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The Deadly Cost of Interventionism

For many years, Christians all across America have sincerely believed that the Federal Government and the military need to “promote freedom” through active aggression against other nations – this is the philosophy of “interventionism.” I once numbered among those supporters. Eventually, I realized how flawed this view truly was, and how this philosophy is responsible for so much needless, fruitless violence against the innocent.

The history of America’s interventions in the Middle East is fraught with blunder, murder, lies, destruction, and chaos. It is completely embarrassing to think that the United States Government is responsible for so much of the Middle East’s problems and the problems we have today with terrorism and America’s reputation, but it is unequivocally true. The days of American “innocence” are over, and this history must be accepted because the facts are clear. Whether or not the government learns from this history to stop meddling in the affairs of other nations has yet to be seen. I doubt that we will see a shift in foreign policy anytime soon. However, if we libertarian Christians learn what happened back then, perhaps we can expose the lie of interventionism to our brethren and make a difference in Christendom today.

The next time you are conversing with someone who thinks that interventionism is necessary, tell them of this history. Arm yourself with knowledge, and it will bring truth to light.

1949 – Syria

Husni al-Zaim Syria joined the Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel as a state. Their humiliating defeat in the war discredit the ruling French-allied civilian regime, and then the U.S. government take the opportunity to set up Colonel Husni al-Zaim in a coup against the civilian regime. American agents even call al-Zaim “our boy,” but when they arrive to inform the new dictator whom to appoint as his ambassadors and cabinet, al-Zaim orders them to “stand at attention” and to address him as “His Excellency.” Syria turns against the United States and descends into a series of coups and counter-coups and police-state government by quasi-military regimes. In other words, the U.S. policy completely backfired and Syria spiraled into chaos.

1952 – Egypt

American influence and assistance backs the conspiracy of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Free Officers to oust the Egyptian royal family, the British post-colonial client regime in Egypt. The U.S. expects Nasser to support Washington’s anti-Soviet alliance in the Middle East, dubbed the Baghdad Pact, but he turns against the U.S. American agents support Colonel Mohammad Naguib’s attempt to overthrow Nasser, as well as later assassination attempts. In 1956, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles rescinds pledges of foreign aid for the Aswan Dam project. In response, Nasser uses this as a pretext to nationalize the Suez Canal, and uses its toll revenue to fund the dam. Britain, France, and Israel in response launch a joint invasion of Egypt with plans to occupy the Suez Canal. Arab support for the U.S. reaches its highest point when President Eisenhower, out of a distaste for European colonialism and European intervention in the Middle East, pressures the invading forces to abandon their invasion of Egypt.

1953 – Iran

In 1951, the Iranian people democratically elect Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh as premier, partly because of his opposition to the current government granting the Soviet Union a territorial oil franchise in Northern Iran. Mossadegh pushes to nationalize all foreign-owned oil facilities. Mosaddegh’s popularity and influence increase to the degree that the shah appoints him prime minister. 

Faced with economic and political turmoil, the shah attempts to remove Mosaddegh but is met with mobs and mass public demonstrations, causing the shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, to flee the country. The CIA then backs Mosaddegh’s opponents, who then overthrow his administration and sentence him to house arrest for the rest of his life. The shah is restored and becomes America’s best friend and now controls the nationalized British oil facilities as well. Eventually, opposition to the shah’s autocracy and U.S. political domination, as well as the Savak — the U.S.-trained Iranian secret police — culminates in a nationalist revolution that ousts the shah and the West. In 1979, Iran too turns against the U.S. in what is known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

This is one of the best examples of blowback to foreign policy, second only to September 11th.

1958 – Iraq

In opposition to the British-client Iraqi regime, and in opposition also to Egyptian President Gamal Nasser’s growing influence in Iraq, the bloodthirsty Colonel Qassim spearheads the American-supported military coup to overthrow the Iraqi royal family. The king and crown prince and most of the royal family are executed, and the prime minister is murdered by a mob. Years later, after Qassim has alienated all his allies except the Soviet Union and is overthrown and executed in 1963, United States support swings to none other than the Ba’ath Socialist Party. After years of twists, turns, coups, elections, and revolutions, Saddam Hussein emerges as president of Iraq in 1976.

1958 – Lebanon

After the Iraqi monarchy is overthrown, the president of Lebanon requests U.S. military intervention to save his tottering regime from insurrections of United Arab Republican sympathizers. U.S. Marines arrive the next day in Beirut in what is known as “Operation Blue Bat”. 14,000 troops in total are eventually sent over. Lebanon enters into a thirty-five-year period of instability and civil war.

U.S. Marines in Lebanon

1979 – Iranian Hostage Crisis

Remember what happened in 1953? It comes back to bite us, and with a vengeance. The Shah was a brutal ruler, and eventually the Iranian people realized that the U.S. was behind the fall of the popular hero Mossadegh. Obviously, this didn’t make the Iranians very happy.

On November 4, 1979, a group of militant university students took over the diplomatic mission in Tehran. The students were supported by Iran’s post-revolutionary regime that was in the midst of solidifying power. This revolution has become known as the “Islamic” or “Iranian Revolution.” Sixty-three U.S. diplomats and three other U.S. citizens were taken hostage.

The ordeal reached its climax when the United States military attempted a rescue operation on April 24, 1980, called “Operation Eagle Claw.” This failure resulted in the deaths of five U.S. Air Force Airmen and three U.S. Marines. Many historians think that the Iran Hostage Crisis is the reason Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan.

The crisis finally ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords on January 19, 1981. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the following day. The release took place just minutes after Ronald Reagan was officially sworn in as Carter’s successor.

1980 – Iraq and Iran

The Iranian Revolution transformed Iran from a monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic. Mind you that under Mossedegh, Iran was essentially a secular regime. The CIA then sponsored the coup and installed the fundamentalist Shah, and now the Iranians form a republic with a theocratic constitution.

Iranian Soldier with Gas Mask With the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Hostage Crisis underway, U.S. favor tilts toward Iraq and Saddam Hussein, believing that they might be useful for dealing with this blowback. Iraq and Hussein become America’s front line in its attempt to crush the Islamic revolution in Iran. The U.S. Federal Government arms and finances Saddam, and in 1980 Iraq begins an invasion of Iran. Iraq is given advice and intelligence from the CIA and the Pentagon, and even perhaps more unbelievably, the U.S. and British administrations provide Iraq with chemical and biological weapons-making knowledge and material to use against the Iranians. Note that this goes against the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention treaty, signed by the United States and Britain, in which 158 states agreed to prohibit the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. However, although it is certain that Iraq used chemical weapons in the conflict, there there is some doubt that Iraq actually used bio-weapons. They certainly used the opportunity to build up their capability for doing so, if anything. Incidentally, these same materials that were sold and given to Iraq at this time were used as supposed justifications for invading Iraq in 2003.

The war would last for eight years, cause an estimated $350 billion in damage to Iran alone, and result in the deaths of nearly one million people.

1983 – Back to Lebanon…

With the country invaded by Israel and under threat of Syrian domination, American Marine “Peacekeepers” are shipped to Beirut. Opposition to their presence leads to the suicide bombing of the barracks. Some 309 Americans are killed, including the CIA’s Mideast staff. In 1985, Lebanese CIA agents detonate a truck bomb in Beirut in an attempt to assassinate Sheikh Fadlallah, leader of the Hezbollah faction suspected of blowing up the American barracks two years earlier. Eighty-three civilians are killed and 240 wounded; Sheikh Fadlallah walks out of the mosque fifteen minutes later.

1986 – Libya

In retaliation for the terrorist bombing of a Berlin nightclub that killed a U.S. soldier, President Reagan bombs Libya, causing 130 deaths including civilians near the French embassy. Khadafi’s own residence is targeted, killing his adopted infant daughter, in an attempt to assassinate him. Libya is deliberately chosen as the target because it lacks defenses against air bombing.  A few months later, the U.S. admits to arms-trading with Iran, a state that the U.S. openly calls an instigator of “international terrorism,” and one that is an ally of Libya. Is it any wonder that Arab cynicism about U.S. intentions and trustworthiness increases? Incidentally, the bombing of Pan Am 103 is considered revenge for these attacks.

1986 – Osama vs. the USSR

U.S. government enters into an indirect partnership with Osama bin Laden and other Islamic radicals to resist Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The U.S. government furnishes these newfound partners with advanced weaponry, including Stinger missiles. However, there is obviously some controversy about how involved the U.S. became in this instance.

Robin Cook, former leader of the British House of Commons and Foreign Secretary from 1997-2001, wrote in The Guardian on Friday, 8 July 2005:

“Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 1980s, he was armed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database,’ was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.”

At the very least, it seems fairly certain that there was significant taxpayer money funding these resistance efforts in Afghanistan.

1991 – Iraq & Kuwait

In 1991, Saddam Hussein contends that Iraq’s neighbor Kuwait is stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling and is also violating contractual agreements in OPEC. Saddam tells his partner, the U.S. government, of his intentions to invade Kuwait to resolve the dispute. U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie, expresses no serious objections, stating, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait… The issue is not associated with America.” Some resources indicate that this statement was qualified with a diplomatic warning against violent conflict, but many critics have said that Glaspie effectively gave approval to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

President George Herbert Walker Bush now turns on Saddam and declares him to be a new “Hitler,” and effectively dissolves the decade-long partnership between U.S. government and Saddam. Bush declares intention to attack Iraq with UN assistance to repel Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. UN forces, led by the U.S. government, quickly route Iraq and remove them from Kuwait. The U.N. and President Bush leave Saddam in power but require him to dismantle his nuclear facilities and chemical and biological weapons – of course, many of these were furnished to them by the same countries…

Over the next few years (as will be discussed in a moment), the U.S. government establishes illegal no-fly zones over Iraq, resulting in repeated U.S. bombing campaigns against Iraq, lasting over a decade. The illegal bombings kill hundreds of Iraqi people, including civilians.

The Infamous

1995 – Afghanistan

The U.S. covertly aids the Taliban militia in its drive to end the post-Soviet-Afghani civil war. The U.S. sides with fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan–but not in Egypt, Algeria, or Saudi Arabia, where they are tortured and suppressed–in a foreign theater of the U.S. drug war. The U.S. government and the fundamentalist opposition to drugs would conjoin in an alliance to drive out Central Asian opium production.

1996 – Osama bin Laden’s Fatwa

Osama bin Laden turns against former partner U.S. government and declares war against United States, stating in part, “More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression imposed on Iraq and its nation.” He also cites other attacks in Tajakestan, Burma, Cashmere, Assam, Philippine, Fatani, Ogadin, Somalia, Erithria, Chechnia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

1998 – The Sudan & Afghanistan

President Clinton, in the midst of his impeachment hearings, rocket attacks various camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, allegedly to punish former friend Osama bin Laden for his involvement in the bombing of two American embassies in Africa.

1992-2000 – Iraq

Following the end of Desert Storm in 1992, the Federal Government “unofficially” continues the war. In the minds of many people in the Middle East, what we call the First Iraq War never truly stopped.

President Clinton in 1996 instructs the CIA to support and aid the Iraqi opposition forces in an operation to finally do away with Saddam Hussein. Iraqi exiles and refugees are trained and armed in the northern no-fly zone to descend on Baghdad. Sympathetic army generals within the regime are cultivated to assassinate Hussein, and efforts to destabilize Iraq begin – such as random car bombings as well as bombings of civilian public places. This plot collapses, however, as Saddam’s spies managed to infiltrate the Kurds. Many Kurds back Saddam and turn on the U.S.-Kurdish faction. CIA agents in Kurdistan run for their lives, abandoning allies and tons of equipment and documents, and the network within Iraq is exposed and eliminated. This catastrophic failure leads to the firing of CIA chief John Deutch.

What’s worse, the U.S. government also attempts to remove Saddam from power through a U.N.-enforced military-economic blockade, or “sanctions”, against the Iraq economy. Iraq is effectively cut-off from trading for essential food and medicine with much of the industrialized world. According to U.N. officials, these sanctions contribute to the deaths of massive amounts of Iraqi civilians (but as you might expect, not the government), and estimates of this death toll from five-hundred thousand up to a million.

When interviewed on 60 Minutes in 1996, Secretary of State Madeline Albright — then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — was asked if the deaths of a half-million people in Iraq was an acceptable consequence. Her answer says it all: “I think this is a very hard choice. But the price, we think the price is worth it.”

That, my friends, is some impressive moral gymnastics.

2001 – The World Trade Center Attacks

And so we come to September 11th, 2001 – the day that shocked America.

September 11th, 2001 Now, let me be crystal clear. No one blames the people in the World Trade Center buildings for these attacks. No one blames the American people for these attacks. But let us be frank, what happened back then motivates terrorists now. Bad foreign policy leads to blowback. It happened in Iran from 1953 to 1978, and it is happening now.

The results of this attack, besides the precious lives lost, are that the U.S. government declares a perpetual “war on terrorism” and begins an indefinite campaign to restrict rights and freedoms of the American people in the form of legislation such as the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act. The military-industrial machine soars to new levels with incredible increases in spending that would make even Bill Clinton blush in embarrassment.

2003-2009 – The Second Iraq War and Occupation

And so the cycle begins again. Bush repeats his father’s words that Saddam is the new “Hitler” and that he must be removed from power, a mere 12 years after the Gulf War. He claims that Saddam hates America for its “freedom and values”. Bush cites Saddam’s acquisition of nuclear components and biological and chemical weapons (which include those weapons that were obtained from the U.S.) as proof that Saddam is a threat to the United States.

In 2002, Saddam files updated nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons report with the UN Security Council. U.S. government objects to public release of identities of suppliers of nuclear components to Iraq. UN turns report over to United States, which releases censored summary that deletes identities of nuclear suppliers, but information on suppliers nevertheless leaked to press. The United States is among suppliers of nuclear components to former partner Saddam.

Barack Obama says that the war will end, yet there will still be over 100,000 troops in Iraq. His rhetoric sounds identical to Bush after “Mission Accomplished.”

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What the Future Holds

America’s blunders in the Middle East  is not the fault of the American people, but rather the fault of poor foreign policy. This policy has not merely not worked, it has been an abysmal failure. It is not effective, not moral, not “conservative” (for the Republicans reading this), and certainly not libertarian.

Thus, we see clearly the cost of interventionism. Do you think all this is worth it?

“In time it will become clear to everyone that support for the policies of pre-emptive war and interventionist nation-building will have much greater significance than the removal of Saddam Hussein itself.”

~Ron Paul

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I am greatly indebted to Adam Young and Jacob Hornberger for the basis of this article, and I readily admit their influence on this content.

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Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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