United States Interventions and Outcomes

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Matthew Gold's picture
US Abrams Tanks in the Middle East

Assesing the impact of the US on the world and the case study of Afghanistan
The United States has, as a general recurring theme, decided to play the role of world intervener, interfering in the affairs of, and often invading, dozens of countries over the last century. Oftentimes. This is due to the perceived status of the US as the harbinger of democracy, and its associated want to transform other nations into democracies. When the United States choses to intervene in another nation’s struggle for democracy though, it frequently leads to negative consequences for both the United States, the countries directly involved, and the world as a whole. As such, I will seek to prove that the US should not mettle in the affairs of other countries, even when those countries may be attempting to turn into democracies, such as the case of Libya. I intend on proving this in two distinct areas: The empirical lack of success in the US promoting democracy, and the fact that our intervention leads to increased violence. Following that, I will look specifically to the case study of Afghanistan, and prove that US involvement has been contrary to the interests of the Afghani people.
When the United States invades a nation, it often does so under the guise of promoting democracy. Even when this is the case though, it is unlikely that the US does so for only that reason. The US is not a benevolent giant that works only for the good of others; it is obviously self-interested and as such does what is best for its own wellbeing. The International Organization Foundation furthers that
While leaders of intervening states frequently assert that the democratization of the target state is one of their main goals…the transformed democratic state is likely to have different policy priorities than those of the intervener's…the intervening state will tend to pass up the opportunity to establish a liberal democracy in favor of establishing an autocratic polity that it expects will be more willing to agree to implement the policies it desires.[i]
This theoretical underpinning of the actions of the United States is well established in subject literature. It is estimated that US interventions post-1945 have failed to lead to stable democratic governments within 10 years in more than 97% of cases.[ii] This evidence was reviewed and analyzed by Patrick Reagan of the University of Canterbury, who found that after 50 years and 196 separate interventions, intervention in favor of anti-government forces fails 95% of the time.[iii] As is evident, when the United States intervenes to secure democracy, two things typically happen: The intervention doesn’t really support democracy, it supports those that support the US, and in any case, it overwhelmingly fails. In fact, when analyzing the actual indicators of what forms democracy, US interventions are found to lower these democratic indicators by an average of 33%.[iv]
Not only does US intervention fail to lead to democracy, but it frequently leads to increased violence. FIRC, or foreign-imposed regime change, occurs when a government is replaced, generally by force, by an outside power. This has been the calling card of the United States, and it is typically on the net, harmful for the countries affected. The primary reason for this is that FIRC is highly destabilizing, and erodes previously strong state institutions, while presenting the new leaders as figureheads for a foreign government. This is why FIRC is known to more than triple the occurrence of internal conflict and strife. [v] Dan Reiter in the British Journal of Political Science further explains that FIRC makes civil war likely because of the immense destruction of infrastructural power. This creates a humanitarian nightmare, often with massive civilian deaths, and destroys the societal function that typically stabilizes states. Situations like this are known to frequently lead to terrorism, just as seen in Afghanistan with the rise of the Taliban.[vi] On the topic of terrorism, it is crucial to note that foreign intervention in states frequently exacerbates terrorist threats. By positioning themselves as defenders of local traditional culture and society, terrorists are able to raise support and funding.[vii] Inevitable and frequent collateral damage leads to anger against the United States and its policies, and causes more people to join terrorist organizations, and initiate acts of terrorism.[viii] This rise in terrorism can be seen empirically when analyzing US interventions in Lebanon, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, and throughout the Middle East. A Rise in military aid was found to increase anti-American terrorism by 135%, while a rise of arms exports corresponded to a rise in terrorism by 109%.[ix]
Next we must look to the specific case study of Afghanistan, where actions by the United States to promote democracy have been woefully inadequate, and to the contrary US actions have caused a decline in the quality of life in the average Afghani’s life. This is true in two independent areas: The Taliban has maintained control of most of the country, and at the same time, the quality of life of Afghanis has fallen across a large number of indicators. Looking to Taliban control, US efforts have actually caused a resurgence of Taliban control. In 2007, The Taliban was maintaining a presence in 54% of the country, with this growing to 72% of the country by 2008.[x] As of 2010, the Taliban continued to have a growing control over the country, as reported by Admiral Mike Mullen.[xi] As recently as April 2012, attacks continued to rock the capital of Kabul, bringing the city to a standstill for days.[xii] This shows a continued lack of concrete control by the Afghani Government, which has destabilized the country and opened the Afghani people to sporadic killings.
Not only has the situation on the ground deteriorated for the Afghanis, but individual quality of life has plummeted as well. This has occurred in three areas we may look at: Malnourishment, Sanitation, and Corruption. High food prices and a lack of security have caused dramatic and striking declines in access to food[xiii] This is expressed further by the fact that in October 2001, 7 million Afghanis were food-insecure, or at risk of starvation, while by late 2009, this had risen to 7.4 million people, or 31% of the population. Next, looking to sanitation; in 2006, 30% of the Afghani population had access to sanitation[xiv], while by 2010 only 8% of Afghanis had access to sanitation.[xv] This is because sanitation is not a priority of the US-installed government, and as a result the Afghani people have suffered. Sadly, the United Nations reports that this leads to 219,000 childhood deaths each year, as a direct result of the US-NATO caused decline in sanitation.[xvi] In the area of corruption, one might expect that removing complete Taliban control would have aided the situation; unfortunately, the reality has become that Afghanis now have to pay taxes to the Taliban[xvii], while at the same time shelling out $2.5 Billion, or 23% of the GDP, in bribes to Afghani authorities. What was previously a bad situation of taxation has become everything it was before, with an additional burden of government bribes.
The United States frequently intervenes under the guise of helping the citizenry of countries invaded, though this is regrettably not what generally occurs. As we have seen, chances of success are often low, and lead to terrorism and failure. Specifically within Afghanistan, we have seen quality of life fall, hundreds of thousands of child deaths, and soaring corruption. The United States should cease its policy of war, and instead should adopt a non-interventionist foreign policy.

[i] Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs, International Organization Foundation, “Intervention and Democracy,” 2006, (Cambridge University Press), http://as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/2591/Intervention.pdf

[ii] Stephen M. Walt, Professor at Harvard University, Foreign Policy, “Social Science and the Libyan Adventure,” 3/24/11, http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/03/24/social_science_and_the_libyan_adventure

[iii] Patrick M. Regan, University of Canterbury, “Conditions of Successful Third-Party Interventions in Intrastate Conflicts,” 1997, http://www.tfasinternational.org/iipes/academics/cm2010/july27regan.pdf

[iv] William Easterly et al, National Bureau of Economic Research, “Superpower Interventions and Their Consequences for Democracy: An Empirical Inquiry,” 2008, http://homepages.nyu.edu/~db1299/ColdWarNBER.pdf

[v] Professor Alexander B. Downes, Duke University, "Catastrophic Success: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Civil War", 2008

[vi] Goran Peic and Dan Reiter, British Journal of Political Science, "Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920–2004", 2010, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=8286046&jid=J S&volumeId=41&issueId=03&aid=8286044

[vii] David Kilcullen, "The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One", February 2009, Page 37

[viii] Paul Pillar, Georgetown University, “Afghanistan Is Not Making Americans Safer,” November 2009

[ix] Eric Neumayer, London School of Economics, Journal of Peace Research, "Foreign terror on Americans", 2011

[x] Greg Bruno, Council on Foreign Relations, “The Taliban In Afghanistan,” 8/3/2009

[xi] Admiral Mike Mullen, Feb. 2nd 2010:

[xii] “Alissa J. Rubin, April 16, 2012,  New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/17/world/asia/complex-attack-by-taliban-sends-message-to-the-west.html

[xiii] Nick Turse, CBSNews, "Is This What Success Looks Like in Afghanistan", September 13th, 2010, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/09/12/opinion/main6860126.shtml

[xiv] ‪UNICEF, "Unite for Children", March 2010, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_statistics.html

[xv] Professor Marc W. Herold, Centre for Research on Globalization, "Afghanistan: Wealth, Corruption and Criminality Amidst Mass Poverty; The Collapse of Public Health and Sanitation", September 25, 2010, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=21174

[xvi] United Nations, Humanitarian News, “AFGHANISTAN: Poor sanitation, bad toilets cause deaths, misery,” 3/5/08, http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=77122

[xvii] Washington Post, “Diverse Sources Fund Insurgency In Afghanistan,” 9/27/09, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/26/AR2009092602707.html?sid=ST2009092602905


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