War

The Lethal Legacy of US Intervention

The deadly consequences - and culpability - continue long after the last soldier leaves.

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Americans seem to believe that once the U.S. military exits a foreign country, its moral accountability ends. But the deadly consequences — and culpability — continue long after the last soldier leaves.

Take Iraq, which the U.S. military left at the end of 2011 (though not before President Obama pleaded with the Iraqi government to let some American forces remain). Violence is flaring in Iraq, as Sunni Muslims, fed up with the oppressive, corrupt, U.S.-installed and Iran-leaning Shi'a government, have mounted new resistance.

Not our responsibility, most Americans would think. The U.S. troops are long gone, so "our hands" are clean. Not so fast, says University of San Francisco Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes.

"The tragic upsurge of violence in Iraq in recent months, including the temporary takeover of sections of two major Iraqi cities by al-Qaida affiliates," Zunes writes, "is a direct consequence of the repression of peaceful dissent by the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and, ultimately, of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation."

He goes on,

The U.S.-backed Iraqi regime is dominated by sectarian Shia Muslim parties which have discriminated against the Sunni Muslim minority. The combination of government repression and armed insurgency resulted in the deaths of nearly 8,000 civilians last year alone.

But can the United State really be responsible? Wasn't Iraq a terrible place before the 2003 U.S. invasion, devastation, and occupation? Iraq was certainly ruled by a bad man, Saddam Hussein, who repressed the majority Shi'a, but also mistreated Sunnis. Yet Iraq was not plagued by sectarian violence before the U.S. military arrived. "Until the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation, Iraq had maintained a longstanding history of secularism and a strong national identity among its Arab population despite sectarian differences," Zunes writes.

Not only did the U.S. invasion and occupation fail to bring a functional democracy to Iraq, neither U.S. forces nor the successive U.S.-backed Iraqi governments have been able to provide the Iraqi people with basic security. This has led many ordinary citizens to turn to armed sectarian militia[s] for protection.

Zunes notes that "much of Iraq's current divisions can be traced to the decision of U.S. occupation authorities immediately following the conquest to abolish the Iraqi army and purge the government bureaucracy — both bastions of secularism and national identity — thereby creating a vacuum that was soon filled by sectarian parties and militias."

So, once again, arrogant American policymakers lumbered into a foreign country thinking they could remake it in their image — apparently without knowing anything about the cultural or social context. This is hardly the first time, which is why Eugene Burdick and William Lederer's 1958 novel, The Ugly American, still packs so much power.

Horrific as the Iraq story is, consider what's happening today in Laos, in southeast Asia. The U.S. military bombed Laos from 1964 to 1973, during its war on Vietnam, to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, the route for military personnel and equipment from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, which ran through Laos and Cambodia. According to the website Legacies of War, "the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos in 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years."

That would have been bad enough, but the U.S. government dropped cluster bombs, which are made up of many so-called bomblets, about 30 percent of which did not explode immediately:

At least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped as part of the bombing campaign; approximately 80 million failed to detonate.

Data from a survey completed in Laos in 2009 indicate that UXO [unexploded ordnance], including cluster bombs, have killed or maimed as many as 50,000 civilians in Laos since 1964 (and 20,000 since 1973, after the war ended). Over the past two years there have been over one hundred new casualties each year. About 60% of accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children. Boys are particularly at risk. [Emphasis added.]

Thus, 40 years after America's war of aggression against the people of Southeast Asia, American munitions continue to kill people.

Remember this the next time you hear antiwar advocates smeared as isolationists and American foreign intervention lauded as a blessing to mankind.

This column orignally appeared on the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  1. What an idiot:

    Yet Iraq was not plagued by sectarian violence before the U.S. military arrived.

    Perhaps because the repression was so brutal that it “worked”, and we weren’t prepared (due to our quaint moral customs) to engage in that level of brutality?

    So, once again, arrogant American policymakers lumbered into a foreign country

    No argument there. I’m just wondering why Mr. Chapman is assigning moral responsibility for decisions made by civilians to the military tasked with carrying out those decisions.

    1. Don’t you see RC if only America hadn’t invaded the former Yugoslavia there wouldn’t have been all that violence?

    2. If there is a general consensus that politicians are shitbags, why is there nothing more noble than killing foreigners for the benefit of those bags of shit?

      1. Strawman, logical fallacy, irrelevance to the original post-it’s the Sarc Standard.

        1. I don’t doubt the integrity of the people in the military. I just think they are misguided. They think they are serving the people, but they’re not. They’re serving the interests of shitbag politicians.

          I wish more people could see that. (I’d never be so foolish as to expect you to.)

          1. They think they are serving the people, but they’re not. They’re serving the interests of shitbag politicians.

            I wish you’d be able to see this is a false dichotomy, but I would never expect you to. Got narratives to flog.

            1. When Congress declares war before our military initiates hostilities I’ll quit flogging this particular narrative.

              1. While the lack of DoW is bad, it doesn’t make your false dichotomy any less false. You suck at thinking.

                1. Because shitbag politicians have the interests of the people at heart only when it comes to foreign policy?

                  1. Because shitbag politicians have the interests of the people at heart only when it comes to foreign policy?

                    I don’t even know what that means. Shitbag politicians have only one person’s interest at heart: their own.

                    1. That was a sarcastic reply to Cytotoxic. I agree with you.

                  2. They are most likely to converge when it comes to foreign policy. What made Sarc’s dichotomy false was the fact that military actions can serve both the interests of shitbag pols and the people. These interests may even be the same, as is the case in The Drone Wars.

                    1. It’s magic I tell you! Crossing a border turns pols into wise, benevolent angels!

                    2. These interests may even be the same, as is the case in The Drone Wars.

                      Really. So it’s in the interest of the people to use drones to kill dirt poor people in the mountains of Asia because… uh, I can’t figure it out.

                2. If I’m presenting limited options when more are available, then by all means let’s hear those alternatives that I’m intentionally omitting.

      2. Because we go to a great deal of effort to make sure that our military is completely under civilian control, the moral responsibility for what the military is despatched to do rests mainly on the civilian controllers.

        Within the scope of that mission, the military can and should be held responsible. But not, IMO, for the mission and civilian policy decisions themselves.

        1. I agree. With the second part anyway.

        2. One man, the president, having the power to send the military out there to kill foreigners with or without the a rubber stamp from Congress is hardly what I’d call complete civilian control.

    3. “I’m just wondering why Mr. Chapman is assigning moral responsibility for decisions made by civilians to the military tasked with carrying out those decisions.”

      You mean Richman? He is about as much of a one note flute as Shikha Dalmia with immigration.

  2. Thus, 40 years after America’s war of aggression against the people of Southeast Asia

    We didn’t fight a war of aggression against all of Southeast Asia, just most of it. What a poorly thought out sentence.

    1. America didn’t fight any war of aggression there at all, and it wasn’t fought against ‘the people’. It was fought in response to North Vietnam’s aggression. Even by noninterventionist standards Sheldon is nakedly dishonest.

      1. Yeah, little detail there: North Vietnam actually invaded first and tried to overthrow the recognized/”legitimate” government.

        1. Shh. Only NEOCON warmongers care about facts.

        2. No need to mention the human cost of the glorious transition to Communist rule in the South after we left. Broken eggs, omelet, etc…

  3. There was little sectarian violence, unless you count the Sunni government under Hussein murdering thousands of Kurds and Shites every year.

  4. “40 years after America’s war of aggression against the people of Southeast Asia, ”

    So, we should just leave countries to be run over by Communist factions, when Communism on a National scale has a strong correlation with mass murder as a tool of statecraft?

    Should we have been in Vietnam? I think it can be argued both ways. But I think that the sentence I quoted assumes that it can only be argued in the negative.

    How about “40 years after America’s ham-handed bungling in Southeast Asia”?

    Because whether we SHOULD have been there or not, we certainly screwed up.

    1. JFK was absolutely right to send assistance and advisors over there. LBJ was absolutely wrong to turn into a full undeclared war. LBJ was absolutely evil and insane for the combat restrictions that caused to much American and SV death and prevented America from defeating the Vietcong until Nixon undid them.

  5. “is a direct consequence of the repression of peaceful dissent by the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and, ultimately, of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation.”

    Richderp is seriously assigning moral blame using The Butterfly Effect. ‘America was here so all your moral agency are belong to us!’

    What an idiot.

  6. “40 years after America’s war of aggression against the people of Southeast Asia, “

    I didn’t read the article, but if it includes this, the author needs to be flogged.

    1. C’mon, don’t you remember the American Killing fields in Cambodia! All those boat people fleeing away from the US… the peaceful and voluntary integration of South Vietnam into the North…

      We did some stupid and some evil things in the area, but a “war of aggression against the people of Southeast Asia” is lifted straight from some Viet Minh handbook.

  7. Next door neighbor is Vietnamese, fought for the South, was in a labor camp for ten years. For some odd reason, that makes me not want to take seriously this bullshit article.

    1. Labor sets you free.

      1. You know who else said that work sets you free?

        1. Doesn’t Obamacare set you free?

  8. This sounds like an argument for why we should stay in a country and try to run their affairs, for their own good.

    1. You know for “anti-war” person he sure seems more mad that TOP MEN aren’t in charge of US Foreign policy.

    2. It is our burden.

  9. So when will Sheldon be going to Venezuela to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against CIA stooges?

    1. Don’t give him any more stupid ideas.

  10. Iraq was certainly ruled by a bad man, Saddam Hussein, who repressed the majority Shi’a, but also mistreated Sunnis.

    Egypt and Iran were also ruled by a bad men who oppressed people yet avoided sectarian conflicts and were secular. When is Sheldon going to bemoan their overthrow?

  11. “Remember this the next time you hear antiwar advocates smeared as isolationists and American foreign intervention lauded as a blessing to mankind.”

    I think the general premise behind this thought is right though, even if the preceding comment is stupid. I’ve had many a “discussion” with neocons who bitch and moan that if we leave some place (like Iraq) then it will be chaos and everyones father will be raped. So we have to stay there for 50 years and magically it will turn out just like Germany.

  12. There was no reason to send Marines into Libya, they weren’t about to invade the United States. Damn that interventionist Thomas Jefferson…

  13. Good post.
    SBB Key Programmer V33 is a good car key programmer.

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