President Obama's speech at the UN General Assembly last week largely struck the right tone. But he also quickly reiterated four regional interests that could prompt using "all elements of our power." This is worrisome, since past invasions and drone attacks justified on the basis of these "interests" have expanded terrorism in the region, thereby amplifying, not diminishing, threats to the U.S.
New revelations concerning former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger's realpolitik in South Asia (as well as U.S. interventions in Latin America and Southeast Asia) illustrate the costs of amoral U.S. policy. More recently, the U.S. government planned to invade Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran in five years , according to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark. Doubtlessly, the case for these invasions would have been made with reference to America's "core" interests, as it was for Iraq.
"This country was taken over by a group of people with a policy coup," Clark said at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2007, where he shared his knowledge of the plan. Naming Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others from the Project for the New American Century, Clark went on to say said that these planners "wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control. Was there a full-fledged American debate on it? Absolutely not."
Similarly, the four regional "core interests" referenced by President Obama at the UN have repeatedly been used to make the case for American action that has embroiled the region in violence. They therefore deserve close examination as to both their historical and moral basis:
1. "We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War."
The use of military force in defending this "core interest" obviously violates international law, which allows for force to be used only for self-defense or in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Organizations like NATO do allow actions by member countries in response to an attack on a member. Could such action be justified? Maybe. Yet, this complex argument deserves greater focus than an inappropriate reference to the Gulf War. It should be remembered that we gave our ally, the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, chemical weapons and the necessary coordinates for an attack on Iran. Then we bombed Iraq after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which he had rationalized as a response to Kuwait's violation of OPEC oil quotas and slant drilling. This leads to...
2. "We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world," [as] "a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy."
This "core interest" audaciously calls out a key, yet unworthy, motivation underlying U.S. aggression. An aggressive violation of national sovereignty is indefensible as a matter of principle. What could be America's rationale for an assumed right of unhindered access to a disproportionate amount of the world's resources under other nations' soil, if not a sense of hegemonic entitlement derived from a belief in its own national "exceptionalism"?
None of us would support another country's bombing the U.S., if we decided to stop fracking or shut down dirty coal plants.
As for the global economic stability cited, it is probably more threatened by climate change (found last week to be almost certainly caused by humans) than by any disruption in the free flow of fossil fuels from the Middle East. Carbon emissions and related pollution have been estimated to reduce the global gross domestic product by a whopping 1.6 percent , with possible growth to 3.2 percent of global GDP by 2030. Yet, who would accept an invasion of America for the purpose of curbing its carbon emissions, which are now the second highest per capita of any country in the world? Who would back a violent attack on the 10 percent of companies that produce 73 percent of greenhouse gases (or because of the U.S. government shutdown that may take billions off world economic output)? We must abandon a philosophy based on reckless economic imperialism.
3. " We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people."
Regarding the world as "our battlefield," even in fighting terrorist networks, may be an idea suitable for video games, but not for global leadership. Even if fear works--as the almost 1,000 false statements by the Bush administration on Iraq's threat to national security illustrates--it should not be used to justify the gross violation of human rights. Such violence extensively harms both the world and our capacity to lead.
At a minimum, this interest in curbing terrorism needs to be carefully defined. At least five areas are problematic: its inapplicability to America, the consequent strengthening of terrorist groups, illegal drone strikes, violent actions like night raids, and NSA spying.
The first point to be made in examining America's core interest in defeating terrorism is that the rationale involved should apply equally to the U.S. For example, several attackers in the horrific Kenyan mall attack appear to have been Americans. Yet, we would not support the Kenyan government in dropping bombs on Minnesota (counting boys and men near the "targets" as "terrorists"). Instead, we would work with other governments--in a manner we often fail to do--to catch those who attacked the Kenyan mall.
In fact, America has played an enormous role in building up terrorist groups in Iraq and Somalia through the very act of trying to dismantle them. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill documents in "Dirty Wars" that a dozen or less Al Qaeda-connected individuals were in Somalia after 9-11. But the CIA paid Somali warlords to brutally kill their countrymen, especially religious power brokers. In response, religious leaders from different regions formed the Islamic Courts Union, including a very weak al Shabab. This alliance threw out the brutal warlords, but then the U.S. partnered with Ethiopia to overthrow the alliance, returning the country to chaotic violence. Al Shabab's growth resulted directly from U.S. anti-terrorist actions. America's dirty Somalian war also includes partly funding a filthy illegal jail in the capital of Moghadishu that has been used for rendition and torture. Would we respect such violence against America and her citizens? What would be our response?