Archive: March, 1993

Lecture: U.S. Intervention in Somalia

The U.S. Intervention in Somalia:

Revisiting the ‘White Man’s Burden’?

 

 

Public Lecture given to the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars in March 1993

 

The U.S. military intervention in Somalia was unique in many as aspects. It was an action invoked and justified as a moral imperative. According to Newsweek, President Bush told the American troops departing for Somalia they were doing “God’s work”. An article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Bring Back Lord Kitchener?” commented that “what Desert storm did for America’s military credibility, Somalia may do for America’s moral credibility”. An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor equates the national interest of the United States with the moral imperative to move “the international community towards a policy of responding to humanitarian and human-rights crises before they breed larger conflicts.” An essay in Time magazine entitled “sometimes Right Makes Might” observes that “what makes America’s intervention into Somalia seem so inspiring and also so dangerously slippery is that this might be the first time since the Crusades that an invasion has been launched for a purely moral rationale”.

 

These and other similar sentiment reflect perhaps the American tendency—some will say obsession—to ascribe morality to American actions, a morality that is always “self-defined” and often “self-righteous”. There is obviously nothing new in this. The best examples go back not exactly to the Crusades, but to the Wilsonian idealistic notion of “making the world safe for democracy”. The Cold War was always described by the United States in moral terms from Kennedy’s call to “pay any price and bear any burden” to Reagan’s uncharitable reference to the “Evil Empire”. But the real motivation was not morality but self-interest.

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