A response to Kyle Campbell: Military aggression is fundamentally wrongBy Sam West | 02/20/2017 4:48pm
CW / Kylie Cowden
I agree with Kyle Campbell that Donald Trump's potential intervention in Syria is a bad idea. In a recent column, he argued that our new administration’s possible plan to use ground troops against Bashar Al-Assad's government forces would be ineffective and waste lives and resources. This is absolutely true. But when it comes to his larger thesis––that the United States should have gotten involved in the Syrian Civil War sooner––I couldn’t disagree more. Campbell is right about quite a lot as a commentator, but I believe he is mistaken on this issue.
He begins his argument by comparing the Syrian situation to the most significant (and disastrous) military intervention in the 21st Century: The Iraq War. Campbell claims that “isolationists” and “doves” who are against military adventurism have created a false narrative about the conflict, one in which Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted and brutal military dictatorship is considered “not that bad.” I can’t think of a serious person who takes this position. Hussein, like Bashar Al-Assad, is a monster leading a monstrous regime. No sane person would possibly want the people of Iraq or Syria to live under authoritarian governments with well-documented records of human rights violations. I am not pro-dictator. I simply think that the United States military is not effective at nation-building, and I also question whether the country (or any other military power) really embarks on wars with moral intentions.
Violence and occupation does not spread democracy or “American values.” It certainly didn’t in Iraq. Our invasion tore the country apart, killed hundreds of thousands of people including civilians, caused the rise of ISIS, and started a refugee crisis that continues to this day. It didn’t work in Afghanistan, a nation still in tatters after almost four decades of continuous conflict. It didn’t work in Vietnam, where we killed four million people in an attempt to install a pro-American government against the will of the population. To back up his argument, Campbell names Germany and Japan as examples of effective American “nation building,” claiming the U.S. installed prosperous democracies in those nations after knocking out their dictators. He neglects to mention that both Germany and Japan were developed countries and electoral democracies before World War II. America didn’t “build” nations in the former Axis powers, it simply restored the forms of government that previously existed before the takeover of fascists bent on violent conquest. It’s telling that Campbell claims we needed to use the atomic bomb to end the Pacific War, using an American war crime as evidence of Japanese brutality.
Every country in history has said that wars it conducted were really “civilizing missions.” The British Empire brutally conquered a fourth of the globe while patting itself on the back for spreading Western culture and placing responsible administrations over indigenous peoples too stupid to rule themselves. The United States has taken up this mission since Britain's decline. Wars are never conducted for moral purpose; there isn’t an example in history of a state embarking on a disinterested military adventure. States are not moral actors. Sometimes good things are achieved by military action––take the U.S. destruction of Nazi Germany––but these occasional good results are only coincidences. Just as Britain gained colonies and resources through plunder, America gains new foreign export markets, a profitable military-industrial complex, and monopolies on oil interests.
If spreading democracy and reducing violence is really the goal of American foreign policy, it can accomplish this goal easily. It can stop support for Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that oppresses women and has been conducting a brutal war in Yemen with American support. It can withdraw military aid to Israel, and tell it to stop building illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. It can end its drone bombing campaigns throughout the Middle East.
The United States has an ugly history of actively subverting democracy and human rights when it is advantageous or convenient. It overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, in order to support British control of Persian oil. It killed Patrice Lumumba and destroyed Congolese democracy in support of Belgian colonialism, turning the young country from a potential ally into a region wracked by violence to this day. It overthrew Salvador Allende, a popularly elected leftist leader in Chile, and replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet, a capitalist dictator whose hideous abuses prove that free markets don’t necessarily mean free people. I could go on.
I don’t think ground troops in Syria will help the region now, and I don’t think they would have helped five years ago. Values like democracy, liberty, equality and respect for human rights don’t come from the barrel of a gun. They come first from from education and economic development, and then from popular organization. The war Iraq was not a well-intentioned idea that was bungled, it was fundamentally wrong and immoral, like all aggressive wars. The same goes for a potential Syrian intervention that will hopefully not come to pass. Assad is horrible, but the consequences of another American invasion will be worse.
Sam West is a junior majoring in history and journalism. He is the content editor of The Crimson White.