from Biafra to Kosovo to Iraq, Darfur and Afghanistan. He lays bare the complexities and dilemmas that are rarely examined and argues that the answer to the world’s woes is rarely military intervention. A stunning book!”—Helena Kennedy

“When can massive and systematic violations of human rights within one state justify a foreign intervention? Today, few questions are more pressing. With this vital and necessary book Conor Foley outlines an important agenda for change.”—Philippe Sands

“No one is more qualified than Conor Foley to raise questions about the good and the bad—mostly the bad—of humanitarian intervention. Foley has been there and done it as a humanitarian worker throughout his adult life, and he raises many disquieting questions as he uncovers the failures of even the most well-meant military interventions. Iraq ans Afghanistan loom large in this book, and the American travails there are dispassionately depicted in ways one rarely finds in mainstream media reporting.”—Seymour M. Hersh

“Drawing upon his personal experience from emergency operations across the world and legal scholarship, Conor Foley has written a strikingly original, wide-ranging and insightful critique of humanitarian action and military intervention.”—Alex De Waal

About the Author

A humanitarian aid worker, Conor Foley has been employed by a variety of human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UNHCR, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Colombia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Liberia, Northern Uganda, the Caucasus and Bosnia-Herzegovina. His books include Combating Torture.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa4fd5804) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4f5f288) out of 5 stars Exemplary Courage Dec 20 2008
By David Hillstrom - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is essential. It responds with both compassion and the wisdom of first hand experience to the growing debate over humanitarian crises and how to deal with them. I applaud the author for his courage in volunteering for humanitarian service in some of the most dangerous places on earth. More importantly though I applaud his courage in speaking up forcefully to the growing lobby of liberal interventionists, who urge the US to take up the new `white man's burden' and to assume the mantle of responsibility to protect. Conor Foley has put himself in harm's way during his service and now argues against the tide of growing opinion (supported by the media and such high profile players as CNN's Christiane Amanpour) in favour of a more cautious and pragmatic approach to humanitarian conflicts. Mr. Foley quite literally charts a course along a `Thin Blue Line' between humanitarian compassion and the impulse to intervene, which has in recent years evidently caused more suffering rather than less.

A few examples of Foley's contribution to the debate may be helpful:

* The author reviews the traditional role of humanitarian organizations and their tendency toward neutrality in order to accomplish their goals. He then explains how that neutrality has been co-opted by a political humanitarianism favoring intervention.
* He examines how the policies of the UK government evolved under Tony Blair to abandon multilateralism in favor of liberal interventionism and a special relationship with "the world's strongest state."
* He explains how the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan "joined the wider counter-insurgency effort." And he laments that he and his colleagues had not signed up for such a role.
* Foley documents how the US and NATO have lost the good will of the Afghan people over recent years using the methods of secret prisons as in Iraq. And this fact should give pause to those who support additional troop deployments to the country today. Meanwhile the aid that had been promised to the country and for which aid workers went to the ends of the world to deliver never materialized.
* The author examines the issue of the legality of humanitarian intervention and provides some behind the scenes debates, particularly in the UK, on how legal opinions evolved in order to accommodate Mr. Blair's new policy.
* He further demonstrates with some background on Bernard Kouchner how the support for liberal interventionism is not limited to the policies of the US and the UK.
* One of the most troubling details is that the US has exploited the mantle of humanitarian intervention to undermine the UN and to essentially take action when it suited its own national interests, thus establishing new historical precedents. This tendency gave voice to the call by John McCain, during the presidential campaign, to establish a `League of Democracies,' thus further sidelining the role of the UN.

The author has presented a clear and pragmatic critique to the growing clamor favoring liberal intervention in humanitarian crises. He has not suggested the abandonment of the suffering, but rather a compassionate argument that intervention has often occurred for the wrong reasons and with terribly adverse consequences. He agrees that there is a need to respond to humanitarian crises. But the way to do so is to clarify the issues of legality, to gain broad international consensus (and not proceed with a coalition of the willing) and most importantly to plan the mission and ensure ample material support with an emphasis on humanitarian development and not upon military victory, Clearly in order to achieve such a shift in the debate and the agenda a substantive reform of the UN charter is necessary, not least of which is a change in the status quo on the Security Council and the perquisites of its permanent members.

David Hillstrom, author of 'The Bridge'
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4fceca8) out of 5 stars More wars for peace? Sept. 30 2010
By ewaffle - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Conor Foley calls the roll of genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape as a political/military weapon, mass murder and other horrors of the past couple of decades including a few natural as opposed to man made disasters. He has been at the aftermath of many of them: Somalia (civil and religious war); Kosovo (ethnic cleansing); Sri Lanka (civil war); Indonesia (tsunami); Sudan (ethnic cleansing, civil war); the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey (state sponsored mass killing). Looming over everything is the slaughter of up to 800,000 Tsutis citizens of Rwanda by their Hutu neighbors while the United Nations ignored it or even tacitly encouraged it by pulling out troops. In retrospect it is clear that a couple of regiments of airborne infantry could have slowed and diverted much of the killing saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and a division could have stopped the massacre in its tracks.

The utter barbarity of Rwanda in 1994 is most used to justify "humanitarian intervention" which can range from military and political operations that infringe on the territory and sovereignty of a country on the hawkish end to the more dovish definition of impartial distribution of relief assistance during armed conflict. Foley's view is that most situations, dire though they may seem, are not as straightforward as Rwanda. He was in Kosovo during the height of the Serbian/Albanian battles and through the NATO led air strikes. Foley sees Kosovo as a telling example of "we must do something" which often leads creates more killing and destruction than would have happened without intervention.

The International Committee of the Red Cross gets high praise from Foley because they insist they won't take sides in any conflict but will work solely to alleviate the suffering caused by combat no matter who is firing the weapons. As other organizations have become more political, feeling they need to denounce human rights violations, such as Doctors Without Borders did in Sudan--which got them kicked out of the country--the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations are able to continue their work by simply doing it.

One example is the work of the Red Cross in Guantanamo. While Red Cross personnel knew of human rights abuses, including torture, against prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghirab the were restricted to petitioning the U.S. government. In other words the ICRC wasn't able to go public--and never does. It gets in access to prisoners or to conflict zones because it is specifically and rigorously non-political and is often the only organization that is allowed such access. Its mission is strictly humanitarian, to ease the suffering of inmates and offer food, water and medical care to those caught in warfare and for whom it is a matter of life and death.

Foley doesn't have many answers--which is to his credit. He realizes that the specifics of humanitarian intervention will vary widely from crisis and be a constant source of debate.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4fd5e10) out of 5 stars Its Good Sept. 11 2013
By Anton Tikhomirov - Published on
Verified Purchase
I really like Foley's review of humanitarianism in the world. I especially enjoyed the short chapter on the Kosovo war.