In February, 1999, President Bill Clinton spoke about “our values and interests” and how they should be defended in the world. He warned against those who might say that “we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordon River.”
Clinton went on to suggest that “measure of our interest lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names.” The question, he said, is “what are the consequences to our security of letting conflict fester and spread.”
He was cautious. “We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.” This speech reflected what has been labeled the Clinton Doctrine.
One month later, under the banner of the NATO alliance which was formed during the Cold War to protect the “free world” from the spread of Communism, the United States and European powers launched a 79 day bombing campaign against targets in Serbia for its participation in a civil war against a secessionist Albanian army in Kosovo, then a province of Serbia. One thousand aircraft were used to fly 38,000 bombing missions, using Tomahawk Cruise missiles to hit Serb targets. Claims of Serb genocide and the innocence of Kosovo were used to justify this extraordinarily aggressive war on Serbia. Clinton officials dubbed the action an application of the post-Cold War policy of “humanitarian intervention.”
Clinton policymakers already had identified some nation-states as “rogue states,” that is states that violated accepted principles of international law, conduct, and discourse, They also worried about “failed states,” that is states that had insufficient control of their territory and population. Humanitarian crises, rogue states, and failed states justified the new militarism such that, as the president said, we might be compelled to act even if we cannot pronounce the names of the states we bomb. Our interests and values would determine our action any place in the world.
Looking at the history of United States foreign policy since the industrial revolution, official excuses for U.S. militarism vary but the outcomes, conquest and murder remain the same. This is so whether the reasons are explained as pursuing the Open Door, promoting self-determination, fighting Communism, spreading the word of God, using our rights as the “last remaining superpower,” or promoting human rights. The only real change is that now more and more military interventionism can be carried out technologically with virtually no risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers.
Today we have Libya. President Obama, using words that remind us of Clinton’s arrogant defense of global interventionism in 1999, explained U.S./NATO policy Monday night March 28.
Obama proclaimed to the nation that: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”
While President Obama is too smart to say that we do not have to be able to pronounce the names of the countries we bomb, he used the same rationale to justify mass murder that has been used from Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the two Bushs.
We should talk about oil, territory, imperialism, geopolitical position and all the interconnected causes of superpower drives for world domination. But we should also challenge the arrogance, religious orthodoxy, and racism that over and over again are used to justify the bombing and killing of people virtually everywhere “whether we have trouble pronouncing their names” or not.