Foreign Policy Briefing No. 20

Setting a Dangerous Precedent in Somalia

Executive Summary

The Bush administration’s decision to send nearly 30,000 U.S. troops to Somalia is likely to have far-reaching and potentially dangerous implications for the United States and the international community. Not only does the intervention itself entail significant risks, but it sets a precedent for similar humanitarian military crusades—either unilateral or under the banner of the United Nations—elsewhere in an increasingly turbulent world. The American people would be wise to reject the embryonic doctrine of humanitarian intervention as the new U.S. mission in the post-Cold War era. Although such a mission undoubtedly appeals to those who have an insatiable desire to correct all the ills of the planet and the hubris to assume that American power can achieve that utopian objective, it would inevitably entangle the United States in an array of bloody conflicts that have no relevance whatsoever to America’s security interests.

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Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and author of A Search for Enemies: America’s Alliances after the Cold War.