At the Point of a Gun—Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention

Writing from the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq journalist David Rieff witnessed firsthand most of the armed interventions waged by the West or the United Nations in the name of human rights and democratization. In At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (Simon & Schuster), Rieff, a Central Eurasia Project board member, reassesses some of his own judgments about the use of military might to solve the world's most pressing humanitarian problems and curb the world's cruelest human rights abusers, presenting a thoughtful and impassioned argument against armed intervention in all but the most extreme cases.

On March 14, 2005, OSI hosted a book discussion with Rieff and OSI president Aryeh Neier. Drawing parallels between current rhetoric on human rights and the language of 19th-century imperialism, Rieff expressed concern that many well-intended projects have been expropriated by power.

At the Point of a Gun, he said, is a withdrawal from the liberal interventionist position that Rieff took on the wars in former Yugoslavia and other conflicts during the 1990s. Although he supported NATO involvement in the Kosovo crisis in 1999 leading him to write Those who fear American power are condemning other people to death his stance has been chastened by some of the ramifications of the success of that intervention, namely the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Serbs and Roma.

For Rieff, the Iraq war demonstrates that democracy cannot be imposed by force, and it served as the catalyst for his rejection of the idea that American power is the most effective antidote to tyranny. However paradoxical it might appear," he writes in At the Point of a Gun, "this book is about Iraq even when its ostensible subject is Rwanda, or Kosovo, or the UN, or genocide.

Rieff maintains that he is not uniformly opposed to the idea of using force in specific cases. Nevertheless, as President Bush attempts to frame the role of the United States as the vanguard of freedom and human rights in the world, and with proponents at both ends of the political spectrum advocating the use of force in Darfur, Rieff urged caution.  If there were an alternative to U.S. power," he said, "I might feel differently.

Date: March 14, 2005
Time: 7:00 p.m.

OSI - New York

Aryeh Neier and David Rieff