If you want to see how inhumane people can be, just watch those who make and execute foreign policy. We could spend all day discussing the cruelties that politicians and bureaucrats commit against people who live inside the United States. Think how many are caged like wild animals because they manufacture, sell, or consume disapproved substances; gamble where government has forbade it; traded sexual services for money; possessed a gun they weren’t “supposed” to possess; etc. ad infinitum. Naturally, America leads the world in locking up people.
But at least the policy of mass imprisonment gets increasing attention. Subject to far less scrutiny is how America’s (mis)leaders, (mis)representatives and public (self-)servants treat foreigners, especially those with dark skins and a still-unfamiliar religion. When we talk about foreign policy, how easy it is to get wrapped up in abstractions like empire, intervention, nonintervention, and kinetic military action. These are important concepts to understand, of course, but foreign-policy conversations often become sterile examinations of “policy,” when what we need is a full awareness of the harm to individual human beings, the destruction of their families, homes, communities, and societies. These persons are the victims of our rulers’ geopolitical stratagems, which seemly outrank all other considerations. Yet each victim has a story embodying unique relationships and aspirations, a story that is permanently changed by an American cluster bomb, drone-launched missile, or special-ops mission.
The best that can be said of the perpetrators of this carnage and social devastation is that they are guilty of gross negligence. Many of their acts, however, cross into the territory of premeditated murder and the infliction of mayhem with malice aforethought.
One need not look hard for the most egregious examples taking place right at this moment. In Yemen the Obama administration gives indispensable material support to Saudi Arabia’s barbaric war — war ought not to require a qualifier like barbaric, but it seems necessary these days — on the poorest population in the region. The U.S.-facilitated starvation blockade and cluster-bombing take an untold number of Yemeni lives while devastating the social order. Policymakers — a euphemism for the architects of devastation — can rationalize this cruelty in geopolitical terms — the Houthis, who incidentally are fighting al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadis, are (falsely) said to be instruments of Iran — but the fact remains that individual persons who did no harm to anyone are being slaughtered and starved with the help of American politicians and military bureaucrats.
Or how about Syria? U.S. conduct carries out a seemingly incoherent policy of simultaneously targeting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and one of his chief adversaries, the Islamic State, while helping another Islamist group, al-Nusra Front, that has pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as head of al-Qaeda, perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Estimates of the death total in Syria’s civil war reach as high as 340,000, a number that represents the toll at the hands of both government and rebel forces. (The total is sometimes invidiously attributed to Assad’s military alone.) The injured and refugees are probably uncountable.
What must be understood is that most of these deaths, injuries, and dispossessions would probably not have occurred had the Obama administration — most especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — not early on intensified the civil war by declaring Assad’s regime “illegitimate,” demanding that he “go” (i.e., die), and overseeing the transfer weapons and jihadi fighters from Benghazi, Libya. While doing all this, the Obama administration was thwarting promising efforts toward a negotiated settlement, which might have stopped or at least reduced the killing of innocent persons. For details see these three articles by the excellent investigate journalist Jonathan Marshall.
And then there’s Libya itself, which Clinton boasts is an example of “smart power at its best.” In 2011 she had egg on her face because she was on the wrong side of the Arab Spring, having defended Egypt’s military dictator, Hosni Mubarak, as a family friend and trusted world leader to the bitter end while throngs of aggrieved Egyptians were in the streets demanding his exit. Needing to clean up her image (perhaps in preparation for her quest for the presidency), she along with administration national-security VIPs Samantha Power and Susan Rice persuaded a reluctant Obama that the residents of Benghazi had to be saved from Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s alleged genocidal designs. The only problem was that Gaddafi had no genocidal designs. (Also see this and this.) And in a classic exhibition of mission-creep, the U.S.-led NATO air campaign went from protecting Benghazi to changing the regime in Tripoli, prompting Clinton to gloated, “We came. We saw. He died.” (Gaddafi was killed extrajudicially, reportedly in a most gruesome manner.)
Since the U.S. intervention, Libya has been wracked by sectarian civil war — even the Islamic State now holds territory there — prompting many Libyans to flee to Europe, which now has to contend with a growing refugee crisis. As noted, the Libyan power vacuum, featuring the unlocking of Gaddafi’s arsenal of heavy weapons, helped to boost the Islamist rebel militias in Syria, to the delight of U.S. allies Turkey (which fears the Kurds) and Saudi Arabia (which fears Iran and the Shi’ites). After the nightmare in Iraq, one has to wonder what Clinton was thinking. The closest thing we have to an answer is from then-Secretary of War Robert Gates, an opponent of the intervention, who said, “We were playing it by ear.” (And let’s not forget: destabilization itself can be an objective.)
Of course we could point to Iraq, George W. Bush’s invasion of which in 2003 set most of the aforementioned mayhem in motion, and Afghanistan, but the story is largely the same: innocent lives are sacrificed to the politicians’ grand agenda. Little people living small lives can’t be allowed to stand in the way.