The Tar Pits Abroad


As missiles fall on Syria in retaliation for Bashar Assad’s medieval use of chemical weapons—and as voices call for the use of some American ground troops to expedite his removal—we might reflect upon American military interventions in the post-Vietnam era.

America’s major interventions include Iraq in 1991, the Balkans in 1995 and 1999, Afghanistan in 2002, Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and, Libya in 2011. More minor interventions occurred in places like Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama—and there were occasional bombings in Africa and the Middle East. Although awful dictators were often removed—Maurice Bishop, Manuel Noriega, Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi—nothing quite turned out as expected.

The first Gulf War forced the genocidal Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, but left him in power in Iraq, where he continued to murder thousands. Hussein’s reign prompted 12 years of UN-sanctioned no-fly-zones, “oil for food” graft, on-off American bombing against his regime—and, of course, another war. Twelve years later, and after the disaster of 9/11, George W. Bush finally got rid of Saddam. But the cost was steep. America lost 4,516 soldiers to achieve a peace and consensual government by 2008—only to have Obama effectively relinquish control of the country to Iran and ISIS in 2011.

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