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In Syria, The Wrong Kind Of Humanitarian Intervention

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In Syria, The Wrong Kind Of Humanitarian Intervention

Syria's war

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Americans are a generous and selfless people, ever eager to improve the lives of foreigners cursed to live in less fortunate places. In fact, we are the nicest folks who would ever invade your country and leave it in ruins.

President Donald Trump’s heart was long thought to be two sizes too small. But he was suddenly so moved by the sight of Syrian children caught in a nerve gas attack that his nobler impulses overcame him. These were victims he didn’t care enough about to admit to the United States as refugees. But he cared enough to blow up some stuff at a Syrian air base on their behalf.

The Syrian attack is the latest case of using the American military for humanitarian intervention — a term that has become a virtual oxymoron, like “Midwestern skiing” or “national unity.” Our presidents have a long practice of using soldiers and warplanes to heal conflict and a long record of opening new wounds.

One early example was Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, ordered in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush to help alleviate a famine brought on by a civil war. How did that work out? Reported The Economist last year, “After a quarter-century of costly foreign intervention, Somalia is still Africa’s most-failed state” — plagued by war, terrorism and, yes, famine.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton bombed Yugoslavia, a response to the Serbian-dominated government’s persecution of ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. The NATO air campaign, however, spurred the Serbs into a frenzy of ethnic cleansing and killed some 500 Serbian civilians in raids that “violated international humanitarian law,” according to Human Rights Watch.

President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was justified as a favor to the oppressed people of Iraq, who had been brutalized by Saddam Hussein and were expected to greet us as liberators. But in toppling Saddam, we unleashed deadly chaos that persists even now.

A 2013 study led by public health professor Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington concluded that the Iraq war and occupation caused nearly a half-million Iraqi deaths. That’s not counting the turmoil in Syria, another regrettable byproduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In Libya, President Barack Obama acted against the alleged prospect of mass slaughter by dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Our intervention played a central role in turning Libya into what it is today: yet another failed state, a cauldron of anarchy and a hotbed of terrorists. Our assumption that nothing could be worse than Gadhafi turned out to be overly optimistic.

Trump’s air raid confirms that the main thing Americans have learned from history is that our leaders don’t learn from history. He and his advisers say Bashar Assad’s savagery could not be excused. But the only savagery that has prompted retaliation involved chemical weapons.

As long as he limits himself to conventional forms of slaughter, the administration has made clear, he can expect to be left alone. If Trump elected to expand our military involvement, on the other hand, the likely consequence would be more bloodshed rather than peace.

If the president were serious about humanitarian concerns, he would not be trying to cut the foreign aid budget — which has a better record than military force of actually helping the afflicted. George W. Bush set out to curb AIDS in Africa with a program that has saved millions of lives through prevention and treatment.

So what does Trump propose? He proposes to cut U.S. funding for that program by $300 million this year. He is lavishing money on efforts that have proved destructive while shorting those that have worked. As a humanitarian, he’s got things backward.

“International public health programs are almost certainly the most cost-effective way to save lives abroad,” wrote Dartmouth College political scientist Benjamin Valentino in Foreign Affairs in 2011. “Measles alone killed more than 160,000 people in 2008, almost all of them children. It costs less than $1 to immunize a child against measles, and since not every unvaccinated child would have died from measles, the cost per life saved comes out to an estimated $224.”

Public health efforts have other advantages: They make friends, not enemies. They don’t kill innocent civilians. They don’t shatter societies.

Those advantages count for little among leaders and voters who think the only solutions are military solutions. Our message to the world’s unfortunates: If you need bombs dropped or bullets fired, we’re here for you. If you need a vaccine, you’re on your own.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.



  1. Dominick Vila April 14, 2017

    Trump got it backwards when it comes to demonstrating humanity and pursuing goals that help people at home and abroad. He is right on the money, however, when it comes to pursuing military initiatives designed to impress those who consider the use of force against small, under developed countries, a manifestation of greatness. It is also worth pointing out that the decision to drop a MOAB near the Afghan-Pakistani border has more to do with the need to moderate Kim Jong-Un than punishing ISIS or Taliban fighters hiding in caves and tunnels. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder to convince Kim to act like a normal human being, than convince gullible Americans that Trump is not the greatest gift to humanity.

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    2. CPANY April 14, 2017

      What do you think of Trump’s unilateral decision to nuke North Korea if Un decides to conduct nuclear tests?

      My first reaction was negative, but on second thought, isn’t that what Israel did to Iran? Washington seemed to think that was a great idea. But then, Washington seems to condone anything that Israel does, including the murder of thirty-four American sailors on the USS Liberty by the Israeli air force and Navy.

      1. Dominick Vila April 14, 2017

        The problem with nuking North Korea, is that China will not tolerate radiation a few miles from their borders. Hopefully the Chinese will manage to moderate Kim Jong-Un, a narcissist like Trump that thrives on attention, including instilling fear.

      2. Dominick Vila April 14, 2017

        I have the feeling that what Kim Jong-Un wants is to be treated as an equal at a negotiating table, instead of the demented leader of a small country. Unfortunately, in addition to a small nuclear arsenal, the DPRK has a formidable conventional military, capable of inflicting a lot of pain on South Korea and U.S. troops stationed there. The latter is very personal to me. One of my grandsons is going to spend a couple of weeks in Florida, before heading for South Korea for a year. I doubt Trumps sons, or son in law, will volunteer if another Korean war breaks out as a result of Trump’s irresponsible bravado and lack of leadership qualities.

  2. pisces63 April 14, 2017

    Now they drop the mother of all bombs and from reports this morning, no casualties. Others have some casualties. When ever I see this bomb and hear the media breathlessly acting as if something had been done, REALLY? It makes me think of the Loony Toons cartoon of the three bears, papa, mama and baby who is twice as big as both his parents together and has half their brains. Mama and jr. did a skit for father’s day which papa was not thrilled with had singing dancing and baby bear finding candles to light the cake. He cannot read TNT on the box and says Road Island. This bomb makes me think of that baby bear. Dumb bomb. It collapses tunnels and caves and then one general said it would not pierce a cave. HUH? Now trump can brag about the biggest bomb dropped, dragged, parachuted in history Yet, for some reason I do not believe he had a clue what had happened nor that we had that bomb.

  3. HowardBrazee April 14, 2017

    Barbarian countries kill babies with gas. Civilized countries kill babies with bombs and bullets.

    1. Dominick Vila April 14, 2017

      Like we did in Mosul…

  4. stsintl April 14, 2017

    Late Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawharlal Nehru, had said: “Smart person learns from other’s mistakes, average person learns from his own mistakes, but a fool never learns.”

    1. idamag April 14, 2017

      I like that.

  5. johninPCFL April 14, 2017

    1) There is yet no proof that Assad launched the gas attack. The other equally likely scenario is that conventional bombing hit a gas cache. In either case, apparently the Russians didn’t follow through on their part in the agreement to rid Syria of gas shells.

    2) The “retribution” raid was preceded by a warning so that useable aircraft and personnel could be evacuated, burned up planes that couldn’t fly, did minimal damage to hangars, and left the runways totally usable. It was somewhat less “successful” than Clinton’s raid on “training camps” in the 1990s.

    3) Assad bombed hospitals the next day. Why no follow-up if the reason for the raid was the brutality against Syrian civilians? Because the REAL reason for the raid was to boost his abysmal poll numbers.

    In short, $100 million spent by Agent Orange to become more popular.

    1. idamag April 14, 2017

      Maybe trump gets a super secret phone call late at nigt. “trump, my comrade, we must do something to show that you and me are not in cahoots, Understand? So, here is the plan. It involves Syria. When you are done, they will think we are not working together. Do you understand?” “Capeesh.”

  6. idamag April 14, 2017

    trump’s boo hooing over alleged gassing of children is as phony a those whose hearts went out to four people killed at one of our diplomatic facilities. He wants war. He wants to come across as the great warier president whose children won’t be sent to die for his ego. He has shown little compassion for children, in this country, who need medical attention. He showed very little compassion for those Syrian children who needed a safe place to go to. He has no compassion for elderly. Im fact, he has no soul.

  7. Gemma Clarke April 15, 2017

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