On March 19, 2003, when the U.S. started bombing Iraq, I was in Berlin, walking the streets, explaining why the U.S. was doing the right thing, why that war had to be fought, and why Saddam Hussein should be got rid of.
Those were very emotional days, for I was on my way to Canada as a new immigrant. In a way, leaving India was an easy decision. It was a hellhole for me, not just because of the government, but primarily because of its people, every one of whom thinks that he knows how I should live. Having worked in India for ten years after my return from my after-graduation work in the UK, I had realized that my education and skills had no value. Success at work was solely dependent on bribing around.
I had also come to realize that this predicament wasn’t going to change, for Indian society is hinged to expediency — a lose-lose paradigm of tribalism, amply mixed with superstitions. With nothing solid on which to stand and no basis of reason on which to accumulate intellectual and financial capital, everything had a feral quality.
Leaving India was an easy decision. It was a hellhole for me.
When Indians protested against corruption (or cases of rape), Westerners cried their hearts out thinking that India had finally awakened. Alas, corruption is a problem for Indians only when it discomforts them, not when it benefits them financially. With the society conspicuously missing rational, hence moral, underpinnings, it is impossible to wish away social ills. Every sign was that India and its institutions, which are products of British colonization, were going to continue to deteriorate.
Deep in my heart I had always hoped that the U.S. would somehow take over India. Then I would have avoided facing the trouble of looking for a completely new life in a new country. More importantly, I would have avoided having to face my Mom, to tell her that I was emigrating.
Those days, walking around in Berlin, I was projecting my emotional state on the Iraqis. Why wouldn’t they want the same, when they were suffering worse tyranny?
And, indeed, within days of the U.S. starting its attack on Saddam Hussein, Iraqis were celebrating and welcoming U.S. troops. Statues of Saddam Hussein were being destroyed in what seemed like a clear verdict of the Iraqis that they had had enough of tyranny. And why should that not have been the case? I have never known anyone from the Third World who, when given a chance, would not sell a kidney, and both kidneys, were it possible, to move to the U.S.
With the society conspicuously missing rational, hence moral, underpinnings, it is impossible to wish away social ills.
Alas, within a year, Iraqis had grown tired of the U.S. presence, and chaos and fanaticism had been unleashed. A virulent form of Islam was starting to spread. Repression of minorities picked up. Internecine violence between various sects and within sects skyrocketed. It was as if all of a sudden, the U.S. troops had no one welcoming them.
Let’s come back later to the general question of whether the isolationists are right, and the United States should refrain from intervening outside its borders, except in self-protection. Here, let’s recognize that the influence of the U.S. has been important in ways that most people don’t recognize, perhaps because the influence is negative: it has to do with things that don’t happen, or don’t happen as badly as they probably would otherwise.
It is hard to imagine that without the fear of the United States, the tyrants of Africa would not have conducted massive genocides, much worse than those they did conduct. Many African countries would have disintegrated and fallen into tribal chaos.
After he reached his term limit, President Kabila of Congo refused to go. He simply did not conduct elections. Congo, a country the size of Western Europe and with a population now estimated at 92 million, was positioned to erupt into a civil war. Last year, seemingly fair elections were held; an opposition leader was elected and installed early this year. The media will highlight how democracy is finally setting its deep roots in Africa, ignoring the fact that it was nothing but sanctions and a threat from the U.S. that made Kabila behave. The U.S. stopped a major civil war from happening. Alas, because this didn’t happen, history will not contain much mention of a crisis the U.S. averted.
Within a year, Iraqis had grown tired of the U.S. presence, and chaos and fanaticism had been unleashed.
Without Western influence, with the U.S. as the cornerstone, more than a billion people in Africa would not have existed today. They would have been slaughtered by warfare, or fallen prey to famine and disease. Or they would never have been born to families living with famine and disease. Without the West, Malthus would have never loosened his grip on Africa.
Without the U.S. presence, the Middle East would have fallen into much worse civil war than it currently has, with a plethora of leaders of various sects fighting with each other for supremacy. Easy money from oil would have been squandered far more rapidly than it has been. Indeed, the GDP per capita of several of the Middle Eastern countries is half as much as it was in the 1970s. It is as if they had destroyed half their capacity to produce wealth and completely failed to benefit from the intervening, massive development of technology.
Without U.S. influence, the Syrian dictator may have gassed a lot more people and ISIS would have become much stronger. Had the U.S. not become involved, the massacre of Muslims in Kosovo and elsewhere in what was Yugoslavia would have been much worse. Even today, the biggest protector of Muslim lives is the U.S. When it comes to the so-called reeducation camps that China runs in its Muslim province of Xinjiang, the only country that openly fights for the rights of the Uyghur is the U.S., while most Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, and even the neighboring one — Pakistan — prefer to ignore their existence.
But doesn’t the U.S. help the dictators of Saudi Arabia to stay in power? Of course it does. The world is not a perfect place. Ironically, were Saudi Arabia to become freer, it would become more fanatical, not less. And without a stable, controlled Saudi Arabia, a much worse, rogue regime of Iran will get a free hand to create troubles in the Middle East. You simply don’t have a third choice.
The only country that openly fights for the rights of the Uyghur is the U.S., while most Muslim countries prefer to ignore their existence.
Had the U.S. not taken active steps to control the spread of communism, would Brazil and Chile not have become communist long ago? During the past century, the U.S. has directly or indirectly intervened more than 41 times to change governments in Latin America. Of course, the military-industrial complex went along for its own profits, as barnacles go along with the ship. But the fact remains that the Third World has been incapable of staying stable without Western help.
It is hard to imagine what Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore would have been like today had the U.S. not protected them, and not put them on the path to economic growth. Quite in contrast to the disrespect that the U.S. gets for its help to other countries, the majority of Japanese and Koreans hold favorable views of the United States.
Without the U.S., North Korea would have already developed operational nuclear weaponry. Because this didn’t happen, we don’t know how miserable our lives would have been had the U.S. not interfered. Indeed, a mere few months back, the U.S. stopped a war from igniting between nuclear-powered Pakistan and India, neither of which had the tool of reason that was necessary to deescalate. What happens when two sides are irrational can be seen from the neverending war fought by Iraq and Iran in the 1980s. How many such wars the U.S. averted we will never know.
Besides contributing to political stability around the world, the U.S. does far more good than any other country on the planet, most of which goes unrecognized, unseen, and unappreciated.
During the past century, the U.S. has directly or indirectly intervened more than 41 times to change governments in Latin America.
One of the distinct memories I have as a teen living in India is of a group of men and women tied up with a rope, being led away to a construction site. These were bonded labour — modern-day slaves. An estimated 20 to 65 million Indians are directly or indirectly victims of human trafficking. Girls are forced into prostitution, and brought in from Nepal and Bangladesh. Boys and girls from India — and other countries — are trafficked in the Middle East. Use of young boys for a camel race in Saudi Arabia did not stop because the locals started to feel empathy; it came under control because of pressure from the U.S.
As a kid, I used to watch how the Indian government responded to glaring evidence of slavery, trafficking, and human rights abuses. It didn’t give a damn. There was hardly a whimper against exploitation from the intelligentsia or the middle class, which tended to feel that prostitutes get what they deserve. For the rich and well-placed, the lower classes are invisible and their sufferings don’t matter. Middle class Indians will tell you with a straight face about the high standard of life in India, forgetful that their fleets of maids, servants, and chauffeurs are also human beings. Ironically, when the lower class people get more power, the lack of empathy they exhibit is much worse. In essence it is not India’s democracy that keeps whatever sanity there still is, but the fear of the U.S.
But let’s not think just about military pressures, or any kind of pressures. There are at least a couple billion more human beings on the planet because of an American agronomist, Norman Borlaug, who contributed extensively in the ’60s to increasing agricultural yields in several countries.
Monsoon rains in India failed in 1965 and 1966. India was at the brink of famine. Massive grain shipments were sent from the U.S. Not many people outside India know about this. What Indians “know” is that the grains were of low quality and that the U.S. purposely adulterated them with weed and insects. The facts were different, of course. To avoid recurrence of grain shortages, the U.S. insisted that India adopt a more free-market system of agriculture, which set the background for India’s green revolution. As a result, India’s population growth spiked up for the next two decades.
I used to watch how the Indian government responded to glaring evidence of slavery, trafficking, and human rights abuses. It didn’t give a damn.
Borlaug, quite rightly, got a Nobel Prize for his work. Unfortunately, however, this work did not account for Malthusian equilibrium, which must continuously operate among people who have a tendency to revert to subsistence farming, nullifying any extra benefits they acquire.
Let’s unpack all the above, isolating what the U.S. does that is clearly harmful or unsustainable and will significantly increase problems in the future, and the good that is sustainable. Alas, most of the good that the U.S. does in the Third World falls in the former category.
Removing dictators and imposing democracy does not work. Saddam Hussein’s tyranny was the only stabilizing force in Iraq. Removing dictators or changing the form of government outside the Western and East Asian societies leads to an immediate decay in the societies affected. Then the worsening continues, with no improvement in sight.
This is exactly what happened when democracy was forced on the Third World. Pakistan, Iraq, Myanmar, etc. are much worse because of it. Libya and Iraq are evidently stable only when dictators rule them with a heavy hand. Democracy is not a magic wand. It does not really work anywhere, but it inflicts huge pain immediately on those in the Third World. Democracy ensures that the least competent, the most tribal, and the most desirous of bread and circuses decide who runs society’s institutions.
Removing dictators and imposing democracy does not work.
India was an unmanageable country when the British ruled it. With the population now four times larger, many of the best people having emigrated, and a bunch of not just crooks, but braindead, irrational junkies in power, India has perhaps a billion people above its Malthusian equilibrium — which will kick in as soon as the U.S. is no longer able to maintain sanity in an increasingly unstable region. The same is the case virtually throughout the Third World, which represents 5 billion out of 7.5 billion human beings on the planet.
Why did the West enable nothing more than temporary loosening of Malthusian equilibrium, making the problem worse, in some ways, than it was before? The Christian ethic of helping people without expecting gratitude is dangerous, for it creates bigger problems for the receiver, problems that keep ramping up until the giver no longer has the capacity to be charitable. When this “generosity” is delivered through career bureaucrats, who have only to lose for being politically incorrect, there are no good intentions in the equation, and any policy correction is virtually impossible.
This leads us a massive problem that the U.S. has unintendedly created. Among the Third World societies are some that are now richer and better equipped for wars, as can be seen in the Middle East. When the Third World refuses to change culturally, U.S. help merely subsidizes the problems, making them worse. A time must come when this can no longer continue. Today, the U.S. is no longer in a position to manage the world. Intervention is a thankless job and attracts the disrespect of those helped. It postpones and increases problems.
The Christian ethic of helping people without expecting gratitude is dangerous, for it creates bigger problems for the receiver.
However sad this may be, there isn't much that can be done. Those of us who grew up in a Third World country learn not to feed every starving person or to stop every abuse from happening — there simply aren’t enough resources.
As U.S. influence recedes, however, the world will become an extremely unstable place. There is one thing that the U.S. should focus on — protecting itself and its cultural allies, in the West itself and in East Asia. Of course, as Trump insists, the allies must pull their own weight, and learn to say “thank you.” Such a policy of self-protection will inevitably include friendships of convenience with dictators like those in Saudi Arabia, to ensure that their societies don’t blow up, to keep tabs on rogue regimes like that in Iran, and to ensure that the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons goes no further. But the illusion of remaking a world that does not want to be remade must cease.