The slippery slope of humanitarian intervention

One of the main reasons the Bush administration has stated for intervening militarily in Iraq is to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. The human rights abuses committed against the Iraqi people have been routinely cited by the government as justification for our actions there. A plethora of horror stories have been paraded in front of us by Iraqi defectors and others who have escaped from what is without question a very bad place to be. While I have no doubt that most of the stories are true and I do seek to minimize the suffering, humanitarian intervention is the wrong policy for the United States.
When President Clinton authorized seventy-eight days of air strikes against Serbia in 1999, most of his stated justification was to stop the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo that he and others, including Nobel laureate Elie Wiezel, blamed on the Serbian nationalist government of Slobodan Milosevic. Those that were opposed to that war asked why Kosovo was special when just a short time prior to that conflict, the US failed to take any meaningful action to stop the genocidal violence that had been committed in Rwanda. Some claimed racism, others cried moral hypocrisy. I say, take your pick.
At the opening of the 54th meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, after having criticized NATO humanitarian intervention in Kosovo without UN approval, Secretary General Kofi Annan called for “a new commitment to intervention,” in which UN military forces would intervene in any nation where it was deemed that the rulers of that nation were violating their citizens human rights. He even went so far as to say that a state’s sovereignty should not be a shield for those that would brutalize their people. Unfortunately, Mr. Annan doesn’t appear to think this applies to Saddam Hussein.
If humanitarian intervention is the justification for US military intervention, then we can look forward to a future of almost unending military operations. Following such a policy makes us the practitioners of moral selectivity since we clearly can’t invade every country that mistreats its people, especially those we’re allied with like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It would be a drain on our resources and commit us to a very detrimental policy. In the end, the US should stop using the suffering of others as public relations and just do what we need to do to protect our citizens.

Scott Wacholtz is a senior majoring in political science. He can be contacted at