The Cultural Price of Intervention

"Night vision" by U.S. Army in Iraq photo by Spc. Lee Davis -

“Night vision” by U.S. Army in Iraq photo by Spc. Lee Davis –

Mosul, Iraq (TFC)When the cost in human life is so immeasurably high, it’s difficult to see other faults of a western policy of intervention. The psychological, emotional, and other tangential factors fall by the sidelines; it’s difficult, if not disrespectful, to make any impact seem important next to a figure like one million dead in Iraq. These figures aren’t new, and at least in the US we’ve become desensitized to this conflict across the world- as long as it stays across the world, we’re happy to continue throwing gas on the fire. Our unending war on terror and international policing is one of the more direct causes, with our own president admitting that ISIL is effectively the product of our policy of intervention, and Al Qaeda’s roots being traced back to the exact same story against the Soviets in the Cold War. But what about the costs of these conflicts that we haven’t heard about in depth? What else, besides ending millions of innocent lives and stirring the middle east into a dervish of religious extremism, has a policy of intervention brought to the table?


Both our historical culture and our contemporary culture has been affected without reproach, but the culling of ancient heritage sites is one of the more immediate and stirring losses. Nimrud, an ancient Assyrian city that existed at the time of Babylon, is one of the dozens of heritage sites destroyed by ISIL. It was an easy target for the group, given it’s close proximity to the besieged town of Mosul that they’ve held since late 2014. Before Nimrud, they handled the material already held in Mosul’s museums. By the time a spring offensive, planned for April or May, retakes the city, the entire historical loss still may not be fully understood. Many Iraqis have pointed to a common saying when discussing the loss of non-human objects of cultural importance- ‘may the books be a sacrifice for the people’. Loss in human life is a horrific tragedy, but people don’t mourn the destruction of the Library at Alexandria for the librarians.


Not all loss is historical. The modern culture of Kenya has been unquestionably robbed by the killing of 148 students at Garissa University College. Al Shabaab, associated with Al-Qaeda and based in Somalia, carried out the attack in retaliation of Kenya’s military presence in the area beginning in 2011 under then-PM Raila Odinga. “The U.S. used to have many soldiers in Somalia but it recalled them. Kenya should also remove its military officers from Somalia,” Odinga said in Monday’s edition of Kenya’s Standard newspaper, but president Kenyatta’s administration has different plans. “When we were attacked (by al Qaeda) in 1998, we were not in Somalia. So the idea that pulling out of Somalia will diminish our vulnerability to attacks is complete nonsense,” said Kenyatta spokesman Manoah Esipisu.

Often, the victims of this interventionist policy aren’t those who did the intervening. Beginning in August 2014, 50,000 yazidi christians have been displaced by ISIL and an estimated 5,000 have been killed. 200 were recently released, but that’s little comfort to the thousands of refugees. This is ethnic cleansing. At the same time, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp was attacked so brutally that even Israel thinks it was a little ‘much‘. Sure, we didn’t attack these ethnic minorities with our own troops, but check the serial numbers of those ISIL weapons and then try to say we’re not involved.

The director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, General William Odom, recently claimedby any measure the U.S. has long used terrorism. In 1978-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism – in every version they produced, the lawyers said the U.S. would be in violation.” This policy of intervention isn’t sustainable. It’s creating a generation of new threats to the security of people everywhere, and we have to barter our freedom for that security back. More immediately, the surrounding areas feel the lion’s share of the retaliatory attacks. Are we alright with the state turning local, peaceful communities into variables to be put into an equation of “acceptable loss” or “unforeseen consequence”?