For the past century or so, the United States has had little to no problem becoming deeply involved with other countries’ affairs. One would be hard pressed to point to a South American country that hasn’t seen a dictator with either clear U.S. backing or some form of training from our government within the last century and a half.
In recent memory, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be the most visible representation of our aggressive foreign policy, though I would hope the drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan also serve as a testament to just how far the U.S. is willing to go. Prompted by the situation in Crimea, cries announcing the rebirth of Russian Imperialism have circulated throughout the media. Now would seem a particularly good time to ponder how much of that “Russian Imperialism” we see in the mirror.
This is not to say that international intervention should always be looked down upon. Certainly the relief efforts in post-earthquake Haiti represents the philanthropic motivations foreign intervention can hold, but the gesture just would have meant a lot more if the U.S. hadn’t set Haiti’s economy up for ruin in the first place.
In fact, under the guidance of then President Clinton (now the UN special envoy to Haiti), the Haitian government had been instructed to embrace the free market in order to see improvements in this nation’s economy, leading to cheaper fees on imported goods. The problem being that the U.S. government heavily subsidizes rice, and after the tariffs were dropped it soon became cheaper for Haitians to buy imported U.S. rice than grow their own. This resulted in thousands of family farmers no longer having a means of providing for their families. But it’s easy to look like the good guys when you frame the story around disaster relief policy.
Turning to the war in Iraq, you probably have a fairly different narrative depending on what side of the political aisle you favor. Whether we were overzealous, oil-hungry imperialists or a group of freedom fighters sent to oust a dangerous and oppressive regime, the money doesn’t lie. The war itself has cost the U.S. $1.7 trillion before veteran benefits are taken into account.
Then President Bush ordered our troops into Iraq without UN authorization, a clear indication of our policy of intervention. Even for supporters of the initial engagement, $1.7 trillion is a lot of money to spend on a fight for which we did not have a direct national interest.
Obviously a case-by-case look at all the failures of U.S. intervention would not be helpful. There are, undoubtedly, times the U.S. has been correct to intervene on the global scale as well. My issue is simply that intervention has become the default in U.S. policy. We claim to know what is best or in many cases “just” in a situation, but ultimately entangle ourselves for other, more selfish reasons.
The American populace has become too comfortable with the notion of the United States serving as an international watchdog, wearing both a judge’s robe and an executioner’s hood.
As the world continues to get smaller, with our ability to communicate and gather information at a moment’s notice, complex global issues are going to arise. Some of these future situations will even require U.S. intervention. However, intervention should be the last resort rather than first inclination.
While our wealth and global “importance” surely make intervention an option as global conflicts arise, it is important to remember that we have our own nation to worry about. There is a great deal of responsibility that comes with being a global player, and it’s time our government started taking that responsibility more seriously.