The next interventionist crisis?

Ever since the heady days of ‘manifest destiny‘, the USA has faced internal conflict between – for want of better terms – isolationists and interventionists.  The former want to concentrate on domestic issues, leaving the rest of the world to get on with its own affairs – but unfortunately they all too often fail to see that gathering storm clouds over the horizon will sooner or later cross that horizon and rain all over this country too.  The latter want to go out and deal with those storm clouds before they can develop into a threat – but unfortunately they often do so without a real, clear and compelling national interest that will justify the expenditure of American lives, political and diplomatic capital, and the national treasure.

Interventionism has tended to triumph over isolationism in US foreign policy, although not without bitter internal conflict at times.  The positive outcomes of interventionism have included both World Wars (including the establishment of the United Nations and other international structures during and after the latter), Korea and Gulf War I.  Its failures include Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.  The upshot has been that US troops are currently deployed in almost 150 foreign nations.  The costs of these deployments (including personnel, equipment and operations) are usually borne by the US taxpayer.

We’re facing a budgetary nightmare at home, in which all categories of government spending are going to have to be cut, whether our politicians like it or not.  Sooner or later the fiscal shenanigans played by Congress, the Senate, the President and the Fed will collapse.  The financial chickens will come home to roost.  As Stein’s Law reminds us, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”.  It’s already done that in Detroit and in several California cities.  It will shortly do that to several more of our cities and counties and to the most profligate and spendthrift of the 50 states, and eventually to this nation as a whole.

Yet, in the midst of this historical legacy and critical financial crisis, the cries of the interventionists are rising yet again.  They’re pointing to one crisis area after another – North Korea, or Syria, or Venezuela – and demanding that the US “do more” in the name of humanity, or democracy, or whatever.  Trouble is, they never address the compelling questions that I believe must be asked if our intervention is to have any legitimacy – and, for that matter, if we’re to ask a single US serviceman or -woman to risk his or her life for that ’cause’.

I feel very deeply for those suffering in these situations.  I know more about what they’re going through than most – I’ve traveled extensively through Third World hellholes where life is cheap and death even cheaper.  They’re the sort of places I hope and pray my readers never have to experience for themselves.  (Take a look at the top – or should that be bottom? – 10 states on the Failed States Index for some examples.)  I can’t help but notice that many of the nations on that Index – Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan – are countries where the US has intervened militarily.  So much for ‘truth, justice and the American way’.  The Biblical standard to assess the worth of anyone (or, by extension, any policy or action) is ‘by their fruits you will know them‘.  Bitter fruit, indeed . . .

I’ve also seen how foreign intervention in such hellholes has merely resulted in the ousting of one set of thugs in power, to be replaced by other thugs who seized the opportunity to ‘help’ the intervening forces, then made sure they grabbed the reins of power when the latter left.  In the same way, I’ve seen how foreign aid has been siphoned off by corruption, leaving the needy to starve, or die of disease or famine.  As the largest donor of aid in the world, the US – and its taxpayers – have been hardest hit by this corruption.  (We’ve lost a fortune to corruption in Afghanistan since we occupied that nation.)  If you want me to support intervention in another country, you’d better have some compelling and convincing arguments to persuade me that we won’t end up in yet another corruption quagmire as a result.

Finally, the members of our Armed Forces swear an oath upon enlistment.  It reads:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I accept that ‘obeying orders’ might be sufficient justification, in the eyes of some, to send our forces in harm’s way:  but for myself, unless there’s a direct and immediate connection between deployment and ‘defend(ing) the Constitution’ (which can include aiding our allies with whom we have Constitutionally valid treaties), I have a problem.  Why should a single American be forced to go in harm’s way in defense of a fundamentally corrupt system or state that almost certainly will not profit from his or her death?  How can we possibly tell any more parents, siblings, spouse and children that their loved one ‘will not die in vain’ when historically, the odds are pretty high that they probably will?

Are we intervening to make a difference, or simply to feel good about ourselves?  And is that enough to justify the death of US troops?  I fear not.  Unless there’s a compelling national interest at stake, I see no reason to commit US troops to any more foreign adventures.  In fact, I’d pull a lot of them out of the countries where they now serve.  Just why are we stationing them in almost 150 foreign countries anyway – at our expense, in a time of budgetary crisis, when the Armed Forces’ budgets are being slashed?  Tell me again how this makes sense?



  1. It does not make sense. But better we keep them (Them being the citizens of the occupied territories) in the country they are currently in than bring them here.

    I don't like that we have military in other countries, but we have done good things in Japan and Germany. Course when we took over their security we did away with the preexisting government and put in one we approved.

    We just do not have good people doing the approval anymore.

    As long as God is not front and center of all we do, we will fail. We need to get God back in the public space. Maybe by having government get out of marriage we might be able to swing some back.

    We are on a slippery slope and I really don't like what is at the bottom.

  2. You pretty much sum up how I feel. I'm just isolationist enough that it takes a heck of a lot of convincing before I support much of anything when it comes to foreign involvement.

    There are situations where our interests or our values require us to intervene. Problem is that for the past few decades the bar has been set lower and lower.

  3. I thought Marines were responsible for embassy security. Would that not be a large number of these deployments? Or is that not being counted by CNN?

  4. Peter, I'm taking issue with one comment, that the UN is a 'positive outcome' – initially, yes, the starry-eyed idealists held sway, but it's morphed into a behemoth of imposing it's tyranny on all – no, thanks, move it to Devil's Island, PLEASE

    Semper Fi'

  5. Excellent post Peter. Two good points, the oath of enlistment (check out the officer oath, it has some fundamental and interesting differences) and the "compelling national interest" are the highlights. These two things should be burned into every politicians' head.

    With 3 kids in the Navy, I take this stuff very seriously.

  6. "many of the nations on that Index – Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan – are countries where the US has intervened militarily. So much for 'truth, justice and the American way'."

    I've been there and done that.

    Consider . . . where might they be if we hadn't intervened? As low as they are, none of them have truly "reached the bottom". Yet.

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