Revolution #228, April 3, 2011
True Stories of U.S. "Humanitarian" Intervention
The U.S. and other imperialist powers are portraying their missile and bombing assault on Libya as a "humanitarian" operation to protect the Libyan people who are being attacked by Gaddafi's forces. A quick look at three examples from recent times—and many more could have been chosen—reveals the actual nature and effect of such U.S. "humanitarian" interventions: the expansion of U.S. domination, and increased suffering and oppression for the people in the countries subjected to this military "intervention."
Haiti: "Operation Uphold Democracy" 1994—1995
In September 1994, the U.S. invaded Haiti. The invasion, officially called "Operation Uphold Democracy," restored the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been overthrown in a military coup in 1991. Aristide was returned to power, but the U.S. and U.S.-allied military forces remained to enforce so-called "peace-keeping" and "nation-building." The Haitian people paid a steep price for this U.S.-imposed "democracy" and "peace." Among other things, Haiti was forced to agree to the harsh dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at making it more fully subordinate to global capitalism-imperialism. Civil service jobs were slashed, tariffs protecting Haitian industry and agriculture were cut, and demands were made to privatize state monopolies. All this had a devastating impact on Haiti's already fragile infrastructure—which would in turn intensify the horrible impact and aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. A decade after this U.S. intervention, Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. As if this weren't enough, 10 years after the 1994 intervention returning Aristide to office, the U.S. supported yet another coup by Haiti's capitalist elite and reactionary military figures, and in February 2004 forced Aristide out of Haiti. Behind talk of "peace keeping" and "democracy," U.S. intervention ended up bringing worse exploitation oppression, and repression.
Sources: "U.S. Hand in Haiti's Agony," Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004; "Haiti's Nightmare: Made in the USA," Revolutionary Worker #1234, March 28, 2004
The U.S. "No Fly" Zone over Iraq 1991-2003
From 1991 to 2003, the U.S., with UN support, enforced a "no fly" zone over Iraq, supposedly to protect the oppressed Kurdish minority in Iraq from the Saddam Hussein regime. The Hussein regime did brutally oppress the Kurds. But when Hussein killed 5,000 Kurds with poison gas in 1988, the U.S. did not object—in fact, the U.S. and its allies provided helicopters and other material used to gas the Kurdish people. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush, called on the people of Iraq to rise and promised. "This is your time. The American armed forces will help you. We need your help to change for democracy and freedom." When, in response, Iraqis did rise up, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, the U.S. stood by while thousands were killed or driven from their homes by Hussein's forces. Why? The U.S. wanted to use these uprisings to drive Hussein from power, but without fragmenting Iraq or setting in motion upheaval that would threaten U.S. interests and allies. In May 1991, after images of thousands of Kurds driven into freezing, snowy mountains sparked a worldwide outcry, the U.S. and its allies created a "safe haven" zone in Iraqi Kurdistan. But one aim of this "safe haven" was to prevent Iraqi Kurds from fleeing into Turkey—a U.S. ally that was conducting its own brutal war on the Kurds. Keeping Iraqi Kurds from fleeing into Turkish Kurdistan in turn made it easier for Turkey to kill thousands and displace millions of Kurds from their homes. In sum: the U.S. "no fly" zone over Iraq led to more suffering and death, including for the Kurdish people.
Sources: Larry Everest, Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage Press, 2003), chapters, 4-7; see also, Revolution coverage of Iraq in the 1990s at revcom.us/s/iraq.htm
Somalia: "Operation Restore Hope," 1992
The government of the North African country of Somalia collapsed in the early 1990s, and the country was torn by conflict between different reactionary forces. In December 1992, a U.S.-led multinational force invaded Somalia under a UN mandate to—supposedly—carry out humanitarian relief. U.S. military focused on hunting down forces that resisted U.S. authority. U.S. Army Rangers rode roughshod over the people, denigrated Somalis with racist terms like "skinnies" or "sammies," and terrorized people with helicopter flyovers above densely crowded cities. On September 19, 1993, U.S. troops shot missiles into a crowd, killing 100 unarmed people. This led to widespread outrage which exploded in an October 1993 battle in the capital Mogadishu, depicted in the book and movie Black Hawk Down. In that clash, Somalis wiped out an elite force of U.S. Rangers, killing 18, wounding 75, destroying four helicopters, and capturing much equipment. This defeat forced the U.S. to withdraw its forces and end its mission in March 1994.
Sources: "Ugly Dynamic in Somalia, U.S. Backs Reactionary Invasion by Ethiopia," Revolution #75, January 7, 2007; "‘My God Was Bigger Than His': The New World Order Invasion of Somalia," Revolution #20, October 30, 2005; "Book Review of Black Hawk Down: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the Man's Technology," Revolutionary Worker #1010, June 13, 1999
There is no such thing as humanitarian imperialism.
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