Self-determination (hard enough) should be the goal, and the sooner we get out of the there and let other nations and NGO's (and perhaps the Carter Center) facilitate the process, the better.
What I find troubling in the left's current preoccupation with self-determination is that it implies an equation between government and population, between government and country. When referring to the principle of self-determination to claim the right for governments in the Middle East or elsewhere in the South to steer their own course - their right, essentially, to be safeguarded from the pressure of "imperialist" or "neo-colonialist" powers from the North/West - whose self-determination is it leftists defend? That of the country, the people in question, or merely that of the people in government claiming the right? Can the governments in the Middle East be said to represent the population? A government like Saddam's or Assad's clearly does not.
Perhaps we should more clearly distinguish between the causes of self-determination and national sovereignty. The former has been traditionally espoused by leftists. The idea that people should have the right to rule themselves came to be seen in terms of national self-determination - the right of nations to rule themselves. That's how the left ended up applauding the emerging independence of countries in post-Habsburg and post-Ottoman Europe and that of countries decolonising themselves. But to what extent has that turned out to be problematic, in itself already? The Habsburg empire has come to be rehabilitated itself slightly, in this last decade of nationalist fervour and violence, as a place of relative tolerance and openness, in themselves liberal values, I'd say. In the decolonised world, many brutally dictatorial regimes have come to power under the banner of national self-determination. That doesn't mean that decolonisation itself was wrong, just that leftists should remind themselves that the principle of self-determination was, originally, about people
ruling themselves, not about the immunity of governments, and that governmental independence from foreign rule is merely the means to that end.
Perhaps that's where the distinction with national sovereignty comes in. (I am no expert on international law so I might bandy these labels about much too freely). The principle of national sovereignty has come to be used by governments to deflect any outside criticism - 'undue interference in domestic affairs' as catchword. That ended us up totally impotent to act against a regime harming its own citizens - as long as the terror stayed within the national borders, neither UN nor foreign power had the right to intervene. I personally thought the break with this norm in the case of the Kosovo war was a victory for liberals. Liberal, or leftist, values like human rights and minority rights imply a universal ambition, and in the attempt to have the principle of national sovereinty stop them at the country's borders I recognize conservative or rightist values, in which people are essentially regarded as subjects of their sovereign - their regime, their government - rather than citizens with independently defined rights. The Kosovo war meant the acknowledgement that the principle of sovereignty could be superceded by the need to defend those rights.
The point being that the principle of a people's self-determination can in principle be hampered as much by a native dictatorship as by an outside intervention. I'd agree in principle the former has the slightly better papers in terms of self-determination definitions, but doesnt that wholly depend on what kind of dictatorship, what kind of intervention? Take Afghanistan: was the Taliban regime more of an expression of the self-determination of the Afghan people than the current, fragmentised politics, helped into place courtesy of Western intervention, is? And that's just a bad
I'm not saying I don't agree with you on what the motivations of the US administration are, or that I take its word on its sudden embracement of the values of "Iraqi Freedom" and Middle-East democracy. But I do think that striving for self-determination as the ultimate goal can not be equated with "getting out of there, the sooner, the better" - that's just crude isolationism, even if it does come forth from a sincere self-critical concern for the fate of the rest of the world. Outside intervention can be necessary to achieve a people's self-determination (as you already imply yourself, in fact, by hinting "other nations" could
intervene). A leftist or liberal agenda should include the need for it, and focus on defining benchmarks and institutionalisations that make it an instrument for the good rather than the instrument the Bush government is wielding now - instead of rejecting it out of principle, and consequently falling back on the practice of inviolable borders, 'untouchable' national sovereignty and diplomatic impotence vis-a-vis the domestic repression of brutal dictatorships.