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Not so long ago--a little over a decade, in fact--US military intervention was viewed very differently than it's seen today.  The US had been the "good guys" for almost a century, beginning with critical roles in winning both the first and second World Wars.

We made missteps, sure.  Dirty as some of them were, the proxy wars during the Cold War could be rationalized (at least in the US, and perhaps by many allies) as part of standing against the perceived threat of communism.  Vietnam certainly couldn't be called a victory, but Korea wasn't a defeat.  The Cold War died with a whimper rather than a bang that could have scoured human life from the Earth.  Over the course of 40+ years, we showed that we were a rational country that could and did act with restraint.  

Bosnia and the first Iraq war were both powerful examples of how effectively the US could assemble a coalition for good.  Somalia worked out poorly and left a non-trivial fraction of Americans feeling snake-bit, but the country had good intentions and humanitarian goals in becoming involved.  

All of that, as we know, was before September 11th.  

Before the US engaged in two wars of choice--one to "get the bad guy", and the other to "get the guy my daddy should have got."  Before the US government attempted to con the United Nations into supporting the invasion of Iraq.  Before the American populace watched almost 7,000 citizen-soldiers die, with more than 50,000 wounded--most of them fighting a war in a country that had no connection whatsoever to September 11th.  Before we and the world were shown time and time again that America's belief in the sanctity of basic human rights only applied to American humans.  Before a high-school dropout let the world know he had access to some of the most powerful tools available to the US intelligence community, and could use them on anyone, anywhere, on a whim.  Before our allies were publicly notified that the US can and does spy on them as a matter of course.

I'll be amazed if any nation in the world follows America's lead into a war nowadays.  Some of our traditional allies were burned by supporting the invasion of Iraq, others' reticence has been retroactively justified many times over.  Our country's treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay has been poor enough that we can't ignore the possibility that they'll become terrorists due to their treatment.

Suppose we could hit the rewind button.  Suppose we imagine a world where the September 11th attacks happened, but that the US reacted in the rational, reasonable manner that kept bombs from dropping during the Cold War.  Suppose the US invaded Afghanistan and actually committed the resources needed to catch Bin Laden at Tora Bora.

Suppose that the US never pursued a vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

Where might we be?

Certainly, almost 7,000 fewer dead American citizen-soldiers, and about 50,000 fewer wounded.  Hundreds of billions of dollars subtracted from our national debt and annual deficit.  

Most likely, a national willingness to continue the humanitarian interventions of the Clinton era--including direct intervention during the Arab Spring, of which the civil war in Syria is the latest chapter.  

Would we have become involved in Syria before the latest chemical weapons attacks?  Not necessarily, but you could definitely justify answering "yes".  The US pulled NATO into Bosnia without either side of that war using chemical weapons, intervened in Somalia when neither side was using chemical weapons, and assembled a coalition to push Iraq out of Kuwait without anyone involved using chemical weapons.

My thinking?  

September 11th changed everything...but not in the way most folks thought at the time.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandino, isabelle hayes, 84thProblem, Luma

    You think it's hot? Imagine what it would be like if global warming really existed!

    by JSc on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 09:27:22 PM PDT

  •  There are many other things regarding our (5+ / 0-)

    history of military intervention into other people's countries, especially if one considers our intelligence services.

    That includes illegal coups, torture, assassinations, repression of labor/activists movements, support of dictators who engaged in persecutions of innocent people resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, etc.  That's just a small example.

    Even if the incomplete history of missteps you present here had not happened; even if we were truly the good guys, with moral authority (which we aren't), launching an illegal attack of aggression in Syria would not be justified, IMHO.

    •  All good points - not claiming Americans = Saints (0+ / 0-)

      The US definitely has a "dirty" history in terms of intervention, particularly in the context of the CIA and the School of the Americas.  That said, if you consider perception of the US both within the country and abroad, post-Sept-11 choices represent a very definite turning point.

      Abroad, US military (not CIA--strictly talking above-the-board) intervention wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  Within the US, most folks figured US military intervention could play a positive role in stopping ethnic cleansing (Bosnia), helping provide people access to food and water (Somalia), or removing invaders from a friendly country (Kuwait).  

      My point in the diary is that the path our country and our government chose to pursue after Sept 11 fundamentally altered a couple generations' perception of US military action--both within the US and without.  

      You think it's hot? Imagine what it would be like if global warming really existed!

      by JSc on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 09:54:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Most of the world considered us brutal (3+ / 0-)

        imperialists with no respect for human life who had spent a century rejecting the concept that non-white peoples had a right to govern themselves.

        "Our" (speaking of the broader culture) own perception of how the world sees us has been less skewed in the last 15 years largely because of the internet, but it's still pretty divorced from reality.

        1) Bomb Syria 2)???????????? 3) Lives saved!!!!!!

        by JesseCW on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 10:19:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The world considered the US to be either (0+ / 0-)

          a shining example and the best hope of humankind, or the beginning of the end (for "civilized" aristocracies) at the time of the Revolution and the Constitution. Even at our worst, for example slavery, the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War, and the genocide of Native Americans, it was widely considered that the US was not as bad as the other Imperial powers. Compare us with the British Opium Wars in China, for example, or slavery in the French colonies, especially Haiti.

          The US has done much that is transcendently good, such as the Marshall Plan, and much that is evil, such as propping up dozens of dictators.

          Rejecting the rights of the non-White populations of the world is only one strand of US policy. Support for those rights goes back to Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations.

          We are still hugely admired at the same time that we are greatly loathed.

          Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to get More and Better Democrats in charge of US foreign policy and reining in the multinationals.

          Republicans are assisting in every way they can think of by making their brand ever more toxic. They are particularly driving away their women and children. Always thank them whenever you get a chance. Pointing and laughing is much better for your health than outrage, and is more effective at reaching those we need to peel off from their base.

          Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

          by Mokurai on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 07:18:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  No one outside of the US considered us a (0+ / 0-)

            "Shining example".

            It's a uniquely American hubris (these days, it used to be common in Britain) to see ourselves as a great beacon unto nations.  

            It's not based in reality.

            Woodrow Wilson, the guy who watched Birth of a Nation and remark "It's all so true"?  That Woodrow Wilson?

            He extended "whiteness" to Armenians.  That's about as far as he differed.

            1) Bomb Syria 2)???????????? 3) Lives saved!!!!!!

            by JesseCW on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 10:04:59 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Another lie (0+ / 0-)

              Wilson condemned Birth of a Nation. It was just the marketing guy, Dixon, who put the story of his approval about.

              From Wikipedia

              The Birth of a Nation

              Historians believe the quote attributed to Wilson originated with Dixon, who was relentless in publicizing the film. It has been repeated so often in print that it has taken on a life of its own. Dixon went so far as to promote the film as "Federally endorsed". After controversy over the film had grown, Wilson wrote that he disapproved of the "unfortunate production."

              Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

              by Mokurai on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 10:21:00 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Posted while writing: (0+ / 0-)

    A similar diary

    As often happens, several of us are thinking about the same question at the same time.  

    You think it's hot? Imagine what it would be like if global warming really existed!

    by JSc on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 10:10:52 PM PDT

  •  as if... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the killing in syria is horrendous, but so is much of what is going on in other places, and the world is only watching, as usual

    why we should intervene in one place and not another only makes sense if the 1% deem it so

    it's their investments, the global capitalists, that run the world now,

    that should be obvious to the meanest intelligence

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