Do you think the United States worry about fighting too few wars?
Neocons bugle “Yes,” but they are wrong.
They argue that the United States can eliminate evil and promote goodness in the world by regularly playing St. George and the Dragon. Warring only in self-defense would prevent such national gallantry and grandeur.
Among other things, they point to President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 Persian Gulf War to evict Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and President William Jefferson Clinton’s wars in Bosnia and Kosovo targeting Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic as exemplary of the goodness the United States can achieve for itself and the world by chronically going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
The examples prove the opposite, however, and reinforce the conviction that we should tend to our own gardens as Voltaire’s Candide advised.
In 1990, Kuwait was ruled by the House of al-Sabah dynasty, as it had been for nearly three centuries, with no trappings of self-government or democracy.
Kuwait accepted vassalage to Great Britain in 1899, and achieved independence only in 1961. Its boundaries were delimited by the realpolitik doctrine of might makes right.
Saddam invaded and then annexed Kuwait in August 1990 to gain control over its oil. The Emir of Kuwait fled to Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s armed forces fought a few hours, and then decamped likewise to Saudi Arabia. There was no Battle of Thermopylae. There was no Masada. There was no showing that Kuwait was anything but a fragile, artificial, statelet bereft of popular support.
In 1991, President Bush commenced war against Iraq to undo its annexation of Kuwait and to reinstate the al-Sabah dynasty in Operation Desert Storm. Saddam’s forces were quickly crushed and evicted, although 300 Americans died. The emir was restored to tyrannical domination of his subjects.
The Persian Gulf War also witnessed President Bush’s false signal to Iraq’s Marsh Arabs to revolt in expectation of American support. Tens of thousands were killed and 2 million displaced by Saddam in crushing the rebellion. it further divided Iraq along sectarian divisions that haunt the United States in its current war against the Islamic State.
Today, Kuwait remains an undemocratic state ruled by the al-Sabah family.
For what did 300 Americans die?
If Saddam’s annexation had gone unchallenged by the United States, our access to oil would not have diminished. Even Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez sold us petroleum as he shouted maledictions at us. Iran would have thwarted any further Iraqi territorial conquests. And the example of Saddam’s ouster from Kuwait did not deter similar acts of aggression. Think of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
President Clinton’s Bosnian war similarly accomplished nothing good for the United States. It was fought unconstitutionally without congressional authorization. It aimed to prevent ethnic cleansing, yet ended with two de facto ethnic states: the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. And the United States ignored Iranian weapons shipments to the Muslim-led Bosnian government in violation of a U.N. Security Council mandatory arms embargo, which invited other nations to similarly flout Security Council resolutions. Bosnia’s domestic convulsions no more threatened the security of the United States than has the protracted bloody upheavals in the Democratic Republic of Congo in which a staggering 6 million have perished.
President Clinton’s war in Kosovo without congressional authorization was largely a re-run of the Bosnia. The U.S. Constitution was again violated. The war objective was to prevent ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanian Muslims by Serbian President Milosevic. It succeeded on that score, but with no benefit to the security of the United States. Kosovo’s miseries were no more a danger to us than ethnic violence and oppression in Burma. Kosovo itself became an ethnic-based state with Serbs reduced to second-class citizenship. Moreover, the United States employed force to change the borders of Serbia. That is what Mr. Putin did to change the borders of Ukraine and what the Islamic State is hoping to accomplish in Syria and Iraq, both of which the United States is condemning.
We have been hoisted on our own petard.
The lessons of Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo are clear. Good Samaritan wars implicate the United States in killings and destruction superfluous to our security. They also risk dangerous domestic and international law precedents.
Let’s be guided by Benjamin Franklin’s sermon: “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”
For more information about Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.
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