Military interventions around the world have been a source of public debate for over a century. Early statesmen, like George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe were all advocates of non intervention and sometimes even isolationist policies, favoring diplomacy first. On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt was an early proponent of acquiring Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain in the late 1890s and was further credited with inciting the Panamanian Revolt against Colombia so the US could secure construction rights for the Panama Canal in 1904.
Despite intermittent public calls for neutrality and government transparency, more instances of military intervention would soon follow: Woodrow Wilson in WWI, Eisenhower/Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon in the Vietnam War, JFK in Cuba, Nixon in Chile, Carter in Afghanistan, Reagan in Grenada, Bush Sr. in Panama, Kuwait and Somalia, Clinton in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, and most recently, Bush Jr’s intervention plan for the Middle East.
“We stand at the Armageddon and we battle for the Lord,” Theodore Roosevelt yelled from the platform. He continued, “This country belongs to the people. Its resources, its business, its laws, its institutions, should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.” The case for military intervention was to protect America from selfish interests.
With American businesses opening up overseas, there was always the danger that the host country would rise against Americans overseas, thus jeopardizing American investment. This argument would be echoed by subsequent presidents as an excuse to invade the Middle East.
There was another argument for military intervention offered up by President Woodrow Wilson. In response to Armenian genocide occurring during his term, he petitioned Congress for a humanitarian intervention overseas, stating: “The sympathy for Armenia among our people has sprung from untainted consciences, pure Christian faith, and an earnest desire to see Christian people everywhere succored in their time of suffering, and lifted from their abject subjection and distress and enabled to stand upon their feet and take their place among the free nations of the world.
Our recognition of the independence of Armenia will mean genuine liberty and assured happiness for her people, if we fearlessly undertake the duties of guidance and assistance involved in the functions of a mandatory.” This argument resurfaced as a justification to invade Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
There can be no easy answer to the question of whether to use military intervention or not. When aggressors set their sights on America, the US has no choice but to respond with Roosevelt’s “big stick.” When political analysts speak of living in “a post-9/11 world,” they point to the difficulty of simply sitting idle, allowing the world to stew in anti-American sentiment. However, people like Noam Chomsky point out how American interventionist ambitions led to most of the violence against the country.
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