Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: The West's Humanitarian Charade

Bush and Blair's claim that war would be for the sake of the Iraqi people is belied by past experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
By Ali Abunimah

Having spectacularly failed to convince the world that Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction present an imminent danger, supporters of American war plans have turned to moral and humanitarian arguments. According to this logic, international action to remove him is justified because Saddam Hussein is such a brutal tyrant.


In Kabul, meanwhile, it is reported that Afghans listen "with astonishment" as Americans portray their country's experience since the overthrow of the Taleban as a "success". Amid the mounting problems faced by Afghanistan, there is said to be "a deep concern in Kabul that the international community is losing interest even though the task of repairing the wreckage of war has just begun."


British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who vowed the international community "will not walk away from Afghanistan," is now selling the same snake oil to raise support for an attack on Iraq.


Let us, for the sake of argument, accept the premises and good intentions of Blair's position. Is there any evidence that US-led action would lead to an improvement for the people of Iraq? The record from recent "humanitarian" US military interventions in Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo - much smaller countries and less complex situations than Iraq - suggests Afghanistan's dismal experience is the norm, not the exception.


In December 1992, the first President George Bush sent 28,000 troops to Somalia on a humanitarian mission to help distribute US food. US forces met resistance and engaged in heavy fighting, killing thousands of Somalis. A decade after Bush declared "we will not fail", Somalia today does not even have a functioning government.


In a September 2002 brief, the World Bank said more than half a million people there faced severe food shortages, a situation scarcely better than in 1992.


In September 1994, President Bill Clinton sent a 15,000-strong invasion force to Haiti. As the troops were on their way, Haiti's military rulers stepped down under an ultimatum. Clinton sent the troops in anyway as the advance guard of a US-led international force whose mandate was "to begin the task of restoring democratic government" to "stop the brutal atrocities" and "to uphold the reliability of commitments we make to others".


Today Haiti remains torn by political violence, instability and severe human rights abuses. In 2001, the financial situation became so bad that the United States and the European Union cut off financial aid to the Haitian government.


In 1999, the United States led NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. The attack, whose declared goal was to save Kosovo Albanians from ex-President Slobodan Milosevic, was preceded by claims that tens of thousands were killed by his forces.


Today Kosovo is not a democracy. Foreign occupation forces remain and the province is governed by the UN Mission in Kosovo, whose performance is criticised by many local and international organisations. According to the World Bank, 75 percent of Kosovo's budget comes from foreign donors and this share is increasing. Prospects for a viable and independent Kosovo are dim.


A short distance away in Bosnia, peace has been guaranteed since the mid-1990s by the presence of large international forces, including US troops. But despite all the efforts of the international community, a stable and multicultural democracy is nowhere in sight. Rather, the international presence has frozen the status quo, which includes the continued exile of millions of Bosnian Moslem, Serb and Croat refugees forced from their homes in the early 1990s.


Better than active fighting and the horrors of the Yugoslav wars, but hardly an inspiring success for post-war reconstruction.


These experiences show that ardent promises made to gain support for a military intervention quickly gave way to apathy by Western governments, media and the public, behind which long-standing problems continue to fester unseen.


Even if the United States were motivated by sincere intentions to bring democracy to Iraq, recent history serves as a warning. To this poor record, and America's historic support for the most undemocratic regimes in the world - including Israel's military dictatorship over the Palestinians and undemocratic regimes in Turkey and Saudi Arabia - must now be added a third factor. The hawks who have hijacked American foreign policy have stated that their goal is to create a unipolar world ruled by the United States. They are driven by a zeal to reorganise the Middle East in the interests of the United States and Israel. Only the naive will believe emancipation for the people of Iraq or anywhere else in the region fits into these schemes.


Ali Abunimah is a Chicago-based Palestinian-Jordanian analyst, media critic and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada. This article originally appeared in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.


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