Being for peace should not mean perpetually opposing the use of the U.S. Military abroad, for that is the peace of the ideologue: because the deployment of U.S. soldiers is surely interlaced with imperialism, it must always be denounced. Or it’s the peace of ignorance: we don’t know what’s going on out there, or we don’t care, but either way, it’s not our problem. Our imperfect world, however, is too complex for stale Marxist simplicities or turning a blind eye to a good portion of humanity.
Tuesday, July 22: in Iraq, U.S. soldiers struggled to bring about order, especially in the wild Sunni Triangle. That same day, instability in Liberia ruled the day as rebel groups shelled and battled the government in the streets of Monrovia. The New York Times front-page story captured a grotesque scene, one that should give pause to those confident about the American empire: “Hundreds of enraged Liberians, in a desperate offering before the country they call their ‘big brother,’ laid the mutilated bodies of their loved ones by the [U.S.] Embassy’s shuttered black steel gate.”
Lashing out at apparent American aloofness with teary eyes, these Liberians entreated: “I’m begging to you. We’re dying here.” Another said, “Why can’t the Americans come in to rescue us?” A third, his supplication already congealing into anger, wrote on a cardboard sign, “G. Bush Killer Liberia.” Meanwhile, Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General, and West African nations called on the U.S. to dispatch marines to separate the fighters. Rebel shells rained down aimlessly and 90 died that day while hundreds more were injured.
The Iraq saga is eminently familiar to all – the Bush administration believed it necessary to invade and remove Saddam’s regime; an action, it’s reasonable to say, to which much of the world objected, including African nations and Kofi Annan. But only weeks after the Operation Iraqi Freedom ended, the same head of the United Nations along with the same African leaders were this time criticizing our inaction, and some it seems condemning us as murderers for it. Eventually, we did send troops; as it turned out, no more than a couple hundred marines were necessary to halt the bloodshed.
Truly, as last decade sadly demonstrated, even in seemingly clear-cut cases requiring outside intervention – harrowing ethnic aggression in Kosovo and Bosnia, massive starvation in Somalia – the world community as a whole is generally incapacitated by deeply conflicted interests and an unwillingness to act. In both of these cases, an end to aggression and starvation depended on the bold will of the United States.
Many will continue to counter that “humanitarian” interventions have hidden and self-serving motives, which may be true. But again, to take the case of Somalia in 1992, it seems hard to argue that ensuring the delivery of food aid – that fall, 70 percent of children had starved to death in certain areas – was an exercise in selfish aggrandizement. In fact, some estimate that the operation saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Perhaps Iraq was wrong and Liberia was right, but the lesson is that our troubled world rarely allows for comforting bifurcations between clear right and wrong. To understand this is to accept the uneasy responsibility and moral alertness that accompany making unwelcome judgments, our duty as members of this society. Some have little patience for this: untidiness and doubt were typically absent from the rhetoric characterizing each of Santa Barbara’s thirty consecutive week-long antiwar marches.
But more often than not, it’s less about right versus wrong than the responsible use of power.
Joey Tartakovsky is a Daily Nexus columnist.