“Spreading Freedom” and pre-emptive war have fallen out of fashion. That doesn’t mean that the Pentagon has run out of excuses to bomb people though. Under the guise of the “Responsibility to Protect” the Obama administration has toppled one government, and carried out military operations across Africa. Obama’s friendlier sounding interventions are just as dumb as Bush’s. Here’s why…
The world is full of terrible people doing terrible things. Sometimes these people are inspired by their take on old religions, and sometimes they are inspired by newer ideas. The terrorist group Boko Haram has famously kidnapped over 200 young women for the “Crime” of trying to educate themselves and improve the prospects of their families and villages. Over the past 40 years, every level of the US government has conspired to send millions of young black men to rape camps. These men are convicted of “Crimes” that I, as a suburban white kid, personally committed almost every weekend of my adolescence. When we see these sorts of injustices, anywhere in the world, we should absolutely name them, shame them and help to end them.
There are people in the United States who want to go beyond this though. When these injustices occur in the developing world, it somehow becomes everybody’s business. There is an idea that we have some sort of “responsibility to protect”, and that when some abuse catches the public eye, we should use the US military to deal with it. From Joseph Kony to “Bring Back our Girls” these calls are becoming more frequent, and the US government is eager to act on them.
This is dangerous. We need to think harder about what the “Responsibility to Protect” actually means. On October 1st, 2008 the United States activated the United States Africa Command, or Africom, our 9th Strategic Combat Command. It involves 10s of thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel, including components of the Army, Navy and Air Force. When it was put together, many questioned why. The United States has few interests in Africa that we need to defend militarily. “Responsibility to Protect” is providing the answer. The toppling of the Libyan government in 2011 is the most famous example, but the US military is building installations, and working with the local military in countries across Africa. This is a subtler form of Empire Building, but it is Empire building nonetheless.
And that’s the problem with “Responsibility to Protect”. The people pushing this version of military empire may seem nicer than Dick Cheney and George Bush, but their efforts produce the same results. Whether it is a Nigerian government asking for help to find kidnap victims, or an Iraqi prime minister asking for help to beat down his country’s Sunni minority, it is all about creating dependence. Humanitarian war has the same results as War For Oil.
And does Humanitarian intervention actually work for the people it is supposed to help? The former Yugoslavia seems to be doing OK, but it continues to require a NATO military presence 15 years after the end of hostilities. It’s too soon to tell really. If we go back to the 19th century we can examine the first modern piece of “humanitarian intervention” from its start to its horrific finish. Russia and France used the protection of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians as an excuse to intervene in the politics of the Ottoman Empire. How did that work out for the Greeks and Armenians of Anatolia?
You can visit their empty villages today to find out…
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