Christopher Preble calls my outlook on humanitarian intervention misguided. In doing so, he says that he is opposed to “dubious missions that do not advance the vital national-security interests of the United States.”
In advancing his argument, he offered that, “Washington and Jefferson both admonished us to avoid entangling ourselves in the affairs of foreign powers,” and he quoted John Quincy Adams’ declaration that, “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own.”
But in this post-Cold War world where America reigns as the only superpower, the security environment has changed. I’d like to hear what Washington and Jefferson would have to say about “not entangling ourselves in the affairs of foreign powers,” after the 9/11 attacks.
And as for John Quincy Adams, Preble is wrong: The United States does go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. America has found that it is better to hunt and kill monsters abroad rather than waiting for them to attack us.
The point is this: I doubt the Founding Fathers could have envisioned how small the world-a global community — is today. Specifically, they could not have imagined the threat that America faces at the hands of small terrorist groups harbored in failed states.
Simply put, America is at the crest of a new age, where security is to be gained by promoting and exporting American values. Our actions in the next 20 years will determine the way the world looks for the next few hundred years, and whether America still exists. If we do not shape our environment, our environment will shape us — and it will most probably not be for the better.
Which brings us around to Liberia. Allow me to address a few of Preble’s points arguing against intervention.
First, Preble states that the U.S. federal government has no responsibility to aid others (like Liberia) in need, noting that the U.S. Constitution has no provision specifically empowering humanitarian intervention. Well, there may not be a “constitutional” reason to get involved in Liberia right now — but there will be someday. As Afghanistan showed us, destabilized countries and failed states are breeding grounds for terror and transnational criminals, and that often times the threats are not so much imminent as eventual. Early stabilization is an investment in the future of American national security at a time when the investment is relatively cheap. Constitutionally speaking, an intervention in Liberia may indeed be “providing for the common defense” of America.
Second, Preble says that the “removal of Charles Taylor might promote regional stability, but it is equally likely to promote regional decay.” On the contrary, the removal of the chief instigator of regional strife would aid greatly in regional stability. With Liberia on the edge of imploding, a U.S.-led mission to remove an indicted war criminal like Taylor and stabilize Liberia is better than a failed or criminal state in the middle of such weak states as Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. Liberia, thus stabilized, might even become a strategic partner in an area that has little U.S. presence.
Third, Preble says that “our military is stretched to the breaking point at a time when we should be focused on the one genuine threat today: Al Qaeda,” implying that we are reaching a point of military overreach. But this is a false argument, because the forces likely sent to intervene in Liberia are not the soldiers who have recently been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will probably be special-operations forces, civil-affairs, and psychological-operations soldiers who are regionally oriented to West Africa. In other words, the 3rd Infantry Division is not the force of choice when considering stability operations in Africa or covert operations against terrorists. And remember: This is a professional military. Most want to deploy because it is their job. It is what they do for a living and why they joined the military in the first place.
Fourth, Preble tells us that the best way to break the cycle of poverty, disease, and violence “in Africa, and throughout the developing world, is to encourage economic development through enlightened trade and development policies that reward individual initiative and private enterprise.” The problem is that his prescription for success is problematic in countries suffering under the tyranny of dictatorship, corrupt leadership, and poor governance. Without a secure and stable environment, economic development, enlightened trade, and development are meaningless. Resultantly, the very best way to break this cycle — and ensure U.S. security — is to export U.S. values and stability.
We must intervene in Liberia. As the lone superpower we have responsibilities in this world. Sometimes that requires making national-security decisions that will help others while at the same time supporting our long-term interests. As President Bush said, “Freedom is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity; the birthright of every person — in every civilization. Throughout history, freedom has been threatened by war and terror; it has been challenged by the clashing wills of powerful states and the evil designs of tyrants; and it has been tested by widespread poverty and disease. Today, humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over all of these foes. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission.”
Sometimes a humanitarian intervention is in the national interest.
— Roger D. Carstens, a major in the special forces, is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. military.