The US President Joe Biden has pledged support for Ukraine recently, saying “my commitment to transform Ukraine, improve transparency and achieve peace is strong". However, the US commitment to global peace is by no means reliable.
According to the data released by the Congressional Research Service, the US launched 228 military interventions around the world including the US-led Gulf War as well as the wars with Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria since the Cold War ended in 1991. These interventions brought mass destruction, deaths and sufferings to the affected countries and their people in stark contrast to the proclaimed peace and humanitarian rhetoric.
More than 800,000 people killed due to the War on Terror
In 2020, despite the devastating economic downturn, civil upheavals and disruption in social care caused by the pandemic and deep-rooted racism, the U.S. defense spending went up by 6.3% in real terms. The chart below shows U.S. spent more money on “defense” than the next 10 countries combined. Exceeding spending on the military has been a part of the package of being a hegemon, but peace seems absent from the unipolarity.
With the growth of the U.S. strength and prestige in the world, the U.S. is increasingly proactive in throwing its weight around by using its unmatched military forces to interfere globally. The statistics reported by the U.S. Congressional Research Service demonstrated that U.S. military interventionism grew dramatically when it became the sole superpower: while the United States engaged in forty-six military interventions from 1948–1991, from 1992–2020 that number skyrocketed fivefold to 228.
The end of the Cold War was supposed to mark the beginning of a new world order where a peaceful future for all mankind can be achieved through partnerships in the international organizations, primarily the United Nations, as former U.S. president George H.W. Bush promised. However, the U.S. armed forces did not enjoy a single year without engaging in an armed conflict. When the Cold War was approaching its end, the U.S. invaded Panama and Iraq. Then, it brought its troops to Haiti, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa.
From 2001 onwards, the U.S. has been fighting the Global War on Terror, which remained the costliest war since the Second World War and the most devastating conflict of the 21st century. By 2018, the U.S. has committed $4 trillion for sustaining the war and suffered 6,967 servicemen or women and 3,413 civilian deaths.
The U.S. has inflicted even more appalling destruction on the regions and sufferings to the people where its military might extends. Figures attributable to the U.S. show that approximately more than 800,000 people were killed and at least 37 million people were displaced and became refugees as the results of U.S. interventionism.
The economic, social, and cultural loss was no less startling. The U.S.-led interventions have dragged countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya into civil strife and pushed those societies to the brink of anarchy. According to the U.N. Global Humanitarian Overview, in 2021 alone, $10 billion is needed to provide assistance to some 13.4 million people in Syria, 12.4 million people cannot have stable access to basic food items. Almost half of the hospitals were closed. In Afghanistan, nearly half the population require humanitarian assistance. In Iraq, the U.S. military operations and subsequently led to the displacement of 4.7 million people. The Iraqi national income was cut by 40% because of the U.S. invasion. The governments planted, or at least favored by the U.S. were not able to maintain the fragile social order and led to civil wars which have further disrupted the security of the region. The safety of individuals has become a luxury. The freedom from fear has been a mere fantasy in a region plagued by feuds, violence, and terror.
In addition, the U.S. military operations and subsequent turmoil and civil wars resulted in the loss of cultural relics that had survived thousands of years, such as the U.S. bombings of several archaeological sites and the looting of the Iraqi National Museum due to the absence of authority and protection, which in the words of Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum said the looting was ‘entirely predictable and could easily have been stopped. And yet the U.S. failed to protect the museum.
Tricks behind U.S. humanitarian rhetoric
Despite the rhetoric and the humanitarian fa?ade that the U.S. tried to portray, the atrocities committed by the US troops and government were by no means humane. In 1999, the U.S. bombed Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, and “accidentally” bombed the Chinese embassy. The U.S. government operated prison ships and set up prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, Afghanistan where prisoners were tortured and abused in outrageous ways. The U.S. troops also perpetrated the Dasht-i-Leili Massacre of 2001, Kandahar Massacre of 2012. These selected cases could be the tip of the iceberg that there could be many more cases that have yet to be discovered by the international community. What’s worse was that these acts would further undermine the international effort in combating extremism.
If one takes a closer look at the U.S. wars in the middle east, it is difficult to disassociate the U.S. from the causes of war, especially the enemies which the U.S. waged wars to eliminate. Before the end of the Cold War, the U.S. provided substantial assistance to Saddam Hussein, to support Iraq’s war with Iran. Donald Rumsfeld, who would later be the Sectary of Defense during the Bush Administration, even supported Saddam when the Iraqi government used chemical weapons, a kind of weapons of mass destruction.
In the 1980s, the U.S. provided the Afghan and Arab jihadists, from which the Taliban was born, assistance to fight against the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, the U.S. directly supported the Taliban and Robin Raphel, a former C.I.A. analyst and the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, was among the strongest supporters of the Taliban and helped the Taliban obtain and consolidate its power in Afghanistan.
In 1990, the U.S. misled Saddam for the U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie told him that the U.S. ‘does not have an opinion on the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait’, and effectively, though some scholars may disagree, lured Saddam into the invasion of Kuwait only to be expelled by the U.S.-led Gulf War. During the War, the U.S. troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, which irritated Bin Laden who were convinced that only Muslims should defend the two holiest cities of Islam. This sparked conflicts between al-Qaeda and the U.S. involving terrorist attacks against the US and American military operations against the al-Qaeda, which resulted in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
The U.S. cited the 9/11 attacks as reasons for the Global War on Terror, and overthrew the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Later, the Bush administration claimed that Saddam Hussein was possessing weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. claims in 2003 were based on politicized intelligence reports and fabricated allegations. Saddam Hussein did possess some weapons of mass destruction, but they had been destroyed by 2000 and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction after the downfall of Saddam found no evidence to support the U.S. claims. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, infamously attempted to convince the U.N. Security Council with a tube of the mysterious substance, which, as Russian President Vladimir Putin commented, could very well be ‘laundry powder’. The chaos in Iraq was but one example of the American lust for toppling governments.
During the Arab Spring, protesters in many Arab countries marched on the streets and the U.S. smelled an opportunity for more regime changes. Many Arab countries did change the government, but the change brought no real democracy, stability, or better governance. Instead, the removal of the leaders led to more protests and unrests, as well as creating power vacuums for tribal rivalries, religious conflicts, and terrorism. In Libya, the U.S.-led intervention, in violation of the U.N. mandate, brought down the Qaddafi government and led to cut-throat rivalries between tribes and rounds of civil wars. U.S. support of the anti-government forces led to the Syrian civil war. The power vacuums in parts of Syria and Iraq provided a harbor for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Global War on Terror is not confined just in the Middle East. The U.S. and its allies conducted other operations in the Horn of Africa, Philippines, Trans Sahara, the Caribbean and Central America. There is no doubt that terrorism should be condemned and effectively tackled in proper ways. However, it seemed that the way that the U.S. has taken is far from ideal. In fact, the spread of terrorism in the Middle East and outside of it was the results of U.S. military intervention.
The U.S. may not have “plotted” all the wars and may have seemingly moral reasons for war, but it was hardly justifiable for the ongoing slaughter, misery and vanquish of cultural relics in the Middle East. The U.S. military intervention knocked down the social order of the Arab countries which have been a house of cards.
The sufferings and social impacts spread out of the theaters of war. The refugees fled from the Syrian civil war and flooded Europe, bringing financial and social costs to the hosts. Some extremists in Europe also committed terrorist attacks in Europe claiming innocent lives. The American people suffered as well. U.S. veterans enduring post-Trauma stress disorder without due care have already been so widely known that it has become a popular topic in TV shows. The tremendous military spending overtakes the public funds that should have been spending on better and more accessible health cares and social welfare, including schemes and programs for preventing pandemics.
None of these was supposed to happen, should the U.S. be a bit less warmongering and interventionist.
Author: Dr. Jonathan Wood, post-doctoral research associate at the University of Oxford, specialized in military history and strategic studies