OPINION Humanitarian intervention has often been used as a pretext for regime change. A short history of the global community’s struggle to agree on the ground rules Sitting in his presidential palace in 1991, Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein and his Culture Minister Hamad Hammadi drafted a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). Hussein and Hammadi hoped that the U.S.S.R. would help save Iraq from the West’s barrage. Hammadi, who understood the shifts in world affairs, told Hussein that the war was not intended “only to destroy Iraq, but to eliminate the role of the Soviet Union so the United States can control the fate of all humanity”. Indeed, after the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S.S.R. fell apart and the United States emerged as the singular superpower. The age of U.S. unipolarity had dawned.
A jubilant U.S. President George H.W. Bush inaugurated a “New World Order”, namely “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle”. It is the U.S., he intimated, that lives by the “rule of law” and it is the enemies of the U.S. — “actual and potential despots around the world” — that live by the “rule of the jungle”. In this new world, “there is no substitute for American leadership”, said Mr. Bush, and so “in the face of tyranny, let no one doubt American credibility and reliability”. Enemies of the U.S. — tyrants and despots — would face the full-spectrum domination of the U.S. military. Mr. Bush’s predecessor, Ronald Reagan, had already wanted to go after “misfits, looney tunes and squalid criminals” who opposed U.S. policy, but he was held back by the U.S.S.R. and by popular liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the weakened Third World bloc provided the U.S. with a tremendous opportunity.
The humanitarian facade
George H.W. Bush’s successor Bill Clinton gave the idea of intervention its liberal patina. His National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, crafted the notion of “rogue states” — those countries that remain outside “the family of democratic nations”. Mr. Lake’s examples included Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.
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