Last week the focus was on US military intervention in other countries. Following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, called for US military intervention to stabilize conditions in his country.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has suggested that US airstrikes may be appropriate against Cuban military targets, to aid widespread popular protests against the Communist Party regime. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is virtually complete; and, as might be expected, the Taliban reappeared.
Previous illustrations of US military intervention in foreign countries include the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 under President Reagan, the invasion of Panama (1989) under President Bush 1, the first Gulf War (1991) under President Bush 1, the bombing of Yugoslavia (1999) under President Clinton, bomb Libya (2011) under President Obama, invade Afghanistan and Iraq (2001) under President Bush 2 and continue these operations under President Obama. To these can be added military actions of a more limited nature, such as the bombing of Syria under Presidents Trump (2017, 2018) and Biden (2021), or military support for insurgencies such as in Nicaragua under President Reagan. (1980s).
Each of these examples demonstrates that America has definitely not given up on military forays into the world, half a century after the biggest US military setback in Vietnam. When Saigon fell, many American political and academic leaders predicted that America would refrain from military actions much more than we did. Owning the most powerful army in the world seems to have created an almost irresistible urge for U.S. presidents to deploy it, and the prone position of Congress has removed constitutional control over what Abraham Lincoln called tyrannical power to come in. war on the word of one person.
Even though that should be changed, the current reality is that US presidents are making this impressive decision mostly on their own. The American approach to the use of military force has therefore been opportunistic and without a visibly coherent principle.
Yet there are principles that must each be observed before using force beyond our borders:
1) Seek broad international support, unless the defense of America or its allies makes this impossible. The Organization of American States can play this role in our hemisphere. This criterion is unlikely to be met for air strikes in Cuba, no matter how much we applaud the current Cuban protests.
2) Identify an objective that the military force can achieve, within a reasonable timeframe. Haiti’s demand for a replacement government, to address the desperate poverty that its own institutions have been unable to address. The United States once ruled a military government in Haiti from 1915 to 1934; that precedent should not be restored.
3) Base our military action on the defense of the Americans or the citizens of our allies, and not stretch this logic.
The US pursuit of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to prevent another 9/11 attack was legitimate defensive action. President Bush 2 demanded that Afghanistan surrender bin Laden; the Taliban government refused and the United States set out to capture him.
This was the legitimate part.
The much larger undertaking, which ended up dragging the United States into our longest war, was to replace the Taliban government with democracy in a country that had never known democracy. This larger mission would also have failed under the second criterion. The mission that ultimately killed Bin Laden under President Obama saw the Navy Seals perform a targeted mission in Pakistan. This kind of action should have been the limit of American military engagement.
Enforcement of these restrictions will leave many people in horrific conditions inside their own countries. However, so are famine, disease and natural disasters. In recent years, if America had increased its humanitarian aid to those affected by 100-fold, the cost would have been a fraction of our military action, with much more to show.
Tom Campbell is Professor of Law and Economics at Chapman University. He served five terms in Congress, including on the International Relations Committee. He quit the Republican Party in 2016 and is in the process of forming a new party in California, the Common Sense Party.