Thursday, April 9, 2009

Collateral Consequences of War

As has been widely reported, an American ship was hijacked by Somalian terrorists. This incident was, in part, precipitated by American military actions in the region, and it highlights the unforeseen collateral consequences of war. I will argue that, as a general rule, these collateral consequences outweigh the benefits of going to war.

Under Bush, the first solution to international threats was military in nature. The thought-process behind this approach is that we are "tough" and therefore deter further attacks against America. I will leave for another post the argument over whether such an approach to foreign policy actually deters terrorism against America.

My point here pertains to the collateral consequences of war. There is no doubt that, when a nation takes military action abroad, it effects both the target country and the surrounding countries. Unfortunately, if the invader does not understand the geopolitical and psychological make-up of the surrounding regions, the invasion constitutes a reckless, irresponsibly blind action that can actually make us less safe.

Take for example the war in Iraq. Whether or not we are successful in that country, a central consequence of the war is the solidification of Iran. Iraq and Iran were competitors in the Middle East. They acted as checks on each other, preventing either from becoming too powerful, and preventing either from concentrating too much attention on the West. But the war in Iraq changed all of that. Iraq no longer presents a threat to Iran, and Iran is no longer concerned -- well, no longer as concerned -- with Iraq. Thus, during the past seven years, while Iraq was concentrating on its internal strife, Iran built itself into a more powerful global player. Now, Iran more aggressively harbors terrorists and actively seeks nuclear weapons.

It appears that we failed to understand -- or care -- about the collateral consequences of our invasion of Iraq. It is quite likely that, even if the Iraq war reduced the threat presented by Iraq, our overall global danger has increased because Iran is much more powerful.

The same can be said for Somalia. A few years ago, American-backed Ethiopian forces overthrew the Islamic government in Somalia. As with Iran-Iraq, it appears that our government failed to understand the collateral consequences of this aggressive act. This removal created a power-vacuum in Somalia. Some organization or organizations had to fill the vacuum. Unfortunately, the vacuum was filled by organized crime units. What is more, many of these organizations are Islamic extremists with connections to Al Qaeda! That is, our decision to help Ethiopia wage war in Somalia spurred the creation of terrorist organizations.

Military officials probably thought they were making America safer by helping Ethiopia overthrow the Somali government. But that is not the case. Now, several years later, we are left to deal with a lawless region of radical Islamic thugs.

Military action has consequences beyond the area in which the action is taken. This is a lesson we are yet to learn, or to take seriously.

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