Interventionism Gave Us Afghanistan and Iraq

Reagan envoy Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with U.S. partner and ally Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1983.

As the Pentagon and the CIA proceed apace with their withdrawal from their forever war in Afghanistan, the temptation would be to justify this forever war by pointing to the 9/11 attacks. For interventionists, including those who are now acknowledging that the forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were “mistakes,” history begins with the 9/11 attacks.

Not so! That’s because pre-9/11 interventionism is what brought about the 9/11 attacks, which were then used as the excuse for more interventionism in the form of the invasions and forever wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

From the late 1940s, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA were convinced that the Cold War against the Soviet Union and “godless communism” would go on forever, which would, of course, guarantee ever-increasing budgets for these national-security state entities. 

In fact, the only real threat to this Cold War racket was President Kennedy, who, in his famous Peace Speech at American University, declared an end to it. After he was dealt with, the racket resumed. 

Suddenly and unexpectedly, however, in 1989 the Soviet Union called it quits and unilaterally declared an end to the Cold War racket. The national-security establishment, needless to say, freaked out. Without a big official enemy, people might start thinking drastic thoughts, such as drastically reducing military-intelligence expenditures or, even worse, restoring a limited-government republic to the United States.

Sure, Red China was still around, along with North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, but they just didn’t engender the deep fear and anxiety within the American people that Russia did. 

It became time to go in search for a new official enemy, one that could engender as much fear in the American people as Russia and “godless communism.”

Terrorism fit the bill perfectly. If terrorists could be provoked into attacking the United States, a forever “war on terrorism” could replace the Cold War, which would permit the racket to continue, albeit under a new name.

U.S. officials decided to go into the Middle East to poke hornets’ nests, with the aim of killing, injuring, and humiliating people. The interventionism began with the Persian Gulf War against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with whom U.S. officials had partnered in the 1980s in his war on Iran. The Gulf War enabled U.S. officials to kill and injure multitudes of Iraqis.

But it didn’t stop there. During the war, the Pentagon intentionally and knowingly destroyed Iraq’s water-and-sewage treatment plants, with the aim of spreading infectious illnesses among the Iraqi populace. 

After the war was over, the U.S. established one of the most vicious and brutal systems of sanctions in history, which succeeded in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, in part because of the polluted water resulting from those water-and-sewage treatment plants that the Pentagon had destroyed during the war. When U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were worth it, she replied that while the matter was difficult, the deaths of those children were in fact worth it.

The U.S. government also established “no-fly zones” over Iraq, which enabled them to kill even more Iraqis, including a teenage boy who was doing nothing more than tending his sheep. U.S. officials also stationed U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands, knowing full well how that would be received by Muslims. There was also the unconditional support provided to the Israeli government.

Not surprisingly, all of this interventionism was producing ever-increasing rage among people in the Middle East. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the U.S. government was up to. The noted foreign-policy analyst Chalmers Johnson’s pre-9/11 book Blowback said that all this vicious, deadly, and destructive interventionism would lead to a major terrorist attack on American soil. Others were saying the same thing. Here at FFF, we published pre-9/11 op-eds saying it. None of pre-9/11 warnings induced the Pentagon and the CIA to change course.

Moreover, there were pre-9/11 terrorist attacks that forewarned what was going to continue happening. There was the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, which was, in principle, no different from the 9/11 attacks eight years later. There was the attack on the USS Cole while on an imperialist mission in Yemen. There were the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa. Every time, the attackers pointed to U.S. interventionism as the root cause of their angry retaliation.

And then came the 9/11 attacks. Of course, U.S. officials and interventionists didn’t want to hear about the pre-9/11 interventionism that brought about the 9/11 attacks. They said that that would be akin to “blaming America” for the attacks. Anyway, they said, the 9/11 attacks were motivated by for hatred for America’s “freedom and values.” In their minds, all the death and destruction that U.S. officials had been inflicting for more than 10 years was irrelevant. They then used the 9/11 attacks to do more of the same — i.e., the invasions and forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the U.S. government completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the lesson to be learned here is not that the U.S. government needs to engage in more selective interventionism in the future, as interventionists are now saying. The lesson to be learned is that the U.S. government should never engage in foreign interventionism again.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.