We Can’t Cure All Global Ills

November 19, 1996 • Commentary
This article originally appeared in USA Today.

Yet another crisis has flared overseas. The images never change: starving people fleeing murder, rape and war. Only the victims differ.

Such conflicts seem to cry out for Western involvement. Some call for massive new aid programs to buttress fragile nations. Others propose military intervention to stop conflict. A few even advocate a new colonialism, using force to remake failed societies.

None of these strategies is likely to succeed. Certainly none is likely to work at a cost acceptable to the American people, who would be doing the paying and dying.

First, if foreign aid could prevent chaos in poorer states, then Haiti, Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire, Somalia and Sudan should all be thriving. Between 1971 and 1994, these nations received $3.1 billion, $4.1 billion, $4.5 billion, S7.8 billion, $8 billion and $13.4 billion, respectively, in so called foreign assistance. In fact, international financial transfers often have proved to be harmful, subsiding dictatorial regimes that impoverished and brutalized their own people.

Second, sending in the Marines would not automatically bring peace to shattered lands. The bitter convicts around the world grow out of ethnic, religious and tribal hatreds, many of which go back centuries. These underlying causes will not disappear with the presence of U.S. soldiers. At best, international intervention will create a temporary cease fire likely to break down once the outside forces depart. At worst, Americans will find themselves taking sides and dying in a civil war, as they did in Lebanon a decade ago.

Finally, a long‐​term Western occupation of poorer lands is no option. Casualties would be inevitable as warring factions coalesced against the outsiders Even average foreign citizens, the supposed “beneficiaries” of U.S. intervention, would soon grow to resent their new overlords.

Nor is it right to expect 18‐​year‐​old Americans to be guardians of a de facto global empire, risking their lives when their own nation’s security is not at stake. There is nothing humanitarian about Washington policymakers sending other people off to fight and possibly die.

Americans like to solve problems, but we can’t put dissolving nation‐​states back together. And we shouldn’t compound foreign tragedies by making casualties of our fellow citizens.

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