War: It Isn't Social Work

Posted: May 10, 2003

WHEN BILL Clinton deployed U.S. troops in Bosnia and Haiti, he was criticized for turning foreign policy into "social work." By what authority, many asked, did the president put troops in harm's way without discernible American interests at stake?

George W. Bush has made sure not to repeat this error. He deployed force twice - in Afghanistan and Iraq - and both times he made a convincing case for U.S. security requiring the elimination of the enemy regimes. But many are judging the hostilities in those two countries less in terms of what they do for Americans than how they affect the other side.

Note the many voices from allied countries arguing that because Afghanistan continues to suffer from a range of maladies (warlordism, female repression, poverty, drug trafficking), U.S. efforts there failed.

* Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.: the Afghan experience is a "tale of the problems that result from engaging the world too haphazardly, too arrogantly, and too belatedly."

* The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Frustration [and] failure mark the rebuilding of Afghanistan."

* The Herald of Glasgow, Scotland: "Afghanistan has been well and truly betrayed."

Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, asked about U.S. "failures in Afghanistan," did not dispute the premise but defensively noted that on being liberated, Afghans "were singing; they were flying kites; they were happy." This view forgets the substantial security benefits Americans derived from the elimination of al Qaeda's stronghold.

Something similar is now occurring with Iraq: gains to Americans and Britons from getting rid of Saddam seem to matter less than the outcome of plans to rehabilitate Iraq.

The difficulties in fixing Iraq are being used to cast doubt on the military venture. The Afghan and Iraqi wars, in other words, are judged more by the welfare of the defeated than by the gains to the victors.

Almost unnoticed, war as social work has become the expectation.

To point out this strange turn of events is not to argue against Afghans and Iraqis benefiting from U.S. military action. They should, and in doing so they are joining a long list of former adversaries liberated by the United States:

Second World War: Germans, Austrians, Italians, and Japanese.

Cold War: Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Georgians, Mongols, Poles, East Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, and many others.

Iraqi gains are welcome, but they come as a happy byproduct of the coalition pursuing its own interests. It is proper to put coalition forces' lives at risk only to the extent that liberating and rehabilitating Iraq benefits the U.S., the United Kingdom and the other partners. Each state's obligations are ultimately to its own citizens.

This is in no way to argue against providing benefits to Afghanistan and Iraq - but it is not a moral obligation. Nor should wars be launched for humanitarian reasons alone.

Should democratic leaders forget this law, the results will be unpleasant. When the U.S. population, for example, does not see the benefits to itself of warfare, our soldiers flee the field, as in Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1992. There is no willingness to take casualties for the purposes of social work.

So, by all means, bring on "Iraqi Freedom." But always keep in mind that the ultimate war goal is to enhance American security. *

Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of "Militant Islam Reaches America."

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