The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein speaks for a lot of Republican voters when he says Ron Paul’s foreign policy is a non-starter. But Weinstein’s claim that non-interventionism would have led to “the Nazi Century” is simply a misreading of history.
I’m typically more modest than to engage in a series of historical counterfactuals, but two can play this game.
To conservative hawks, every international affair is akin to appeasing the Nazis in World War II. But what Weinstein forgets here is that the rise of the Nazis itself is widely acknowledged to be the product of interventionism. Woodrow Wilson’s crusade to make the world “safe for democracy” ended up heaping the punitive Versailles Treaty on Germany, which laid the groundwork for the grievances that would create the Third Reich.
In fact, if America had pursued a non-interventionist foreign policy during the last century or so, not only would we have not lived through a Nazi century, but plenty of people would have been much better off.
Take, say, President William McKinley’s 1899 war of conquest in the Philippines, which was supposed to “liberate” and “Christianize” Filipinos. To do this, McKinley invaded the country and then authorized American troops to kill any Filipino male 10 years old or older and massacre other civilians. Well over 100,000 Filipinos died — as well as 4,000 U.S. soldiers. Might they have been better off with a non-interventionist foreign policy?
Or we could start where Weinstein leaves off, after WWII. In 1953, the Eisenhower administration secretly orchestrated a military coup to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected government, which was a relatively mainstream, Western-style parliamentary system.
We replaced that with the Shah, a ruthless dictator who spent the next 30 years tormenting and repressing his people. In a classic example of blowback, the 1979 revolution in Iran produced the current Iranian regime, an entity Weinstein surely views as the greatest existential threat we now face.
Following the mission to tyrannize millions of innocents in Iran, Eisenhower ordered the CIA to aid another military coup in Guatemala, stripping its people of their first constitutional government. Guatemala subsequently descended into one of the most brutal civil wars of the century, which included horrible massacres of Mayan Indians, since characterized as genocide.
John F. Kennedy attacked South Vietnam in 1963. Up to 3 million Vietnamese died in that war of choice, not to mention almost 60,000 Americans. Nobody was made safer, and the Evil Empire was not harmed.
On to South America, said the American imperialists! In 1973, the United States participated in yet another episode of international terrorism when it overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. This brought over 15 years of repression by Augusto Pinochet, our favored dictator.
The Carter administration had supported the U.S. puppet dictator in Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, against the Sandinista uprising. Somoza’s security forces carried out massive atrocities, bombing residential areas and killing tens of thousands of people, with the help of American tax dollars.
But Reagan delved much deeper, following Weinstein’s logic that U.S. intervention around the world is inherently benevolent. Supporting, arming, and training Contra death squads to fight the Sandinistas and carry out extensive human rights violations translated to tens of thousands of corpses and a world that was no safer.
The first Gulf War is another classic example of the treachery of interventionist foreign policy. The United States had, for a long time, played a game in the Middle East aimed at supporting various tyrannies and preventing any one of them from gaining regional influence that might challenge our own.
So George H. W. Bush attacked former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in order to “liberate” Kuwait (even though we supported authoritarianism in Kuwait long afterward). U.S. warplanes destroyed not just military targets but also communications networks, bridges, oil refineries, electrical plants, etc. Iraqis were left without power, clean water, or sewage.
The Clinton administration kept up the crippling economic sanctions and occasionally bombed Iraq. Air travel to and from Iraq was banned, various exports were prohibited, per capita income sunk, the whole country suffered. Iraqis developed typhoid, cholera, and protein deficiencies at levels only seen in famines. Up to 500,000 Iraqi children died as a direct result of these U.S. interventions, a cost Madeline Albright infamously declared was “worth it.”
Interventions like this into the Arab world helped create a vast network of Islamic extremists bent on ridding the Middle East of American imperialism. After we helped these jihadists defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan (another unintended result of our interventionist foreign policy), they turned their sights on America, culminating in the September 11th attacks.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington are monuments to the unintended consequences of an interventionist foreign policy. At least, that is the assessment of the CIA, the State Department, virtually all of the academic literature written on the subject, and members of al Qaida.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has increased its overseas military presence. The U.S. now has about 900 military bases in over 130 countries, is drawing down a criminal war in Iraq, and is still fighting ones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, East Africa … the list goes on. And so will the unforeseen consequences.
The lesson of American foreign policy in the 20th century is not that the evils of this world would have prevailed absent U.S. intervention. Rather, the lesson is that Washington, by trying to force its will on every corner of the planet, ends up imposing more evils than we care to remember.
Weinstein must also understand that the consequences of imperial foreign policy are not just borne by Filipinos, or Nicaraguans, or Iraqis. American liberty suffers as well.
As John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, aptly put it, “As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of world events knows, countries that continuously fight wars invariably build powerful national-security bureaucracies that undermine civil liberties and make it difficult to hold leaders accountable for their behavior; and they invariably end up adopting ruthless policies normally associated with brutal dictators.”
John Glaser is the assistant editor of Antiwar.com.