[This is Chapter 6 of Murphey's book Out of the Ashes.]

                                                             Chapter 6


                               LESSONS FROM THE INTERVENTIONS

            In each of the two periods of global intervention discussed in Chapters 4 and 5 the United States made the internal affairs of several other nations "its own business."   This was in line with the post-1898 repudiation of its earlier "hands-off" policy.  In none of the instances discussed has any major gain been sought for the United States in relation to its own self-interest.  The principal motive in each case has been to do good for others as the United States has perceived it.  If there was good to be had for the United States as such, it would come from a world more at peace, orderly and perhaps democratic.  From the perspective of those who have favored the interventions, the actions have helped establish the United States' participation within (and often leadership of) the world community. 

            To those with a somewhat more jaundiced eye, the "world community," as we saw in Chapter 2, is not necessarily the same thing as the world population in general, but is instead a cosmopolitan elite whose members consider themselves the stewards of a "world order" (often referred to since the end of the Cold War as a "New World Order").  And by creating hatreds, the interventions don't clearly make the world "more at peace."  The benevolent premise behind them is faulty.

            The interventions come with great costs, both practically and in theory.  In this chapter, with the details of the various interventions in mind, we will be able to analyze those costs:


1.  American foreign interventions have often responded to sensationalist media accounts.  This has led the American people into a crusading spirit rather than to a wise and considered understanding of a given situation in depth.

            In his A Republic, Not an Empire, Patrick J. Buchanan tells of the media frenzy over Cuba that led to the Spanish-American war.  When Cuban revolutionaries seeking independence from Spain adopted a "scorched earth" strategy, Spanish General Valeriano Weyler "believed the key to victory was to deny the rebels access to the peasants aiding their cause."  Doing much the same thing as the British would soon do in their war against the Boers when faced with a struggle against irregular forces supported by the local population, Weyler herded the rural civilian population into camps, where many died of disease. The American press, led by William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, graphically described the camp scenes and demonized Weyler as "Butcher Weyler," just as a few years later it would demonize the German Kaiser.  The result was to push a reluctant President McKinley into war.  (His reluctance was rooted in his having experienced the carnage of the American Civil War.) 

            The main impetus came when the press immediately blamed Spanish perfidy for the sinking of the American battleship Maine, with 266 men lost, in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. Hearst's headlines blared that the Spanish were guilty, despite important reasons for caution: Spain had chosen a liberal government that was anxious to settle the conflict in Cuba, so that it was against its interests to provoke war with the United States; with particular regard to the Maine, both the cause of the explosion and the identity of the perpetrators, if any, were unknown; and the new Spanish government offered to help in any investigation.  Immediately after the explosion, an editorial in The Nation called for a "Suspension of Judgment."  But such counsels of caution hardly slowed the growing hysteria.1 The U.S. Navy later attributed the ship's destruction to a mine – but without establishing who laid it.  The National Geographic reviewed the issues in detail exactly a century later and found the evidence inconclusive, with a mine, if perfectly placed, as one possibility, but a fire in the coal bunker as another.2  The result of the "national outrage" was that McKinley, under great pressure, gave in to the calls for war.

             The impact of the press in 1898 could hardly have been more pervasive than that of worldwide mass media near the end of the twentieth century.  David Callahan says that "graphic media images of international suffering are now transmitted faster and more widely than ever before, and these images often fuel public demands for action."  He cites Biafra, which produced "the first televised images of famine in history."3  Similar images spurred demand for the U.S. intervention into Somalia in 1992: Walter Clarke relates how "the humanitarian disaster in Somalia was on all the television screens in the United States by August 1992."4 American General Colin Powell wrote in his memoirs that the mission was decided upon after Somalia "wrenched our hearts."  Reflecting on the shallowness of understanding with which the intervention was launched, Brune opines that "perhaps like the American public, Bush, Powell, and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney simply judged Somalia by the television pictures reaching their homes.  These instant photographs depicted the horrendous suffering of starving women and children but never captured the savage reality of the young gangs."5   

            The private Commission on America's National Interests agreed that media fixations, as guides to the United States' foreign interventions, have been a major problem: "Media attention to foreign affairs," its Report says, "tends to fixate on issues according to the vividness of a threat, without pausing to ask whether the U.S. interest threatened is really important.  Thus second- and third-order issues like Bosnia or Haiti have become a consuming focus of U.S. foreign policy to the neglect of issues of higher priority, like China's international role or the unprecedented risks of nuclear proliferation."6

            Consistently with this, the media provided the provocation for action in Bosnia and Kosovo.  Graphic atrocity reports about war crimes committed mainly by Serbs "outraged world opinion and inspired a U.S. congressional debate" in August 1992, Brune says.7  In Kosovo, according to Malcolm, after Serb forces took men away from their families, "the U.S. government [reported] that it had satellite images of many newly dug mass graves."8 These reports received extended media attention at the time and were the principal provocation for the U.S. air war against Serbia, overriding Serbian protestations that the reports were false and were concocted by the Kosovo Liberation Army precisely to cause NATO intervention. 

            It was a serious embarrassment that, as in the aftermath of World War I, the atrocity reports didn't prove true when subjected to post-war investigation.  In an article entitled "Where are the bodies... Few ‘mass graves' found thus far in Kosovo," the WorldNetDaily in late 1999 told of an independent intelligence report by a U.S.-based firm (the "Stratfor report").  The report said the International Criminal Tribunal to try war crimes cases had found no bodies in the Trepca mines in Kosovo despite earlier reports that the corpses of 700 murdered ethnic Albanians were hidden there.  "Official estimates indicated that some 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in a Serb rampage of ethnic cleansing.  Yet four months into an international investigation bodies numbering only in the hundreds have been exhumed," with the FBI [which participated in the search] having found "fewer than 200."9

            There is a real problem about basing interventions on media images and atrocity reports.  Public opinion is always ready to judge quickly, and is smugly intolerant toward suspension of judgment, considering anybody who wants to wait for the evidence morally obtuse; but a moment's thought should tell us that in any such situation there are genuine questions about the credibility of what is reported, what implications to draw from the bare factual details, and, even more broadly, whether the whole story is being told.  Righteous and wrathful fingers are pointed toward putative wrongdoers, whose denials get no hearing, whereas in fact it isn't objectively established who has done what to whom. This is a defect that is in itself a nearly conclusive argument against a policy of intervention, since there is no correction for it consistently with intervention.  The "due process" of objective investigation takes time, during which the fervor for intervention will wane. It is usually a choice between intervening on the basis of snap judgments based on presuppositions or not intervening at all.

            Consider, too, that snapshots of terrible events give no depth of understanding.  Even if correct, they are purely superficial, lacking reference to history or complexity.  For serious policy-makers to decide on military intervention on such a basis is ludicrous, since the very idea that they are "serious" presupposes that they will keep much broader and longer-term considerations in mind.  They would do well to consider that enormities are committed episodically by virtually all peoples in extreme situations, and that more than knowledge of the "commission of outrages" is necessary for a complete understanding.

            It would be far better if they would keep the broader things in view, and simply accept the snapshot provocations as no more than the needed pretext for action.  But this is "better" only in a certain dimension.  Its implications for a democracy are horrendous, since the use of pretexts would mean that the public, de jure the sovereign power, is being manipulated and becomes a puppet on strings.

            Still more broadly, there is the question of how such decisions are ever to be made consistently with democracy.  It is safe to say that the vast electorate will never be informed in depth about the foreign situation, and hence will never be a justifiable source for cries for action.  A small, specialized elite within the bureaucracy may have the requisite depth of information and wisdom about what should be done in a given foreign situation (but experience shows that that is rare).  Even if it does, we must ask whether in a society with democratic pretensions the decision of such specialists can be considered a supportable surrogate for informed public opinion?  We find ourselves faced with an insoluble dilemma. 

            A "republic" in the old sense where the wise have been filtered to the top to create an aristocracy of wisdom and talent to lead the nation might be a way to avoid the dilemma.  Modern specialists are, however, hardly a substitute for that.  (And we should notice that the old sort of republican aristocracy, when it existed, was precisely the source that considered a "hands-off" policy wise.) 

            Nor are the members of the elite of the Davos Culture, and the social scientists who study every problem and implicitly take it for granted as a matter of professional faith that there should be a rationalistic solution to it from on high.  These latter groups, symbiotically linked, may have a theoretical, though disputable, claim to leadership, but if the interventions they have favored are judged by their fruits the result is to demolish any possible consensus about their wisdom.


2.  The interventions have most often been exercises in futility, either because the problems have been so immersed in cultural and historical complexity as to be insoluble or because the problems, even if soluble in a given instance, have been replicated in so many places across the world that any dabbling in them is necessarily a mere tokenism.

            The first type of "bottomless pit" – where the problems are not soluble at all, except perhaps by a long accretion of civilization and of exhaustion with war among the people directly involved – may well describe all of the nations we have discussed, at least in varying degrees.

            No amount of outside intervention and assistance, lasting sometimes for several years, seems to help in Haiti.  Opinion in the United States and within the world community has a strong animus against rule by a wealthy elite, but it may be that this makes an ideological absolute out of something that simply cannot fit the Haitian case.  Here's a shocking possibility: Haiti may be just the opposite of what we think it is.  There is a possibility that the elite in Haiti have long been more the lone beacon of civilization within an otherwise Stone Age culture than it has been the cause of the cultural depravity among the main mass of the population.  This is the reverse of the usual Marxist or neo-Marxist view of social causation, which is that someone's plight must be due to exploitation or oppression. 

            If my suggestion (which I put forward as possible but don't necessarily assert) is correct, there is an even more startling insight to consider: that the elite's use of brutality as a long-standing part of Haitian history to protect its status should be seen in a more understanding light.  It may have been the necessary precondition to any civilization at all.  To democrats and devotees of individual liberty, which most of us are, this would no doubt be a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation.  But nearly a century of periodic American intervention into Haiti hasn't established that there is any viable alternative to rule by an elite.  Brutal class hatred exists, voodoo is widely practiced, only 35 percent of the people can read and write, unemployment in mid-2000 was at 70 percent, and drug trafficking is one of the principal sources of wealth.

            If the description "bottomless pit" applies to Haiti, it applies with almost equal force to virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa.  A year-end news summary in late 2000 reported that "war still tears at Congo, where repeated truce agreements and promises of U.N. help show little hope of ending a fight dubbed ‘Africa's First World War.'  There are also few signs of long-term peace in Sierra Leone, Burundi, Angola or Sudan, all devastated by long-running civil wars."10  About Burundi, Michael Ignatieff says in his book on ethnic warfare that it "is one of those small, forgettable places that earn the international community's attention because of their propensity for self-destruction... A Tutsi minority, long in power, and in control of the army, has been forced by the arrival of multiparty democracy to share power with the Hutu majority.  A Hutu finally came to power as president in 1993, only to be assassinated.  In the succession of massacres that followed, a hundred thousand people, Hutu and Tutsi alike, are thought to have died."  Then "in April 1994... the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down over Kigali airport."  Boutros-Ghali, at that time the secretary-general of the United Nations, summed up the situation when he referred to "societies that seem incapable of saving themselves."11

            Time magazine reports these statistics about the AIDS epidemic in Africa that began some twenty years ago: 17 million dead; 12 million orphans; an estimated 8.8% of adults infected.  In several countries it is worse: in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe at least 20 percent of adults are infected.  [So evident a bottomless pit doesn't prevent the writer of the report from calling upon the West to "help with its zeal and its cash."]12  

            In Cuba, it may be that once the Communist dictatorship is thrown off the country will blossom.  But, if so, that will be a first in its history, and will almost certainly have to come from the quality of the people themselves (including those who repatriate from the United States after several decades as exiles) rather than from the United State's imposing a system on them.

            In Somalia, the situation is one where, regardless of the most recent troubles, there are large portions of the country "where every year people are killed and mauled by wild animals, where the village canoe is overturned into the crocodile-filled river by surfacing hippos, where bandits attack villages, shooting and looting before disappearing into the bush, where deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, fevers, and accidents claim far more lives than does old age."13  Even before the intraclan warfare of the 1990s, Mogadishu was a "hardship post" for any Westerner sent there: "Streets were unsigned and driving was a free-for-all.  Municipal electricity was erratic and unpredictable, telephone service ineffectual, and local news unavailable."14  The picture Anna Simons paints of the larger culture isn't encouraging: "The universal belief among expatriates [was] that Somalis lacked the ability to maintain anything – roads, equipment, offices, projects, or, essentially, themselves."15 Corruption, a lack of civic motivation and of any coherent national feeling, pastoralist ideology, an eagerness to rely on the help of outsiders, and a low level of competence all combine to deny a solid basis for a successful culture.  This isn't to say that Somalia will never emerge from its morass; but again, as with Haiti and Cuba, it is an interventionist's aspiration for the future more than anything that is borne out by Somalia's history or overall level of civilization.

            In the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia and Kosovo, a high level of civilization is not itself lacking, so the situation is not so obviously beyond redemption.  Who can say, however, what the solution is to centuries-long enmities?  An outsider tends to go in where hatreds exist and say patronizingly, although in the best of faith, that the emotions are infantile and unproductive, and that the solution must be for everyone to "get over it."  In Europe at the end of the Religious Wars such a process of pacification and increasing tolerance did occur; and that episode, if its secrets were unlocked, might offer the world invaluable instruction.  But what justification is there, really, for a spirit of peace within the heart of any person whose parents and siblings have been shot, raped or hacked to pieces?  What justification for peace can be found within the hearts of those who perpetrated those acts when they, too, have previously (or simultaneously) experienced those same horrors?  No wonder the prediction is made that a peacekeeping force will have to stay on indefinitely.  Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo will long remain like the ground of a forest on which the embers of a raging fire still smolder.  And this is not only  because of mutually-experienced outrages.  It is also because the respective peoples continue to harbor conflicting dreams about their own identities and hoped-for destinies.

            There is, as I have said, a second meaning for world problems' being a "bottomless pit."  This applies even if a given problem actually does have a viable solution.  It arises because the problems are so numerous that there is no possibility of addressing more than a fraction of them.  Robert Rotberg wrote in 1997 that "we live in a world where civil wars in far-off places are the norm – where thirty wars erupt annually, where there are twenty complex humanitarian crises every year, where 50 million persons are now displaced (ten years ago only 5 million were so displaced), and where millions of people were killed during 1991-1995 in one corner of Africa alone"16 [emphasis added]. 

            The argument has some plausibility that "it is better to do something helpful to people in a few situations than to do nothing on the pretext that there are others whom we will have to ignore."  That is, part of a loaf is better than none.  But the United States' selection, if on meliorist grounds, will largely be determined by media focus.  And the selection will inevitably stimulate anti-American criticisms that the United States is "racist" because "it cares about certain ones who were helped but not about others."  Precisely that sort of criticism was voiced in international circles when the United States intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo but not in Rwanda.  Brune tells how "[U.N. Secretary General] Boutros-Ghali contended Western powers wanted aid for European states such as Yugoslavia but ignored humanitarian needs of African nations such as Liberia, Somalia, and Rwanda where civil strife had caused refugees, starvation, and disease.  The Western powers helped Christian nations, he said, but overlooked problems of other religious groups in allocating UN resources."17 President Clinton accepted the validity of this criticism when he apologized for the United States' not intervening between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. 

            This acceptance reflects conceptual confusion, however, since its premise is that the United States is morally obligated to intervene in each of the countless humanitarian crises.  During the second presidential debate between George W. Bush and Albert Gore in October 2000, Bush responded to a question by saying the United States must decide on priorities, giving attention to Europe and the Middle East in preference, say, to Rwanda.  Although his response didn't elaborate on a complete system of priorities, such an approach avoids the conceptual confusion.  

3.  No doubt reflecting the insolubility just discussed, most interventions have been conducted without an "end-game" looking ahead to a desirable outcome.  In fact, they have sometimes made matters worse.

            In May 2000, William B. Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti from 1977 to 1980, wrote that "once again, Haiti has made the complete circle from chaos and violence to chaos and violence.  Although well-meaning and idealistic, U.S. policies have failed to bring democracy, stability and economic growth to Haiti."[18]  A Cox News Service report in April 1999 said that "a triumph in foreign policy [had been] declared [after the 1994 U.S. military intervention].  But today, after nearly five years of pouring more than $2.2 billion of U.S. taxpayers' money into Haiti, there is little to feel triumphant about."19  As we compare the futility of the early-twentieth century interventions with that of the ones that came later, we recall that the American military presence in Haiti from 1915 to 1934 was followed not by well-tutored civilization but by many years of dictatorship.  The same thing happened in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and (at least to the extent of a one-party state) in Mexico.

            A clear case of "no end-game" occurred in Somalia, where a bloodied United States withdrew, "to be replaced," according to Clarke and Herbst, "by far less well trained and well armed soldiers from a multitude of countries."20 Although they say there were "perhaps 100,000 people saved from starvation,"21 it is hard to tell whether this is a net figure after all is said and done; Anna Simons says intervention itself had worsened matters early, because outside aid "helped bring on dissolution in the first place."  She points out how "the humanitarian assistance organizations paid pirates' ransoms to hired guns, bribed well-fed people in order to be able to deliver food to the starving, and otherwise created new inequities based on who [sic] they employed, elevated, and had to secure protection from."22  

            As to Bosnia, David Pryce-Jones says that it "is now a protectorate.  A Bosnian government goes through the motions of administration, but U.N. personnel alone guarantee law and order.  The world community, in other words, has introduced an updated version of the typical 19th-century colonial regime."23 Fareed Zakaria, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, predicts that "the moment the occupation ends, the problems that led to the intervention will resume.  Absent an occupying force, Bosnia would split into three separate, ethnically uniform states."24  This is seconded by David Callahan in Unwinnable Wars: "While many factors will influence the future of Bosnia following the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force, the country will probably divide permanently along ethnic lines.  New fighting is likely.  According to a draft analysis of a National Intelligence Estimate circulated within the U.S. government in spring 1996, the chances are poor that Bosnia will be transformed into a democratic multiethnic state as envisioned by the Dayton agreement."25  The decision in December 1997 that the Stabilization Force (S-For) would stay in Bosnia indefinitely should be understood as an implicit recognition of this by planners who have no end-game pointing toward achievable goals. 

            When I mention a lack of such goals, I don't mean to suggest that some existed that could have been followed but that were somehow overlooked.  It is more likely that no such goals were possible.  This is itself a telling point against intervening in the first place.

            There was certainly no coherent goal for Kosovo.  The Clinton administration said it wanted a multiethnic Kosovo that would be autonomous within Yugoslavia.  The actions taken, however, weren't consistent with that, since the destruction of Serbia's infrastructure and the driving out of the Serbian army set the stage for the "ethnic cleansing" – in which ethnic Albanians have driven the Serb population out of Kosovo – that has followed the NATO occupation.  Don Feder reports that "triumphant Albanians ethnically cleansed 230,000 Serbs and gypsies from Kosovo."26

            Not only has there been no coherent objective, with means adapted to it, but in Kosovo the United States actually made the situation worse.  Zakaria points out that "if the purpose of our intervention was to avert a humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, in fact we exacerbated it.  In the year before the bombing, 2,500 people (mostly KLA partisans and Serb soldiers) died in Kosovo; in the eleven weeks after the bombing began, 10,000 people (most of them Albanian civilians) were killed."  The figures are just as telling about the numbers of people displaced before and after the intervention.27  [We have already seen that the post-war failure to find bodies casts doubt on the 10,000 figure.  To the extent it does, it lessens my point about the worsening of the situation, at least so far as the loss of life is concerned.]

            The lack of an end-game becomes especially apparent when it is hard to disengage.  The intervention becomes a "tar baby" that, once hit, won't let go.  The United States was in Haiti for many years, just as it was in Nicaragua; and the current peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo offer to continue without foreseeable limit.

4.  Related to this is the fact that most interventions have suffered from conceptual confusion about means and ends.

            Sometimes people's thinking about interventions is so confused as to be humorous.  Consider the ambivalence in a recent Wichita Eagle editorial about President Clinton's apology in 2000 for the United States' not having stopped the slaughter in Rwanda six years earlier.  The editorial first argued that "the United States can't be the world's cop, and we can't end centuries of ethnic hatred just by showing up."  But it didn't stop there; it went on to say that "we have a noble history of coming to the rescue of the little guy who is under serious attack..." and spoke deprecatingly of the fact that "for fear of losing one American life, we let millions of Rwandans suffer and die."28  The paper's editorial board didn't seem to realize that in a world where there are 30 wars and 20 "complex humanitarian crises" every year an impulse to "help the little guy," except very selectively, is diametrically at odds with the idea of not being the world's policeman.  In her book about Somalia, Anna Simons refers to "a far larger question: Why?  Why Somalia? – and not Angola, Liberia, the Sudan, or any one of a number of other places?  People were in dire straits all over the world."29  It was perhaps because of this incongruity that Osama bin Laden concluded that the United States was not really in Somalia for benign reasons, but was rather attempting to gain power over "ever-larger chunks" of the Islamic world.30  There are people outside the United States who will seek a coherent explanation for what is simply incoherence.

            Intervention is, in fact, mired in a series of conceptual muddles in addition to those discussed in Chapter 3:

            There has been an impression that "humanitarian interventions" are both distinct from and much safer than "political interventions." That may well be so where there is no local conflict; but where there is, to help those in distress is necessarily to intervene on the side of those who have been losing (not unlike if Europeans had gone to the rescue of southerners while Sherman was burning Atlanta). 

            Some recent commentary sees this clearly.  Clarke and Herbst write that "when U.S. troops intervened [in Somalia] in December 1992 to stop the theft of food, they immediately disrupted the entire political economy of Somalia.  Therefore, the United States immediately stepped deeply into the muck of Somali politics."  Speaking directly to the idea of the two types of intervention, they observe that "although analytically attractive, the distinction between the different types of intervention, at the heart of so much of the current debate, is not particularly helpful.  Indeed, at a practical level, it is hard to see how anyone could believe that landing 30,000 troops in a country was anything but a gross interference in major aspects of a country's politics."  The authors point out that because of the muddled dichotomy the administration of the first President Bush "simply ducked the problems that logically followed from the decision to intervene...."31

            Anna Simons says the same: "There is no such thing as purely humanitarian assistance.  From the moment the United States intervened..., U.S. citizens were involved in local Somali politics."  She adds: "There is no way the United States could alleviate Somalia's famine without intervening in Somali politics."  She calls the notion that the two are separate a "disconnect."32  (She was speaking in the context of Somalia.  There may well be situations in which humanitarian aid does not involve taking sides.)          

            There is also a disconnect between the U.S. desire to intervene in crises and its unwillingness to suffer casualties. In Somalia when the warlord Aideed adopted a tactic of "killing Americans," the American public came alive to the dangers and President Clinton immediately announced plans for U.S. withdrawal.33  This has become virtually a given in American politics, since the media make front-page news out of every soldier or airman lost and this is followed by the television media interviewing the families for their emotional reactions to having a son, brother, husband or father killed. 

            One result is that American interventions have tended toward a type that is "bloodless" (at least to Americans).  The Gulf War was fought through air power and high technology, with virtually no casualties; and Serbia was forced out of Kosovo by massive bombing, with no American dead.  Although most Americans won't recognize it as such, this as a continuation of a death-at-a-distance strategy that goes back as far as the bombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden during World War II.  The United States is willing to inflict massive destruction on its adversaries to avoid casualties of its own.  Since no one wants casualties, most Americans welcome this approach to war.  What they don't understand is that it introduces a vast disproportion between ends and means.  This both violates the premise of moral rightness that spurs the interventions in the first place and places the United States in a position where those "on the short end" of the imbalance are invited to find ways to seek revenge.  "Asymmetrical warfare," or "terrorism," involving clandestine hit-and-run techniques, is an obvious means that the weak can use for this purpose.  And since the American destruction-from-the-air strategy can't be terribly discriminating, it sets the example for terrorists if they decide not to limit themselves to military targets.  It must be remembered – not as an incidental, but as a major fact – that terrorism can now involve weapons capable of mass killing.  It was necessary to say this before September 11.  Now, it seems almost too obvious.

            Another confusion, which I have already mentioned, comes from the inability to decide between two ideological absolutes: the devotion to "multiethnicity" and the affirmation of distinct ethnic identities.  For reasons of contemporary "politically correct" ideology, the elites in Europe and America have embraced "multiculturalism," even though multiculturalist policy promises in fairly rapid historical terms to lead to the alteration of their own civilizations virtually beyond recognition.  Those elites have a powerful predilection to insist that their own preferences are the only morally sound ones, and must be carried out everywhere.  This results in their wanting "ethnic pluralism" in places like Kosovo.  At the same time, their interventions go smash against the hard realities of what distinct peoples prefer (and often passionately seek) in fact.  The result, despite the intervention, tends toward ethnic division, which is the opposite of what is sought.

            I have already mentioned, too, the double standards – a symptom either of intellectual confusion or of a cynical willingness to exercise power arbitrarily – that are unavoidable when prosecuting "war crimes" in a world where "man's inhumanity to man" is as ubiquitous as it is.  When there are apparently inexcusable brutalities committed by all sides in an endless string of wars, just what justifies bringing a select few perpetrators before a court either for prison sentences or execution?  There is poetic justice in the fact that in September 2000 Serbia, itself thought to be the festering source of evil, was trying certain American and Western leaders in absentia for war crimes.  It is a game that all factions can play.

5.  The confusion and lack of attainable goals go hand-in-hand with Americans' often-commented-upon shallow understanding of other systems and cultures.

            Commentators have often spoken of Americans' poverty of understanding about foreign peoples and situations.

            In a lengthy article recently about the jaundiced view many Europeans take of America's role, the New York Times' Suzanne Daley writes that "the French, and other Europeans, often mention Americans' lack of knowledge about anything European and their unwillingness to learn..."  She refers to a recent book on the subject: "‘Omnipotence and ignorance,' Mr. Mamere concludes about America in his first chapter.  ‘It is a questionable cocktail.'"34

            Samuel Huntington says that "American idealism, moralism, humanitarian instincts, naivete, and ignorance concerning the Balkans thus led them to be pro-Bosnian and anti-Serb" [emphasis added].35 Robert H. Jackson writes that it was far more convenient to those seeking intervention to see the Yugoslav situation as a struggle among warlords than as a popularly-based struggle for ethnic self-determination.36  The "warlord" interpretation would see the populations as innocent victims, and the solution the relatively easy one of deposing the (unrepresentative) leaders; the alternative explanation would acknowledge a much more complex picture rooted in the culture, religion, institutions and ideology of the people themselves.  This more complex understanding would not lend itself so readily to a Good vs. Bad dichotomizing.  Columnist Don Feder grasps this complexity when he says "there are no Boy Scouts in the Balkans.  What the Serbs did in Kosovo was done to them by Croats, Bosnian Muslims and – yes – Kosovo Albanians."37

             We have already seen how Mireille Durocher Bertin, who had been the legal adviser to the junta who ousted Aristide in Haiti and who was gunned down in Port-au-Prince in March 1995, had criticized the United States' worldwide policy as being based on ignorance "of the realities of the countries involved."38

            Walter Clarke writes that "inability or unwillingness to discern the essential political dynamics of the country and to effect remedial measures to foster civil society – out of expedience, disinterest, or naive ‘neutrality' – lies at the root of the world's failure in Somalia."39 Thomas G. Weiss observes that "policymakers, pundits, and the public are not required to have long historical perspectives."  Referring to other recent interventions, he finds that even short-term memory is missing: "Their recollections of humanitarian intervention appear particularly shortsighted and confused.  Three brief years separated the vigorous military intervention overriding sovereignty and supporting humane values in northern Iraq in April 1991 from the passive response to the Rwandan bloodbath in April 1994."40

6.  The meliorist outlook doesn't seem to understand just how presumptuous it is to judge other people's interests, claims and national myths from outside, substituting a shallow omniscience for the deeply held convictions of the people directly involved.

            We can value Western civilization highly, as I do, while at the same time appreciating how enormously presumptuous it is to try to force that culture onto peoples whose ways of life have very different foundations.  Although writing before September 11, Samuel Huntington was able to see that "in the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous."  Much of his book on the clash of civilizations is devoted to showing how it is false.  He says that the presumption is immoral "because of what would be necessary to bring it about... It will happen only as a result of the expansion, deployment, and impact of Western power.  Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism."  It is dangerous, he says, because of the hatreds and conflict it will engender.  It is "most important to recognize that Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world."41  It isn't surprising, then, when Suzanne Daley reports that "more and more often, Europeans talk about America as a menacing, even dangerous force intent on remaking the world in its image."42  Americans should compare this with their own collective sense of innocence after September 11.  They do in fact feel themselves innocent; but, as I said in Chapter 1, it has to be deemed a "culpable innocence."

            The willingness to "substitute judgment" for other peoples is one mark of how far American society has moved from its classical liberal roots.  There is a strong propensity in a philosophy of individual liberty to embrace a certain humility toward other people, shrinking from any self-appointed task of overseeing their lives.  When the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was asked "what would you do if suddenly you were to become a king with absolute power?," his answer was fully in the classical liberal tradition: "I would resign."  It was no accident that the historic American position of non-intervention that was held to until 1898 coincided with the period of classical liberal ascendancy in the United States.  (And yet, let's not oversimplify even this: even classical liberals have not been united in this sensibility; in the nineteenth century James Mill was a major influence in favor of an authoritarian meliorism as the guiding philosophy for British colonial rule in India.43)  

7.  Huntington's warning about the dangers from interventionism has come true as the United States has created deep animosity among those who are outraged by what they see as American interference into their own affairs.

            It is odd that after fighting desperately against the expansionist drives of two totalitarian ideologies in the twentieth century, Americans aren't sensitive to the possibility that they are themselves coming to be perceived as "the bully on the block" by peoples in many other cultures. 

            To the extent that other peoples value their cultural identity and national sovereignty – and we know they do –, they will resent anyone who seeks to substitute a transcendent vision for their own.  Christopher Layne writes that "this unilateral dominance – what political scientists call hegemony – is self-defeating... When one state becomes too powerful, other states become fearful and unite to ‘balance' against it."  He quotes the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, as saying in November 1999 that the United States is a "hyper-power" and that "we cannot accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyper-power."44

              The common sense of this was recognized many years ago by Daniel Webster when he said that "no matter how easy may be the yoke of a foreign power..., if it is not imposed upon him by the voice of his own nation and of his own country, he cannot and he means not to be happy under its burden."[45]

            The resentment shows up in many places:

            The atrocities of September 11 brought home to Americans as never before the hatreds that have welled up within radical Islamism.  Safar al-Hawali, one of the religious scholars relied upon by Osama bin Ladin, said in a 1991 sermon that "what is happening in the Gulf is part of a larger Western design to dominate the whole Arab and Muslim world."46  This generalization is related to a wide range of specific grievances.

            It is a mistake to think that the hatred is limited to what Americans are being given to believe are "forces of evil" represented by a few "fanatics."  In writing about the United States' "protectorate era" in the Caribbean between 1900 and 1921, Lester Langley writes that "in not a few instances the legacy of American rule was unmitigated hatred of the United States.  A vitriolic anti-Americanism flourished in Caribbean literature."  The reason was that although "the Americans came to democratize and uplift," this necessarily "expressed their contempt for Caribbean politics, economic systems, and culture."47

            President Jimmy Carter's meliorist policies brought contempt, not gratitude, in the 1970s.  Walter A. McDougall tells how "when the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua in July 1979, Carter asked Congress to give them $75 million in aid.  Daniel Ortega showed his gratitude by allying with Cuba and the USSR, imposing one-party rule, and stoking another insurgency in El Salvador.  Nor did Carter's removal of support for the shah of Iran win credit with the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose followers promptly took the American embassy hostage."  The most graphic demonstration came in June 1993 when Carter was invited to serve as honorary chairperson of the Vienna conference on human rights: "When Carter was introduced, hundreds of Third World delegates mocked and heckled him until he abandoned the podium.  To them he represented the worst sort of paternalistic American meddling."48

            John Drysdale says that the Somalis who inflicted heavy casualties on American Rangers on October 3, 1993, saw it as "an unprecedented triumph over a perceived tyranny."49  (And we have seen that Peter Bergen reports that Osama bin Laden felt the same way.) 

            Weiss says that many developing countries think of interventions as "major-power bullying" and violations of their sovereignty.50  Anna Simons reports that many Somalis were suspicious of the motives behind the intervention: "People were in dire straits all over the world.  Obviously Somalia had to have something the United States and the rest of the world wanted.  Otherwise, why did the world suddenly profess so much interest in a country it had abandoned a mere three years before?  The rhetoric of humanitarianism had to be a smokescreen... Did policymakers understand that this is what many Somalis had to be thinking?  It seems not."51

            Dana Munro says that during the long early-twentieth century American occupation of Haiti, "there had always been resentment of the presence of foreign troops and the authority exercised by foreign officials."  He tells how each class in Haitian life had its own reasons for this resentment.52  It is not surprising, then, that in the 1990s both sides in Haiti found reason to hate the United States.  Those who opposed the American intervention on behalf of Aristide formed a National Anti-Occupation Coalition in 1994, and blamed the assassination of Aristide opponents on President Clinton: "He is to blame for all the Haitians killed, assassinated since September 19."53  On the other hand, we have seen how Rene Preval's government, elected from Aristide's party to succeed him, immediately established diplomatic relations with Castro's Communist government in Cuba after Preval was installed.54  Then in July 2000, Insight magazine reported that "in mid-June, supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide trampled and spat on an American flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince."55

            Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, it has been important for friendship to replace enmity between Russia and the United States.  But a poll taken in Russia by the Public Opinion Foundation in May 2000 found that 56 percent of Russians see the U.S. [NATO] bombing of Yugoslavia as aggression.  Russian author Victor Litovkin says the reason is "disturbing.  NATO's air raids over Yugoslavia made it clear that NATO relies heavily on the use of force, and that to secure its narrow and egoistic interests, the alliance is ready to ignore international law, the U.N. Security Council and even its own charter."56 A similar unfriendly perception exists in Europe.  Suzanne Daley says that "far from seeing America's involvement in Kosovo as a hand of support from across the Atlantic, many Europeans saw it as an American manipulation of NATO."57

            Huntington says that the United States' bombing of Baghdad during the Gulf War was condemned "by almost all Muslim governments."  "Seventy-five percent of India's 100 million Muslims blamed the United States for the war, and Indonesia's 171 million Muslims were ‘almost universally' against U.S. military action in the Gulf... In their view, the invasion [by Iraq of Kuwait] was a family affair to be settled within the family."  Even Jordan's King Hussein said the U.S. effort was "a war against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone."58



            The American overseas interventions at the beginning and end of the twentieth century demonstrate the reasons for humility and caution.  It serves neither the United States nor the world at large for the United States and those led by it to presume to be the world's policeman and social worker.

            In the final chapter of this monograph, I will discuss the vitally important role the United States and the other technologically advanced countries must come to have in the world of the near-future.  But that role, vis a vis other peoples, will not be "making their business our business."  The most meaningful assistance can be given to the other peoples without infringing upon their cultures and their sovereignty.



[1].  The Nation, Vol. 66, 1898, p. 199.

[2].  National Geographic, February 1998, pp. 92-111.

[3].  David Callahan, Unwinnable Wars: American Power and Ethnic Conflict (New York: Twentieth Century Fund Books, 1997), pp. 45, 91.

[4].  Clarke in Walter Clarke and Jeffrey Herbst, ed.s, Learning from Somalia: The Lessons of Armed Humanitarian Intervention (Boulder, CO: WestviewPress, 1997), p. 8.

[5].  Lester H. Brune, The United States and Post-Cold War Interventions (Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1998), pp. 19, 20.

[6].  Report of the Commission on America's National Interests, p. 3.

[7].  Brune, Post-Cold War Interventions, p. 92.

[8].  Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999), twelfth page of the unpaginated Preface.

[9].  Article by Jon E. Dougherty dated October 20, 1999, in WorldNetDaily.com, December 1, 1999.

[10].  Wichita Eagle, December 31, 2000.

[11].  Michael Ignatieff, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (Toronto: Viking, 1998), pp. 85, 87.

[12].  Time magazine, February 12, 2001.  The call for zeal and cash is on page 53. 

[13].  Catherine Besteman, Unraveling Somalia: Race, Violence, and the Legacy of Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), pp. 32, 33.

[14].  Anna Simons, Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone (Boulder, CO: WestviewPress, 1995), p. 11.

[15].  Anna Simons, Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995), p. 15.

[16].  Robert I. Rotberg in Clarke and Herbst, ed.s., Learning from Somalia, p. 233.

[17].  Brune, Post-Cold War Interventions, p. 93.

[18].  Op-ed column in The Wichita Eagle, May 12, 2000.

[19].  Washington Times National Weekly Edition, March 29-April 4, 1999, p. 26.

[20].  Clarke and Herbst in Learning from Somalia, p. 243.

[21].  Clarke and Herbst in Learning from Somalia, p. 241.

[22].  Simons, Networks of Dissolution, p. 205.

[23].  David Pryce-Jones, "Kosovo, from Scratch," in National Review, July 12, 1999, p. 21.

[24].  Writing in National Review, September 27, 1999, p. 24.

[25].  Callahan, Unwinnable Wars, pp. 216, 217.

[26].  Don Feder column, Middle American News, July 2000, p. 17.

[27].  Zakaria in National Review, September 27, 1999, p. 22.

[28].  The Wichita Eagle, July 25, 2000, editorial page.

[29].  Anna Simons, Networks of Dissolution, p. 207.

[30].  Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: The Free Press, 2001), p. 82.

[31].  Clarke and Herbst in Learning from Somalia, p. 242.

[32].  Simons, Networks of Dissolution, p. 207.

[33].  Brune, Post-Cold War Interventions, p. 33.

[34].  New York Times International, April 9, 2000, article "More and More, Europeans Find Fault with U.S." by Suzanne Daley.

[35].  Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996), p. 290.

[36].  Robert H. Jackson in Gene M. Lyons and Michael Mastanduno, ed.s, Beyond Westphalia?  State Sovereignty and International Intervention (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 73.

[37].  Don Feder column, Middle American News, August 1999, p. 13.

[38].  The Wichita Eagle, March 29, 1995, Associated Press report entitled "Former Haitian official assassinated."

[39].  Walter Clarke in Learning from Somalia, p. 4.

[40].  Thomas G. Weiss in Learning from Somalia, p. 207.

[41].  Huntington, Clash of Civilizations, pp. 311, 312.

[42].  Daley article in The New York Times International, April 9, 2000.

[43].  See John Clive's discussion of Mill in Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973), pp. 310-311.

[44].  Christopher Layne article, "America's Role," Washington Post, November 14, 1999, p. B01.

[45].  Webster is quoted in Moorfield Storey and Marcial P. Lichauco, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1926), p. 82.

[46].  Bergen, Holy War, Inc., p. 78.

[47].  Lester D. Langley, The United States and the Caribbean in the Twentieth Century (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, revised edition 1985), p. 92.

[48].  Walter A. McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 197.

[49].  John Drysdale in Learning from Somalia, p. 33.

[50].  Thomas G. Weiss in Learning from Somalia, p. 209.

[51].  Simons, Networks of Dissolution, pp. 207, 208. 

[52].  Dana G. Munro, The United States and the Caribbean Republics, 1921-1933 (Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1974), p. 309.

[53].  The Wichita Eagle, March 29, 1995, report "Former Haitian official assassinated."

[54].  The Wichita Eagle, February 8, 1996.

[55].  Insight, July 17, 2000, p. 24.

[56].  The Wichita Eagle, op-ed piece by Victor Litovkin, May 4, 2000.

[57].  Suzanne Daley in The New York Times International, April 9, 2000.

[58].  Huntington, Clash of Civilizations, pp. 39, 248-250.