(6) The Iraq War. In 2003, despite the general opposition of the international community, US troops still invaded Iraq on unfounded charges. It is hard to find precise statistics about the civilian casualties inflicted by the war, but the number is estimated to be around 200,000 to 250,000, including 16,000 civilian deaths directly caused by US forces. Apart from that, the occupying US forces have seriously violated international humanitarian principles and created multiple “prisoner abuse cases”. After the US military announced its withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, local warfare and attacks in the country have continued. The US-led coalition forces have used a large number of DU bombs and shells, cluster bombs, and white phosphorus bombs in Iraq, and have not taken any measures to minimize the damage these bombs have inflicted upon civilians. According to the estimate of the United Nations, today in Iraq, there are still 25 million mines and other explosive remnants that need to be removed. The United States has not yet withdrawn all its troops from Afghanistan or Iraq for now.
(7) The Syrian War. Since 2017, the United States has launched airstrikes on Syria under the pretext of “preventing the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government”. From 2016 to 2019, the confirmed war-related civilian deaths amounted to 33,584 in Syria, and the number of Syrian civilians directly killed by the airstrikes reached 3,833, with half of them being women and children. The website of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) reported on November 9, 2018, that the so-called “most accurate air strike in history” launched by the United States on Raqqa killed 1,600 civilians. According to a survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in April 2020, about one-third of Syrians were faced with a food shortage crisis, and 87 percent of Syrians had no deposits in their accounts. Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde/MdM) estimated that since the beginning of the Syrian War, about 15,000 Syrian doctors (about half of the country’s total) had fled the country, 6.5 million Syrian people had run away from their homes, and about five million Syrian people had wandered homeless around the world.
Apart from being directly involved in wars, the United States has intervened directly or indirectly in other countries’ affairs by supporting proxy wars, inciting anti-government insurgencies, carrying out assassinations, providing weapons and ammunition, and training anti-government armed forces, which have caused serious harm to the social stability and public security of the relevant countries. As such activities are great in number and most of them have not been made public, it is hard to collect specific data regarding them.
The Disastrous Consequences of Foreign Wars Launched by the United States
Since the end of World War II, almost every US president has waged or intervened in foreign wars during their terms of office. The pretexts they used include: stopping the spread of communism, maintaining justice, stopping aggression, humanitarian intervention, combating terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), protecting the safety of overseas US citizens, etc. Among all these foreign wars, only one was waged as a counterattack in response to a direct terrorist attack on the United States; the others were waged in a situation where the vital interests of the United States were not directly affected. Unfortunately, even this singular “justifiable counterattack” was obviously an excessive display of defense. Under the banner of eliminating the threat of al-Qaeda, the US military wantonly expanded the scope of the attack in the anti-terrorism war in accordance with the principle “better to kill by mistake than to miss out by accident”, resulting in a large number of civilian causalities in the war-affected areas, and despite using the relatively accurate drone strikes, the US military still did not succeed in reducing and mitigating the causalities of the innocent local people.
As for the procedures followed by the United States to start aggressive wars against foreign countries, some were “legitimate procedures” that the United States managed to obtain by manipulating the UN into authorizing them through the Security Council; more often, the United States just set the Security Council aside and neglected the opposition of other countries, and even the opposition of its own allies, when willfully and arbitrarily launching an attack on an independent country. Some US foreign wars were initiated without the approval of the US Congress, which has the sole power to declare war for the country.
US foreign wars have triggered various regional and international crises.
First of all, these wars have directly led to humanitarian disasters in the war-affected countries, such as personnel casualties, damage to facilities, production stagnation, and especially unnecessary civilian casualties. In the war-affected areas, people died in their homes, markets, and streets, they were killed by bombs, bullets, improvised explosive devices, and drones, and they lost their lives during airstrikes launched by US forces, raids launched by their government forces, terrorist and extremist massacres, and domestic riots. In November 2018, Brown University released a research study that showed that the number of civilian deaths during the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen were 43,074; 23,924; 184,382 to 207,156; 49,591; and 12,000 respectively, the number of journalists and media personnel who died at their posts during these wars, were 67; 8; 277; 75; and 31 respectively, and the number of humanitarian relief workers who were killed at their posts during these wars were 424; 97; 63; 185; and 38 respectively. Such casualties are often understated by the US government. The Intercept website reported on November 19, 2018, that the actual civilian deaths in Iraq were far higher than the number officially released by the US military.
Second, US foreign wars brought about a series of complex social problems, such as refugee waves, social unrest, ecological crises, psychological traumas, etc. Statistics show that each of the several recent US foreign wars created a larger number of refugees, such as the 11 million Afghan refugees, the 380,000 Pakistani refugees, the 3.25 million Iraqi refugees, and the 12.59 million Syrian refugees; these refugees have been forced to flee from their homes, of which 1.3 million Afghan refugees have fled to Pakistan, 900,000 Afghan refugees arrived in Iran, 3.5 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees fled to Turkey, and one million Iraqi and Syrian refugees fled to Iran. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, the deaths and injuries caused by the lack of medical treatment, malnutrition, and environmental pollution have exceeded the casualties directly caused by the wars, with the former number being four times greater than the latter. The uranium content per kilogram of soil in Basra, Iraq, rose sharply from less than 70 becquerels before 1991 to 10,000 becquerels in 2009, and the number was as high as 36,205 becquerels in the areas polluted by war remnants. The website of the British newspaper The Guardian reported on August 22, 2016, that 30 percent of the babies born in Iraq in 2010 were born with some form of congenital anomaly, while this figure is around two to four percent under normal circumstances.
Third, US foreign wars have often produced spillover effects, causing harm to the countries that were not involved in the wars. For example, in the Vietnam War, the US military spread the fighting to neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Laos on the excuse of blocking the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” (a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam), resulting in more than 500,000 unnecessary civilian casualties and leaving a large number of war remnants in those countries, which are still explosive. When attacking terrorists in the Afghanistan War, the US aircraft and drones often dropped bombs on neighboring Pakistani villages, and even on wedding cars and Pakistani border guard soldiers. In an airstrike on Yugoslavia, the US forces even targeted the Chinese embassy, leading to the deaths of three Chinese journalists and the injuries of a dozen embassy personnel.
Last but not least, even the United States itself has fallen victim to the foreign wars it has started. According to statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 103,284 US soldiers who suffered physical injuries during the Korean War, and the number reached 153,303 for the Vietnam War. Between 2001 and 2005, about one-third of the 103,788 veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with mental or psychological illness, and 56 percent of those diagnosed had more than one disease. A study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which works exclusively for the United States Congress, pointed out that more than 6,000 veterans committed suicide every year from 2008 to 2016. The amount of economic compensation offered by the US military to the Korean War veterans reaches 2.8 billion US dollars per year, and the amount given to the Vietnam War veterans and their families is more than 22 billion US dollars per year. The cost of medical and disability care for the Afghanistan War veterans has exceeded 170 billion US dollars. Business Insider, a US business and technology news website, reported in December 2019 that the Afghanistan war has led to the deaths of more than 3,800 US contractors, and this number far exceeds the relevant statistical result released by the US government and even the US military deaths in Afghanistan.
The Major Cause of the Above-Mentioned Humanitarian Crises: The United States’ Hegemonic Mentality
When reviewing the many aggressive wars launched by the United States, it can be seen that many of these military actions have led to humanitarian crises. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries where wars are still ongoing, accidental bombings and injuries still frequently occur, and refugees have nowhere to stay. The infrastructure of these countries is crippled, and their national production is stagnant. The United States launched these foreign wars under the pretext of “humanitarian intervention” or “human rights overriding sovereignty”, but why did these wars fought for humanitarian purposes turn into humanitarian disasters in the end?
In April 2011, the US-based magazine Foreign Policy summarized five reasons for the frequent foreign wars waged by the United States, such as the military advantages of the United States making it hard to resist the temptation to resort to force, and the checks and balances mechanism within the United States failing to play an effective role, while excluding any reason related to the values of the United States. “To safeguard human rights” was not a clear driving force for US foreign wars and that waging foreign wars was only a means to an end, although such an act did not exclude a sense of morality. The United States may feel an impulse to start a foreign war as long as it is considered necessary, believed to be in its own favor, and within its ability, while a sense of morality is not a sufficient or necessary condition to initiate such a war; and as for the terrible humanitarian disasters caused by these foreign wars, they will be borne by others instead of directly harming US citizens and preventing the United States from reaching its goals. Choosing to use force irrespective of the consequences reveals the hegemonic aspirations of the United States, which propel the United States to prioritize itself, demonstrate its “winner-take-all” mentality, and expose its unilateralist ideas of dominating the world and wantonly doing injustice to other countries.
US politicians claim that they respect “universal values”, but do they agree that their own natural human rights are also natural for other people in the world?
The United States has formulated laws to ensure equality among all its ethnic groups within the country, but does it really believe that people of other countries should enjoy the same rights? Or, does it think that it can act wantonly in foreign countries just because the people there do not have a vote in US elections?
The United States believes that terrorist attacks targeting civilians within its territory are despicable and punishable, then what makes it accept that the incidents created by the US military in other countries, which have led to a large number of civilian deaths and injuries, are acceptable and even “necessary”?
When they adopt the principle “better to kill by mistake than to miss out by accident”, when they arbitrarily use radioactive weapons and destroy all vegetation with toxic reagents, and when they open fire before clearly identifying the targets, do the US forces still respect the “natural” human rights treasured by the values of the United States?
The civilians who were unable to flee their war-affected areas and were treated as terrorists and shot at randomly did not have any human rights. The children who have been disabled at birth by the chemical weapons of the US forces and will suffer for the rest of their lives do not have any human rights. The refugees who have been forced to flee their homes and become homeless in other countries because of the US foreign wars do not have any human rights.
In the final analysis, the mindset of solving disputes by taking unilateral military actions is questionable. Given the inherent antagonism between humanitarianism and hegemony, it is ridiculous to expect a hegemonic country to defend the human rights of other countries. International disputes shall be settled through equal consultations within the framework of the United Nations. Coordinated efforts shall be actualized by regulating and improving international mechanisms and by establishing a community with a shared future for mankind. Only by discarding the hegemonic thinking, which is chiefly motivated by self-interest, can we prevent “humanitarian intervention” from becoming humanitarian disasters. Only in this way can we achieve mutual benefits and win-win results and can all the people across the globe truly enjoy natural human rights.