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Friday, December 11, 2015

The Consequences of Civil War

In recent years, America has supported or encouraged rebellions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Ukraine.  Americans and their government cheered the events of the “Arab Spring” in 2011.  The consequence of these rebellions has been civil war, death, and great human suffering.  The conflicts have created millions of refugees, taxing humanitarian resources and causing social instability in receiving countries.  The poverty and misery from these wars will cause problems for decades, much as the poverty following the first World War contributed to the second World War. 

The unrest leading to these rebellions existed before the involvement of the United States.  The rebellions may have occurred anyway.  But the United States voiced support for these rebellions, and in some cases contributed money, training, supplies, and military action in support of the rebellions.   The consequence of these rebellions is still an unfolding tragedy.

Any policy which could lead to such consequences is seriously misguided.  The rebellions which were encouraged and supported by the United States are spreading terrorism and the risk of war to other countries – including the United States.

Let’s agree on one simple thing.  Civil wars are bad.

In the American Civil War (1860 – 1864) about 700,000 people died, over 2 percent of the population, or about 8 percent of white adult men.   In the Russian Civil war (Nov. 1917 – Oct. 1922), following the Bolshevik Revolution, an estimated 9 million people died, mostly civilians, from famine, disease, and violence, out of a population of 185 million people (also about 2% of the population).   Since 1945, civil wars have resulted in the deaths of 25 million people and the displacement of many millions more.  Civil wars often destroy the fabric of a country, and leave a legacy of poverty and violence for many years past the end of the war.

During the Cold War, the United States condemned the Soviet Union for encouraging communist uprisings around the world.  Communist regimes were established in China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam.  Unsuccessful insurgencies occurred in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Angola.  Civil wars followed in a number of countries.  While some of these countries have established stable governments, most continue to suffer from poverty and instability.

At the same time, the United States pursued its own cold war goals.  The United States toppled the government of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973.  Further civil instability followed most of these for decades, and these countries also continue suffer from continuing poverty and instability. 

In recent years, the United States has done exactly what it condemned 40 years ago.

Neoconservative Foreign Policy Becomes American Foreign Policy
In the 1990s, the neoconservative political movement became dominant in American foreign policy.  Neo-conservatives include both the senior and younger Presidents George Bush and prominent members of their administrations.   The neoconservative movement advocates aggressive promotion of democracy and American interests around the world.  This aggression includes the use of military force and inciting rebellion against regimes oriented against American interests.   The intellectuals of the neoconservative movement seem to have missed the irony of using military force to achieve democracy.  They are also unfazed by the general failure to achieve a viable democracy through military intervention.

The neoconservative movement originated in the Republican Party.  It is surprising to me, then, that the  goals of the neoconservative movement have been adopted, by mainstream Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.  Even the Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders does little to condemn the foreign policy of earlier administrations.

During the Obama administration, and under the Secretary of State (foreign affairs) Hilary Clinton, the United States encouraged revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine.  Anti-government movements existed in these countries, independent of the United States.  But the United States offered encouragement at a minimum, and in some cases, direct military action.
The policy has been described as “covert intervention”, allowing the United States to fight small wars, with little direct involvement.  Democratic Party politicians are reluctant to directly invade other countries with American troops, but they show little hesitation in encouraging rebellions, by providing weapons, advisors, covert action by the CIA, and active bombing by US aircraft.

The Human Cost of Recent Wars

Libya – 30,000 killed, 50,000 wounded.
Egypt – 846 killed in the 2011 revolution; more than 2600 killed in post-coup unrest.
Syria – 270,000 killed.
Ukraine – More than 6000.
Iraq – Estimates vary widely, from 115,000 to 500,000.

Refugees are an inevitable consequence of civil war, and the most wide-scale tragedy.  Refugee’s families and lives are shattered.   Refugees suffer from poverty, disease, rape, loss of housing, employment, and education.  It is human tragedy on a massive scale, greatly exceeding the number of those killed and wounded. 

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees reported earlier this year that the number of people displaced by conflict and persecution was at an all-time high.  About 60 million people are now counted as refugees, or almost 1% of all the people in the world.

There are now about 11 to 12 million refugees from the civil war in Syria, representing about half of the pre-war population of 22 million people.  That number is rapidly growing as the war escalates.  Over 4 million people have fled the country, with most finding refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordon.  Other Middle Eastern countries hosting large numbers of refugees include Egypt and Iraq.  An estimated 825,000 refugees from Syria have entered Europe, with 459,000 arriving by sea in 2015 alone.

In 2015, there are approximately 4 million refugees from war in Iraq.  This is the same number as reported in 2007.  About 3.5 million refugees are internally displaced within Iraq.  Nearly 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are now in other countries. 

In Ukraine, there are about 1.4 million internally displaced refugees, and about 900,000 who have fled to neighboring countries.  About 1 million people lack access to safe water.

There are about 800,000 internally displaced people in Afghanistan, and about 2.7 million people who have fled the country.

The conflict in Libya has displaced over 360,000 people within the country. 

The Failed Foreign Policy of “Regime Change”
There are countries on earth with governments that are undemocratic.  There are countries on earth with leaders who are corrupt and tyrannical.  There are countries on earth that actively work against the interests and welfare of the United States.  It might be that the people in those countries would be better off with a different government.  And in those countries, there are probably citizens who deeply desire change.

By what right should one country intervene in the affairs of another country?  There are certain circumstances, such as genocide, where the history of the last 70 years shows that intervention is sometimes necessary to confront evil.  But when the problem is simply bad government, there is little justification for encouraging a rebellion against an established government. 
In cases of violence against civilian populations, as happened under Saddam Hussein and Bashir Assad, there is an impulse to charge to the rescue.  But in each of these interventions, the lives of the people at risk are now immeasurably worse, than if they had continued to live under the repression of these dictators.

The process of regime change is never simple.  There are few examples of a peaceful transition from one system of government to another.   In Iraq, American leaders have imagined that regime change would be quick, painless and inexpensive.  But the war which toppled Saddam Hussein spawned sectarian violence, spread beyond the borders of Iraq and encouraged the formation of the most violent Islamic organization of modern times.   Thirteen years after the American invasion, the situation continues to spiral out of control.  There is a very real threat that the Syrian war could ignite the next world war. 

No one is better off as a result of the rebellions and revolutions in these countries.  If you regard the situation from a humane viewpoint, the people of these countries were better off under their repressive and corrupt former leaders.  If the strategists in the State Department are only looking at the cold geopolitical analysis of Western interests, it is still clear that America and Western Europe would be better off if these revolutions had not happened.  The flood of refugees will cause social chaos and is a breeding ground for terrorists.

America’s policy of encouraging rebellions and overturning dictators has been disastrous to the people of those countries.  These rebellions produced violence and social instability, and are spreading terrorism and the risk of war to other countries – including the United States.


The US performed the largest role in the NATO’s military action to depose Ghaddafi. 

US spending of about $1 billion on military action, the second highest of any nation.  Major military resources committed.

Victoria Nuland speech admits 5 billion dollars of investment to encourage association with Europe.

Obama quoted as saying the United States “brokered a power transition in Ukraine”.

Victoria Nuland phone conversation discussing abilities of Ukrainian leaders, and which leaders would be acceptable to the United States.

John McCain encouraging Ukrainian revolution.



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