The Price of US Interventionism

Mitt Romney and his neocon advisers want to confront the Muslim world with a “credible military threat” as if more American “tough-guy-ism” will quell the region’s anti-Americanism. But the reality is that the long history of U.S. intervention has engendered the hostility, says the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

The attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four U.S. diplomats, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, is the latest example of tragic blowback from the U.S. government’s interventionist foreign policy in the Islamic world. That it happened on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an even more severe example of such blowback, is a cruel irony.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush told us that Islamist terrorists attack us for “our freedoms.” This contradicted the conclusion of his own Defense Science Board and other expert opinion, including that of the perpetrator of those attacks, Osama bin Laden, that al-Qaeda attacked us for our foreign policy of intervening indiscriminately in Muslim lands.

A map showing the results of the Arab Spring. Dark blue represents government overthrown; red is for civil war; light blue for civil disorder and governmental change; orange for major protests; beige for minor ones; and dark gray for related disorder in neighboring areas. (Graphic produced by User:Brightgalrs)

The enduring lack of introspection on the part of the American government and people about the ill effects of those needless interventions leads to their continuation and consequent unpleasant blowback. Unfortunately, the killing of American personnel in Libya and the attacks on and violent protests at U.S. diplomatic facilities in 20 Islamic countries are examples of this payback.

At the time, critics of the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi rightfully asked during the process exactly who made up the opposition the U.S. was supporting and what kind of government would replace him. They held out the possibility of post-Gaddafi instability, tribal warfare, and maybe even an Islamist takeover of the country.

The attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya is an example of that instability even in an Islamic country with relatively favorable feelings toward America. The new Libyan government was too weak to protect U.S. diplomats and actually blamed the United States for not evacuating its personnel sooner.

Obviously, some Libyan factions aren’t very grateful for the help of Western air power in Gaddafi’s overthrow and continuing Western aid.

However, some would say that it was the Internet film insulting Islam that caused worldwide anti-American violence, not U.S. intervention. Yet the film was only the trigger, and the real underlying issue is U.S. and Western meddling in Islamic lands and culture.

The U.S. superpower has been pursuing an interventionist policy in the Islamic world since World War II, ramping it up even further after 9/11 with the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, and is roundly hated for it, thus making it the target for such blowback attacks, even among peoples the U.S. tried to “help.”

In addition, the Western overthrow of Gaddafi, a long-time nemesis of the United States and West who had recently given up his nuclear program and had begun cooperating with the West, including holding Islamist detainees in his prisons for a U.S. government that had rendered them there, sent the wrong message to other countries thinking about getting or working on nuclear weapons.

The United States showed no respect for non-nuclear Libya or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq but certainly has for nuclear North Korea.

Yet after the seemingly easy overthrow of Gaddafi, using only Western air power supporting an indigenous opposition force, with no need for boots on the ground, pressure is now building for a repeat in Syria. But the blowback attacks in Libya, Egypt, and other Islamic countries should be a cautionary note about what could come after the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad.

Like the heavily armed and rival tribal militias now roaming Libya, Syria has many heavily armed opposition factions, which continue to commit atrocities against civilians and, according to U.S. intelligence, have been infiltrated, and are sometimes commanded, by al-Qaeda.

To illustrate, a doctor recently back from a humanitarian mission in Syria was shocked at the number of radical Islamist fighters in the opposition forces battling the Assad regime. Post-Gaddafi Islamist radicalism should have been no surprise in Libya, because al-Qaeda had always had a high participation rate from Benghazi and eastern Libya, the cradle of the anti-Gaddafi revolution.

After the doctor’s report in Syria, such an Islamist upsurge should be no surprise to the U.S. government in any post-Assad Syria either. Furthermore, overt U.S. military intervention in Syria will do nothing for America’s already very low popularity in the Islamic world.

The attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya, Egypt, and worldwide should be a “canary in the coal mine” warning to stop U.S. meddling in the Islamic world. The U.S. has recently conducted military interventions in at least six Muslim nations: Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

Even bigger birds flew in on 9/11 without causing any such introspection, however, so the prospect is bleak 11 years later for any badly needed U.S. soul-searching. Thus, unfortunately, at home and abroad, America will continue to needlessly have a big bull’s eye on its back.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

3 comments for “The Price of US Interventionism

    September 28, 2012 at 19:59

    Obama’s support w/U. S. Taxpayers $$$ of NATO’s illegal invasion of Libya..caused the deaths of thousands of Libyan men, women and children, and promoted the ethnic cleansing of Black Libyans which is still continuing:

    The Butchering of Gaddafi Is America’s Crime

    by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

    “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared like ghoulish despots at a Roman Coliseum, reveling in their Libyan gladiators’ butchery.”

    Last week the whole world saw, and every decent soul recoiled, at the true face of NATO’s answer to the Arab Spring. An elderly, helpless prisoner struggled to maintain his dignity in a screaming swirl of savages, one of whom thrusts a knife [4] up his rectum. These are Europe and America’s jihadis in the flesh. In a few minutes of joyously recorded bestiality, the rabid pack undid every carefully packaged image of NATO’s “humanitarian” project in North Africa – a horror and revelation indelibly imprinted on the global consciousness by the brutes’ own cell phones.

    Nearly eight months of incessant bombing by the air forces of nations that account for 70 percent of the world’s weapons spending, all culminating in the gang-bang slaughter of Moammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and his military chief of staff, outside Sirte. The NATO-armed bands then displayed the battered corpses for days in Misurata – the city that had earlier made good on its vow to “purge Black skin” through the massacre and dispersal of 30,000 darker residents of nearby Tawurgha – before disposing of the bodies in an unknown location.

  2. clarence swinney
    September 27, 2012 at 16:35

    Bush II–19
    Bush I–27

  3. clarence swinney
    September 26, 2012 at 15:44

    Republicans are so busy courting their ideological base that they don’t seem to realize that they are doing Obama a huge political favor. If the American Jobs Act would have moved forward and eventually passed, the discussion would have been about the effectiveness of Obama’s jobs bill. The 2012 election might have been a referendum on the American Jobs Act.
    Instead, Republicans have opened the door for Obama to campaign on the question of who wants to and can create jobs. Since none of the Republican presidential candidates have an actual jobs plan, Obama can campaign against both congressional Republicans and the 2012 GOP nominee at the same time.
    Obama’s message that the wealthy and corporations need to pay their fair share, and that we need to create jobs is resonating well with the country.
    The path to a second Obama term is clear. The president must defy conventional wisdom and campaign on the economy. He has to define himself as the only candidate who is willing to create jobs, protect entitlements, and make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Obama remains personally popular. The American people support his positions on jobs and taxes.
    Obama must drive the message home, and convince voters to toss the obstructionist Republicans out of office, and give him a Congress that is ready to put the American people back to

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