The Intervention Dilemma

Alex Mo ’26 in Opinions | May 28, 2023

In the past year, the United States gave $75 billion of financial, military, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to support the country’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. While the vast majority of Americans support this intervention in Ukraine, many of America’s past wars have been deemed immoral and unjustified. This begs the question: what conditions need to be satisfied to legitimize America’s military interventions? Nations nominally seem to strive to afford their people sovereignty—the ability to control the government according to a social contract. Thus, in the modern era, preserving sovereignty has become the only true justification for foreign intervention. In order to justifiably (and successfully) intervene in other nations’ affairs, America should have the consent of the American people and must promote the sovereignty of the nation they are assisting. Yet, this is hardly how America has entered conflicts in the past.
The people of the United States are not yet fully sovereign in deciding whether the country can go to war. The partisanship of American politics fails to fully represent the needs of Americans in the power minority. To gain as much support as possible, American political parties must court the favor of the most powerful Americans. This majority is sometimes determined by race and other times separated by wealth. Thus, the large Republican and Democratic parties will most often take the ground of the majority when making controversial decisions like foreign intervention, neglecting the will of the minority. While many politicians have tried creating other parties to counterbalance the monolithic powers of the Republicans and the Democrats, these new parties are powerless, gaining minimal representation according to their small size. People who sympathize with these parties are often better off choosing the Republican or the Democratic parties which might only represent a few of people’s interests. 
Furthermore, the idea of the American meritocracy must also be questioned. The American Dream attributes people’s wealth to their hard-working nature and productivity within the economy. While many affluent families sustain this argument, Americans cannot ignore the privileges that the affluent have over others. A great disparity of political power exists between the economic majority and elite in America today. Overall, America must improve many governmental procedures and social norms in order to guarantee the people’s sovereignty. Only then can the United States truly claim the consent of its people when going to war or intervening in foreign conflicts.
However, in recent decades, Americans have found themselves influenced to support a war they would later oppose. The media has artificially garnered support from the American people during recent American conflicts. While the media can be the most convenient and universal way for people to formulate their opinions and influence their government, Americans have often lost their self determination when given false information by the news. During the Global War on Terror, American news channels failed to support the American people as news stations blindly supported the American regime. According to The Sociological Quarterly, the media in 2003 blended the Iraq Conflict with images and language from past wars, diverted audiences’ attention from America’s initial interests in Iraq, and instead portraying the conflict as an inevitable happening which appealed to patriotism instead of reason. Ultimately, this wave of public support allowed the American government to make the mistake of intervening in Iraq. While according to a Gallup poll, 72 percent of Americans initially supported the Iraq War, a Pew Research Center report collected in 2023 found 63 percent of Americans think that the Iraq War was a mistake. This change in public sentiment shows how the media can drum up unchecked support for military campaigns, and falsely justify invasions by sparking temporary popular approval. While this short-lived approval stems from the will of the American people, it is overall scarcely sovereign because it is based on misleading evidence. The government cannot take the people’s consent, mistaken by media misdirection, to be the people’s sovereign will.
Along with failing to respect the sovereignty of its own people, the American government has also failed to respect the sovereignty of international people. This is most apparent during the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan. While the initial cause of war against Osama Bin Laden can be considered justified, further military operations in Afghanistan proved detrimental to the civilian population, with total civilian deaths of around 43,000 and casualties of over 100,000. Many of those people were killed and injured by the American army which prioritized its military operations over Afghan lives. 
While devoting  great monetary and military efforts to reconstruct the Afghan Government, the United States government and military largely ignored local Islamic culture. The United States employed an orientalist view towards the Afghani people and “othered” cultures in Afghanistan, viewing them as backward and uncivilized. America attempted to rebuild a government modeled after the West, undermining the self-determination and sovereignty of local tribal structures and governing systems. Additionally, the new Afghan government forcefully imposed Western ideas of equality and rights, disregarding the cultural norms of local society. This is seen in the advocation of a Western idea of women’s rights, accepted by some, but was largely a practice local peoples could not accept. Hence, from 2011 on, after the date Bin Laden was killed, further mobilization to wipe out the Taliban was an utter failure in terms of the sovereignty and rights of the Afghani people. America had no right to establish a government for a people whose lives to them were mere numbers that could be sacrificed for a certain “greater good”. 
However, America’s violation of another country’s sovereignty is not unique to Afghanistan; it also occurred during the United States military campaigns in Iraq. America invaded Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Council, allegedly abused prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison, and established a puppet government for decades largely neglecting the interest of the local peoples and the sovereignty of Iraq as a nation. By the ideals of just international influence, the United States has failed to justify its two recent major military campaigns.
While previous American military campaigns in the Middle East have been mostly humanitarian failures, I believe America has correctly intervened in Ukraine. First, Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty remains justified. While Russia claims it is the legitimate defender of Russian speakers who have been endangered by the Ukrainian Government’s overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Russia has initiated military action which has lead to the deaths of soldiers and civilians, attempting to forcibly depose Ukraine’s democratically elected President. Thus, the United States has a just cause in assisting Ukraine fight the war, especially because Ukraine’s attempts to diplomatically end the war have been rejected. Second, the United States is not directly interfering with the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people. While the lack of American troops in Ukraine is one reason the nation’s sovereignty has been preserved more than in past American interventions, America’s lack of influence on the Ukrainian government is also due to the fact Ukraine already has a democratic government. Indeed, Ukraine is already an integrated part of the Western democratic world, and hence American initiatives are drastically different from those in the Middle East. With a nation already with a western democratic government, the United States mainly seeks to preserve the influence and power of the current government, preserving people’s sovereignty; however, when intervening in the non-democratic middle east, the United States sought to propagate democracy, restricting people’s sovereignty in the process. The United States’ support for Ukraine is fundamentally distinct from its interventions in Middle Eastern politics, and thus despite the United States’ current respect of Ukrainian sovereignty, Americans should still be wary of how their nation will intervene in future foreign affairs.
To avoid entering unjust wars, America must rely on its people to make the correct decisions. The American press must preserve true sovereignty by reducing manipulating media so that the popular decisions to go to war represent the true, prudent wishes of the American people. Externally, the U.S. Government must prioritize respecting the sovereignty of other nations and peoples when intervening in foreign conflicts. Ultimately, America has a long journey ahead of itself in creating a politically equal state and moralizing some of its own military campaigns.