Recently by Michael S. Rozeff: Obama Leading America to War
John McCain (R-AZ) is still a senator and still ready, on principle, to commit U.S. forces and American wealth to any conflict. In this case, it’s in Syria. McCain’s reason is not national security. It’s to help victims and thwart genocide. He made this crystal clear in his remarks of March 19, 2003 on the eve of the U.S. attack on Iraq:
“The United States of America has involved itself in the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, and now freedom for the Iraqi people, with the same principles that motivated the United States of America in most of the conflicts we have been involved in, most recently Kosovo and Bosnia, and in which, in both of those cases, the United States national security was not at risk, but what was at risk was our advocacy and willingness to serve and sacrifice on behalf of people who are the victims of oppression and genocide.”
The U.S. should not work on the “principles” that McCain advocates. It should not introduce its own force into civil conflicts throughout the world. This has numerous bad effects. It directly heightens the violence of the resistance forces in the affected country. It induces the elite that runs that country into ratcheting up its own violence in order to repress the rebellion and maintain its own control. It immediately makes the U.S. into a political player in the politics of this foreign land. This has its own set of negatives that include upsetting the neighboring states in the region, creating long-lasting enmities, risking failure, causing more civilian deaths, tying down U.S. resources for extended periods of time, loss of flexibility, delaying the reconciliation of the domestic parties or the resolution of their differences, and possibly choosing the wrong side so that the new outcomes are worse than the old.
John McCain doesn’t admit that the McCain policy in Iraq was a disaster for the Iraqi people. He does not mention the 105,000 to 115,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. He does not reveal that the U.S. supported the Kosovo Liberation Army against the Serbian rule and that this led into the violent Serbian repression, so that the U.S. by injecting itself into a civil war exacerbated it and encouraged ethnic cleansing. McCain doesn't see all the things that went wrong in Afghanistan. He doesn't see all the things that can and do go wrong. His "principles" are not a sufficient basis for his policy of intervention.
McCain's assessment of war in Iraq recognized that American lives would be lost. He didn't acknowledge how many American lives would not be lost but ruined or badly diminished. He completely failed to recognize the loss of Iraqi lives that was about to occur:
"The mission our military is about to embark on is fraught with danger, and it means the loss of brave young American lives. But I also believe it offers the opportunity for a new day for the Iraqi people."
Arming and aiding any group in Syria that is rebelling against the existing government is likely to heighten the violence and heighten the government’s use of force to maintain its power. McCain’s suggestion will probably make things worse and lead to more death and destruction.
Constitution lovers will wonder where in the U.S. constitution there is a mandate for the U.S. to choose a side in every civil conflict of every state in the world because people are being killed. There isn't any. No such mandate exists. The U.S. was not created for that purpose.
Pragmatically, the U.S. doesn't go into every such conflict. It cannot be done. The U.S. could not go into Chechnya or Sri Lanka or dozens of other regions. In practice, the U.S. doesn't follow McCain's ideas. However, it still intervenes for other reasons, and those interventions have the same bad effects as interventions done for McCain's principles.
McCain justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq by pointing to Saddam Hussein's killings:
"…there is one thing I am sure of, that we will find the Iraqi people have been the victims of an incredible level of brutalization, terror, murder, and every other kind of disgraceful and distasteful oppression on the part of Saddam Hussein’s regime."
Yes, those who run states quite often overtly murder, brutalize, and terrorize the people under their control. They also do so covertly in other ways. Most people who pay taxes are afraid of being punished if they don't. How are Americans to assess morally the state-led murders in other countries in order to judge action by the U.S., that is, the government people of the U.S.? My view of this is that what each of us does is our own responsibility. What the U.S. government people do is their responsibility. The leaders who run the U.S. should answer for what they do.
Thus, first, under this moral theory, if U.S. leaders decide to enforce the rights of Iraqis, they have to be prepared to answer for any invasion of rights that they perpetrate in the course of their deeds. If they kill Iraqis, they should answer for it. If they destroy Iraqi property, they should answer for it. They also have to be prepared not to invade the rights of those whom they accuse of crimes. There should be trials and evidential procedures. To march in with guns and kill is wholesale violation of rights. Second, even before U.S. leaders decide to enter another country to end the alleged oppression being caused by its leaders, the U.S. leaders have to answer for their own right to force resources out of unwilling Americans in order to conduct this endeavor. This they disallow and cannot do, so that their supposed Good Samaritanism has a foundation of sand at its root. The whole process is tainted. Third, what is even worse is that those who run states quite often actively support regimes such as Saddam Hussein's. Between 1982 and 1990, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's regime. For this reason too, the U.S. has no moral ground to stand on at all attacking Iraq as it did, even though Saddam Hussein killed his own citizens.
My conclusion is that McCain's principle of state action to remedy perceived evils within other states can't be relied on as a moral principle that rationalizes the use of a state's armed intervention into another country.
The existing system of states, bad as it is, can be made worse. This system cannot legally handle the unilateral injection by the U.S. or any power, major or minor, into the internal workings of states that are experiencing civil conflicts. If the U.S. can do it, so can Russia, Brazil, China, France, Libya and any other country. If this idea is followed out, the world will be engulfed in heightened conflicts and wars. The use of force to attack another nation will become a "justifiable" thing under the pretext of coming to the aid of some rebellious element in that nation. One nation can always supply support to rebellious elements in another country and stir up civil conflict to which it then responds by introducing its armed forces.
I conclude that McCain's principle of introducing force in other lands in order to counteract force cannot be relied upon as a universal legal principle. This principle of his can't be generalized without introducing even more mayhem into the international order.
McCain's idea relies on the unstated assumption that the U.S. is a "good guy". It assumes also that the U.S. knows the bad guys when it sees them overseas. It assumes that it can get rid of the bad guys without hurting the good guys. It assumes that the end result will be better than not intervening at all. None of these assumptions are necessarily true. And, as noted above, if the U.S. thinks of itself as the good guy that can justifiably put down the bad guys, so can other countries.
The system of states has produced only one international body (the UN) with the authority to intervene, and then only under legal guidelines that the states have agreed upon. This arrangement is unsatisfactory, no doubt, but unilateral U.S. intervention is worse, because it implies that any state can intervene anywhere.
The unilateral U.S. attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been even worse than intervening in foreign civil conflicts because in those cases there was not even the excuse of an ongoing civil war. The U.S. (and other NATO states) went in and created the subsequent civil violence. It opened the door to strife and civil violence among the peoples in those countries. It opened the door to terrorist bombings.
Even without consideration of international law, there are all the pragmatic negatives noted earlier of attempting to discern justice from afar, introducing U.S. force into civil conflicts, and making the U.S. a party to ongoing violent confrontations. There are very large negatives in cases like Iraq where McCain and the warmongers would attack because they discern oppression or genocide.
On genocide, McCain had this to say:
"We did not go into Bosnia because Mr. Milosevic had weapons of mass destruction. We did not go into Kosovo because ethnic Albanians or others were somehow a threat to the security of the United States. We entered into those conflicts because we could not stand by and watch innocent men, women, and children being slaughtered, raped, and u2018ethnically cleansed.' We found a new phrase for our lexicon: u2018ethnic cleansing.' Ethnic cleansing is a phrase which has incredible implications."
Genocide bothers any right-thinking person. Genocide is simply horrible. As bad as it is, that does not mean that we should reach for simple answers like intervening with U.S. forces. That is because the unwise use of force or other political measures can make a genocide worse or even bring it about. The U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 led to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979 and the Cambodian genocide. Plus the U.S. encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Western policies toward Germany and toward Jewish immigration contributed to Hitler's Final Solution.
We have to ask why there is a genocide in the first place. Before there is a genocide, certain conditions may tend to occur. Let us understand what they may be. We need to understand genocides in order to prevent them.
On this score, Rudolph J. Rummel has done a great deal of good work. He has documented death by government. He has written "power kills, absolute power kills absolutely."
Government people kill their own citizens for reasons. There are always rationales, such as racial extermination, ethnic extermination, removal of political resistance, removal of classes of people like landowners, removal of genetically inferior, removal of diseased, removal of corrupt elements, removal of religious groups, and on and on and on. Even when government people do not kill but imprison, the government people do so for reasons such as stopping drug use. There are, in fact, all too many motives for using power to oppress others. As Rummel suggests, it's the power of the government people that is the necessary condition for its imposition — for whatever reasons the government people imagine to be "right" or "good".
What is sufficient to trigger the amplified use of power in genocide is less clear. There is fruitful study that is being done to further our understanding of death by government. For example, there is “State-Sponsored Mass Murder: The Onset and Severity of Genocides and Politicides” by Matthew Krain.
Krain emphasizes that genocides frequently occur where there is civil conflict or war. When civil resistance to the use of power by government people occur, the elites in government can make concessions to defuse civil resistance or they can use force. Where they use force, the result can be genocide of the people they govern if and when the conflict escalates. Unlike Rummel who emphasizes the concentration of power, Krain points to the opening up of "political opportunities". For example, there is a shift in power, as when Lenin was disabled and Stalin's rise to power began. Lenin's persecutions were amplified. The U.S. war in 1861-1865 provides a further example of the use of terror that is closer to home. Sherman's march is hard to imagine without that civil conflict having been in place.
If widespread resistance to the U.S. government were to occur today, it would be met first by a combination of concessions and force. If the concessions didn’t quell active dissent and resistance, more force would be used. Under even worse circumstances, the government would resort to wholesale killing, arrests, and genocide. It could happen here. It can happen anywhere where there is an armed government force that loses the support or the grudging acceptance of large segments of the population.
Oppression is what states do. It owes to the existence of states themselves and to government people with power. Consequently, it is natural to find resistance in the population to the unjust uses of force by the government people. There are at least four situations that can lead to genocide. One is that government people take hold of the power who have an agenda that calls for exterminating certain groups of people. Second is that resistance to a regime becomes more widespread and the regime ramps up its use of power to stem resistance and maintain control. Third is that some states are so unstable or are so oppressive or contain such diffuse elements that their leaders employ violence against the people on a more or less continual basis. Fourth is that government people break down the controls that hem them in and augment their power.
Both Lindsey Graham and John McCain have urged the U.S. to aid efforts to bring down the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Both these senators want to arm the opposition. Both are interventionists.
It is highly doubtful that either one of them really knows what's going on in Syria. Neither knows what arming various elements may lead to on the part of those now fighting one another. Neither one can assure anyone that arming rebels won't backfire and lead Assad to respond with even greater force. They cannot assure anyone that one U.S. step won't lead to more and more such steps or to counter-steps from Iran and Russia. They cannot assure anyone that what they recommend won't mean more civilian deaths, injuries and refugees.
Neither of these two senators comprehends that the U.S. has no authority for such interventions, and that their supposed justifications are flimsy. They are opening the door to the interventions of other states all over the world.
Both men are mistaken. Graham is thinking of Iran and national security. He says
"Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions. If the Syrian regime is replaced with another form of government that doesn't tie its future to the Iranians, the world is a better place."
Graham wants to remake Middle Eastern societies and politics, for no sound reason relating to Americans at large that I can ascertain.
McCain's motive is humanitarian:
"People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves."
McCain's application of this thought is as mistaken as Graham's application of national security. Yes, persons being massacred are worthy of having arms to defend themselves, if they choose to. But that does not mean that anyone else must supply them with arms, and it does not mean that the U.S. government has a moral obligation to do so, or that the U.S. government has any right on behalf of all Americans to do so.
I urge Senator McCain to create a voluntary organization to send arms to those he wishes to, and to be prepared to answer for the killing that they do with those arms.
People who rebel against government people have the moral high ground, but the means by which they rebel are also important. Rebels who use arms have to be prepared to face the retaliatory might of the government people's power. It is their responsibility to arrange their military and political campaigns against their oppressors. They do not have a moral call option on any and all Americans to join in their fights with weapons via the might of the U.S. government.
Morality aside, interventionism makes for imprudent American foreign policy. Ron Paul makes for good reading on this subject.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.