Is the United States a Candidate for Humanitarian Military Intervention?

This article makes a rhetorical argument about the hypocrisy of the U.S. foreign policy of global military interventionism. This article is not in any way a call for or an endorsement of an invasion of the U.S. or any other country.

Humanitarian Aid as Justification for Military Intervention

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Military invasion for the sake of humanitarian intervention is a common occurrence in our world. The United States ruling class is currently using its professed desire to provide humanitarian aid as it’s primary argument for invading Venezuela. In fact, the U.S. has used the excuse of humanitarian aid coupled with accusations of human rights abuses or undemocratic elections as at least part of its justification for interventions, attempted colonization or coups, and regime change throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean and as far away as Guam, “American” Samoa, and the Philippines. In fact, the U.S. either currently has military bases and troops on the ground, or has at some point in history invaded, attempted a coup, or otherwise militarily intervened in virtually every single country in the Caribbean and Central and South America except for French Guiana.

Aside from the facade of the weapons of mass destruction that never materialized, human rights abuse was at the top of the list of reasons why both Bush administrations invaded Iraq and engaged in decades of war there that has spanned five presidential administrations. Humanitarian necessity was also the primary justification given by the Clinton administration for engaging in years of aerial bombing campaigns against Iraqis in the ironically named “No-Fly Zones.” Those zones were created after the Gulf War, supposedly to protect Iraqi Kurds from chemical weapons attacks and other human rights abuses at the hands of an evil dictator named Sadam Hussein. The wars in Iraq bled into the Obama Administration, though he massively reduced the number of troops stationed there. Under the current presidential administration, the fighting in Iraq has continued to varying degrees as part of the west’s war against ISIS (i.e. war against Islam).

Military interventions by the U.S., or by coalitions it led, that had a humanitarian justification (some already mentioned above) include but are not necessarily limited to the current military intervention against ISIS in Syria, the invasion of Libya led the Obama administration in 2011, the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the 1994 “Operation Uphold Democracy” in Haiti that were both led by Bill Clinton’s administration, the wars against Iraq perpetrated by both Bush presidents, the U.S. 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic under Lyndon B. Johnson, the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, and the Spanish-American war in 1898 in which the U.S. invaded Cuba and colonized Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Other nations have also led invasions, colonization, and attempted regime change in the name of humanitarian aid. Just about every imperial adventure that European nations have undertaken in Africa, Asia, and the Americas over the centuries had at least some component of justification based on the need for humanitarian assistance and intervention. The racist rhetoric around the need to Christianize and civilize so-called “barbarians” during the height of Europe’s age of exploration and imperialism is a perfect example. That example still has eerily relevant echos in the supremacist attitudes and policies of US and other western nations toward the rest of the world today.

There is little doubt that collectively — particularly among the predominantly white supremacist nations of western Europe and North America — we have decided that military intervention is a legitimate means of attempting to solve both real and perceived (and often orchestrated) humanitarian crises.

This begs the question — given its own severe historical and current political and human rights crises, economic instability, and undemocratic election processes — of whether or not the United States itself might be a candidate for humanitarian military intervention.

Human Rights Abuses, Undemocratic Elections, and other Humanitarian Crises Plague the United States

The United States is a nation that was built on genocide, slavery, imperialism, settler-colonialism, and other human rights abuses and war crimes. It continues to engage in rampant human rights abuses, imperialist wars and attempted coups for natural resource and market exploitation. Furthermore, the U.S. electoral system as both designed and practiced is inherently racist, classist, and undemocratic.

Settler-Colonization and Genocide of the Indigenous Population

This country was founded through the colonization, enslavement, family separation, and genocide of the indigenous population of this land. Native American communities were attacked, starved, murdered, rounded up, and forced onto reservations in order to steal their land for white settler-colonization. Their children were taken away and were put in schools to forcibly assimilate them into white European-American culture. It was made illegal to speak their languages and practice their religious and other cultural traditions.

After having 90–99% of their population wiped out through disease, war, and genocide, the non-mixed race indigenous population in the U.S. today is still only about 14% of it’s pre-Columbian levels, and still only about 25% even if you include Native Americans with mixed European, African, or other ancestry. To this day about one quarter of all people in the U.S. who have at least some Native American ancestry live on reservations, and two-thirds of those who live on reservations live below the federal poverty line. These two paragraphs do not even begin to do to justice to the oppression that has been and continues to be experienced by Native Americans at the hands of Euro-American settler-colonists.

Race-Based Slavery, Segregation, and Second Class Citizenship

The United States was built on centuries of racialized enslavement and forced servitude of African peoples. Despite strong resistance by African slaves and a growing abolition movement, the U.S. ruling class did not free its slaves because of humanitarian ideals. Slaves in the U.S. were only emancipated as a tactical maneuver taken by then President Lincoln to win the Civil War and thereby prevent the successful secession of the Southern cash-crop states and preserve the union.

Even though the 13th Amendment officially prohibited slavery in the U.S., the exception of prison labor was built into it. Almost immediately states began enacting various vagrancy and property crime laws, as well as other so-called “Black Codes” that created crimes without victims aimed at imprisoning the newly emancipated black population. The obvious and intended effect was that former slaves were quickly returned to a new form of enslavement called the prison chain gang. The entire African population in the U.S. was kept in a state of oppression, and communities of color in the U.S. have been subject to a perpetual police state occupation ever since.

Jim Crow segregation laws were also enacted in order to further economically politically disenfranchise former slaves and their descendants. For almost a century those laws were enforced by violent lynchings and extra-judicial attacks by white supremacist organizations like the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. These terrorist organizations were made up of not only of average U.S. citizens, but of people in positions of power such as police officers, judges, politicians, and other government officials. It took a mass movement and struggle that included everything from non-violent direct action and boycotts to riots with frequent and sometimes deadly attacks against protesters by both police and the general white supremacist population, in order to end the era of Jim Crow and finally gain even a facade of freedom, equality, and suffrage for black communities in the U.S.

But of course, after Jim Crow and segregation laws were finally overturned, it took only a matter of years for the “War on Drugs” to be solidified as the new racialized means of maintaining the second class status of the descendants of former African slaves. Based on the 13th Amendment exception and just like it’s predecessor Black Codes, this newly reinvented war on black communities has helped maintain a legal slave population in the U.S. through mass incarceration.

Police State Occupation and Murder

As mentioned above, to this day black communities in the U.S. continue to be subjected to perpetual police state occupation. On average police in the U.S murder at least 1,000 people per year. This is massive compared to other industrialized nations like England, Japan, or Germany where police can go for a year or more without killing more than a handful of people if anyone at all. Even worse, black people in the U.S. are two and half times more likely to killed by police than white people even though the white population is twice the size of the black population. The only population killed by police at higher rates is Native Americans.

The black population is also (and as we’ve seen purposefully) over-represented at every single level of the U.S. (in)justice system. In Multnomah County, home of Portland, Oregon for example, black people are 320% more likely to be charged with a crime, 500% more likely to serve time in jail, and 600% more likely to be sentenced to prison than white people.

Mass Incarceration and Political Prisoners

There is no question that mass incarceration is a much larger problem for communities of color in the U.S. than it is for white communities, it is also a massive humanitarian crisis in general. Despite dropping to a 20 year low in 2016, with millions of people behind bars the United States continues to be a global leader by incarcerating a larger percentage of its population than any other country in the world. Despite reductions pretty much across the board in violent crime rates, mass incarceration has remained steady thanks to the “War on Drugs.” It has also received a boost thanks to the private prison industry and the immigration policies of presidents present and past, from Trump to Obama and from Clinton and the Bushes.

Furthermore, by at least one count that doesn’t include any of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or the millions of victims of politically and economically motivated mass incarceration, there are at least five dozen individuals who to this day are been held in long-term incarceration as political prisoners in the United States. The majority of these are black and Native American leaders the most prominent of whom are former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal and American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier. Another well known example of a political prisoner in the U.S. is Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army who escaped from prison and currently lives in exile in Cuba.

Stealing Mexico’s Territory aka Imperialism

In 1990 one of the justifications used for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was that its leader, Sadam Hussein, had unjustly invaded and occupied the nation of Kuwait, and so of course it fell to “Team America: World Police” to liberate the Kuwaiti people.

Most of the U.S. west of the Louisiana Purchase used to be the territory of Mexico, which officially formed as a nation-state in 1821 after a decade-long war for independence from Spanish colonial rule.

The United States, like England and Spain before it, engaged in imperialist occupation across North America through settler-colonialism, military aggression, and invasion. In the process of following its imagined Manifest Destiny clear to the Pacific coast, the U.S. annexed and otherwise conquered and stole roughly half if not more of Mexico’s territory. That stolen land includes all of present-day California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, the vast majority of present-day Texas and New Mexico, and large western portions of present-day Colorado and Wyoming.

Most of that territory was conquered and stolen through an imperialist war of aggression that is referred to as Mexican-American War. It is a war that was started by the U.S. for that specific reason, to conquer and take the land in order to fulfill the white supremacist manifest destiny of the U.S. During the war the U.S. occupied Mexico as far south as Mexico City, but ultimately only kept the territory that is north of the present day U.S.-Mexico border.

Internment Camps, Abuse of Immigrants, and Child Imprisonment

The U.S. has a history of using internment camps as well as extralegal prisons and secret torture facilities. The rounding up and internment of Japanese American families on the west coast during WWII is one of the most famous examples. Of course the biggest example is the forcing of Native Americans onto reservations, which was discussed earlier.

More recently however, the Trump has vilified and demonized immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and Central America. He has with varying degrees of success attempted to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. He has drastically limited legal immigration, and he has generally encouraged violent xenophobia against immigrants.

Though Trump didn’t originally create the idea of detaining undocumented immigrant families in private, for profit prisons during processing instead of allowing them to go about their lives and have check ins, he has greatly increased its use and has implemented a policy of indefinite detention for immigrant families. Even more despicably, as a bargaining chip to try to get funding for a border wall, Trump oversaw a not completely ended policy of separating children from their families. Many of the detained and separated children were kept in large caged areas.

Trump also held the entire nation hostage and refused to fund government agencies and pay government workers for over a month in an authoritarian attempt to force Congress to fund his border wall. Even more disgustingly, he has done everything he can to avoid the United State’s obligation to both international and domestic law on the acceptance and treatment of refugees, including sending troops to the Mexico border to help keep Central Americans who are seeking refugee status out of the U.S.

Systemic and Cyclical Economic Crisis

U.S. industrialization and imperialism have worked hand-in-hand to build the largest and most powerful economy in the world. Nevertheless it is no secret that capitalism, in general and in the increasingly deregulated “wild-west” of the U.S. specifically, is notorious for its cyclical and often devastating economic retractions. These crises include the global Great Depression, which started in Europe after World War I and only took a decade or two (depending on the country) and a second world war to overcome.

There were numerous periods of economic stagnation and crisis in the U.S. before that, and there have been regular and cyclical economic crises here ever since then as well. Every time there is such a crisis it destroy working class communities.

The post-war boom that white communities in the U.S. experienced during the 1950s and early 1960s has been followed by recessions that come at a rate of more than one per decade and are often devastating for working people in the U.S. In the most recent recession of 2007–2009, which has been dubbed “The Great Recession,” tens of millions of people in the U.S. lost their homes and their jobs each year as some two and a half million businesses were forced to close.

Those recessions and the regime of deregulation, austerity, and union busting that have accompanied them have resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth from the masses to the 1% as smaller businesses, homes, and other property held by the working class are gobbled up by the wealthy at a discount. This pattern has helped to provide a fertile ground for the current resurgence of populist fascism and anti-immigrant hysteria that severely threatens political stability both in the U.S. and globally.

Poverty and Hunger in the United States

Despite the myth of (and the various transformations and versions of) the American Dream, a consequence of the systemic and cyclical economic instability (of capitalism) in the U.S. is the rapidly growing of economic inequality that we are witnessing. While a small group of people — made up of a tiny fraction of the 1% and including the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and the Walton family — hoard billions of dollars in wealth, a staggering 78% of people in the U.S. live paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s a euphemistic way of saying that we live on the brink of abject poverty and homelessness. Many among that 78% do in fact live in abject poverty and are in fact already homeless. Meanwhile the multinational corporations owned by these individuals pay nothing in taxes while austerity budgets are implemented to gut much needed social services and pay for tax breaks given to the wealthy. And unlike the predictions produced by Trump and other capitalist snake oil peddlers, those tax cuts did not pay for themselves by stimulating massive economic growth, in fact tax revenues are down.

More for the private hoard of the 1%.

While there has been a slight decrease in the overall number of people living on the streets in the decade since the end of the Great Recession, in the past decade there has also been a seemingly paradoxical explosion in tent cities as rapidly increasing rents and stagnant wages lead to evictions and mass displacement, and a lack of shelters and continuous cuts to vital social services creates a crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression era.

In 2014 some 2.5 million kids were homeless at some point in the year. That was an 8% increase and “an historic high” according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. Within just three years that number had almost doubled to more than 4 million children in the United States experiencing homelessness each year.

In addition to homelessness, chronic hunger is a serious problem that has persisted for generations in the U.S. Today at least some 50 million people in the U.S. face hunger and struggle to put food on their table. In 2013, for example, over 17 million households (meaning dozens of millions of individual people) were food insecure, meaning they experienced a lack of access to food for some or all of the members of the household. One out of every five children in the U.S. is at risk of hunger, including one out of every three African-American and Latinx children. This is shameful and unacceptable in the wealthiest nation in the world that boasts the strongest and largest economy.

Even when kids in the US can get food and water, there is probably a good chance that the water has been poised with lead by a decade of willful and criminal neglect that continues to this day. Just ask the kids and their families in Flint, Michigan who have been drinking, cooking, and bathing with bottled water for years. Even in Portland, Oregon, which is one of if not the whitest big city in the U.S., it took a full two years to fix the problem of lead poisoning in the public school water supply.

Undemocratic Elections

Elections in the United States have never been as democratic as we desperately want to believe they are. Following emancipation, African-American men technically won the right to vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment. In practice however, Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and the terrorist tactics of the KKK kept black citizens disenfranchised until the civil rights movement a century later. Even today, during election years it is common for there to be large numbers of voting location closures in black neighborhoods, as well as other tactics meant to limit voting access for black communities.

It took even longer for women to win the right to vote. Official, legal suffrage for women of all colors in the U.S. took sustained organizing and movement building over the course of three-quarters of a century to win, and didn’t come until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Again, that legal suffrage would not be anything like a practical reality for black women for another few decades at least.

Not only were massive segments of the U.S. population left out of the so-called “democratic process” for the first century or two of the nation’s history, but the U.S. electoral system was in fact designed to preserve slavery and thus disenfranchisement by granting certain states unequaled relative electoral power. This was achieved through the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, which created and institutionalized the Electoral College. The rules governing its composition gave the less populous states where slavery was legal more influence in presidential elections than the larger and more populated non-slave states.

It is this Electoral College that elects the U.S. president, and the popular vote is only tangentially related (if at all) to the outcome of that body. As mentioned above, less populous states have unequal influence in electing the president through the Electoral College. For example, the residents of some of the least populated states like North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming are represented by two to three times (200–300%) more Electoral College votes than the average U.S. citizen.

More than two centuries later, the result this undemocratic method of electing a president is that we’ve had two elections in the span of only 16 years in which the candidate who “won” and became president of the U.S. did not receive the most votes in the popular election.

Are There Any Viable Solutions?

Our brief examination of a variety of deeply ingrained and institutionalized social problems in the U.S. has included, but is certainly not limited to genocide, wars of conquest and colonization, human rights abuses such as racism and rampant murder and occupation of communities of color by militarized police forces, out of control poverty, hunger, and homelessness, frequent and cyclically predictable economic crises that destroy the lives of families across the country while further enriching the wealthy few, and the suppression of voting rights and an institutionalized lack of electoral democracy that started centuries ago and continues in earnest to this day.

These are all problems that have existed in the U.S. since its birth two and half centuries ago. These problems haven’t really gotten any better. At best they ebb and flow just like the cycles of economic growth and crisis that plague capitalism. Often, as with the relationship between slavery and mass incarceration, those problems simply transform into new masks that do a poor job of hiding the same old white supremacist faces.

As discussed, when countries that don’t tow the line of U.S. global imperialism have (often politically contrived) economic problems, an oppressed population and human rights violations, or an election that is deemed illegitimate, those things are often used as justification to intervene through the military imposition of so-called “humanitarian aid.” Of course this is usually if not always nothing more than a pretext and excuse to invade, occupy, and implement regime change by installing puppet leaders who are expected to willingly open the victim nation’s natural resources and economic markets to exploitation and wealth extraction by western, capitalist corporations for the benefit and enrichment of western, capitalist nations like the U.S.

Currently, the entire United States government is calling for regime change in Venezuela. The vast majority of politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are more than willing to accomplish this through “humanitarian” military intervention. This is evidenced by the fact that calls are being made from U.S. politicians as far apart on the political spectrum as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders for President Maduro to let into Venezuela the Trojan Horse of “humanitarian aid” that is being carried by the U.S. military. The only substantial difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of military intervention in Venezuela is whether or not the final decision should be made by Congress or the President. Members of both parties are likely to change their answer to that question depending on the combination of which houses of congress and the White House they happen to control at the time the it arises.

The arguments currently being used to make the case for military intervention to oust President Maduro in Venezuela include widespread poverty and hunger, a dangerously unstable economy, human rights abuses, and lack of freedom as supposedly evidenced by undemocratic elections.

Regardless of the truth, inaccuracy, or contrived nature of any of those arguments, it seems clear that based on its own geopolitical designs and justifications both historical and contemporary, and based on its own history and current state of gross human rights abuses, mass poverty, economic instability, and undemocratic elections, the U.S. likely qualifies for to be a recipient of global humanitarian military intervention.

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Genderfluid antiauthoritarian leftist. Author, editor, publisher, musician, & organizer living in rural Oregon with their partner, cats, pups, goats, & bees.

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JANK

JANK

Genderfluid antiauthoritarian leftist. Author, editor, publisher, musician, & organizer living in rural Oregon with their partner, cats, pups, goats, & bees.

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