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A Quarter-Century of Interventions

Philip Bump calculated [1] how many years the U.S. has been at war over the last seventy years. It’s an interesting study, but it actually understates how often the U.S. has used force overseas. Some of this has to do with Bump’s rather arbitrary definition of what it means for the U.S. to be at war:

Using somewhat subjective definitions of “at war” — Korea counts but Kosovo doesn’t in our analysis, for example — we endeavored to figure out how much of each person’s life has been spent with America at war.

According to Bump’s chart, the U.S. has been at war for 43.2% of my lifetime (I was born in 1979). That is a large percentage, but it is too low. It counts the years between 1991 and 2001 as a time when the U.S wasn’t at war. As anyone familiar with U.S. foreign policy during that decade knows, that isn’t really true.

If we include all U.S. military interventions, we find that the U.S. has bombed and/or invaded at least one other country at least once every year for the past twenty-one years straight. There has been an almost uninterrupted string of foreign interventions dating back to the invasion of Panama in 1989. The U.S. bombed Iraq on a regular basis between 1991 and 2003 in the name of patrolling the “no-fly” zones. There were also sporadic missile strikes during the Clinton years in Iraq and the strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998. The U.S. embarked on an ill-fated “nation-building” exercise in Somalia that ultimately claimed eighteen American lives, invaded Haiti to reimpose a deposed president, and bombed Serbs in the Bosnian and Kosovo interventions. The Gulf War is counted as “time spent in war” in this analysis, and for some reason Kosovo is not despite the fact that the U.S. was engaged in hostilities against Yugoslavia for a longer period in 1999 than it was in Iraq in 1991.

Some of these interventions may not fully qualify as wars (though Kosovo should by any reasonable definition), but they were all instances where the U.S. used force or the threat of force to try to dictate political outcomes in other countries. I happen to think almost all these interventions were wrong and not in the American interest, but it doesn’t matter whether one approves or disapproves of them. It is important to remember that they took place and that the U.S. was not at peace for the entire decade between the Gulf War and 9/11. By my reckoning, the U.S. has taken some kind of military action at least once a year for approximately two-thirds of my lifetime. The last fourteen years have been the period that included the most costly and intense U.S. interventions abroad, but the dozen years before that were also marked by the frequent use of force. The U.S. has been using force for various reasons on a regular basis over the last twenty-six years, and it has done so frequently in many places around the world. The generations that came of age after the end of the Cold War have spent the vast majority of their lives watching their government bombing or invading various parts of the globe. We have to some extent come to expect the near-constant interventionism, but we have also grown increasingly sick of it because we have been seeing it for so much of our lives.

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8 Comments To "A Quarter-Century of Interventions"

#1 Comment By Myron Hudson On May 27, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

Using force or the threat of force to dictate political outcomes in other countries… isn’t that what Carlos the Jackal did, and the (Saudi) 9/11 hijackers, bin Laden and al Qaida?

And now we have a young, dim bulb wannabe candidate proposing to build up our military to aggressively confront those countries who threaten our economic interests. Which is what gangs and cartels do.

If we don’t find our way out of this, we’re done for. And my decades of redneck paranoid survivalist tendencies and preparation will, or may, pay off.

BTW that involves skills, mobility and adaptability. Not hoarding and bunkering down. But I hope and prefer to do that for recreation. For all of our sakes.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 28, 2015 @ 5:25 am

” . . . but we have also grown increasingly sick of it because we have been seeing it for so much of our lives.”

WHile, I think some had value, it is clear that most have have been too little avail for US interests.

#3 Comment By Charlieford On May 28, 2015 @ 7:40 am

Was Somalia really a “nation-building” mission, or was it a humanitarian-relief mission that started to creep?

#4 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 28, 2015 @ 8:32 am

We, the United States, have gotten to a point where we believe that we have the right to invade or bomb countries whose leaders we don’t like. We seem to think that the application of US military force will solve any problem, be it religious, ethnic, economic, whatever.

The GOP candidates for President, with the exception of Rand Paul, try to top each other as to who is the most bellicose and who would be quickest to invade/bomb Iran, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, or anywhere for that matter.

The Neo-cons do not regard war as a last resort, but as Option #1. This is insanity. The American people are getting sick of constant war and bellicose rhetoric from chickenhawk politicians.

#5 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On May 28, 2015 @ 11:38 am

It’s a great shame that we didn’t have you during the Cold War because you would have been the ideal person to puncture the illusions of the Cold War hawks.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 28, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

“Was Somalia really a “nation-building” mission, or was it a humanitarian-relief mission that started to creep?”

Mission creep . . . more like mission, left turn. But your distinction in my view is correct. And it that turn that got us into trouble.

#7 Comment By DrDaveT On May 31, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

The next step in the analysis is to add up the costs of all of those foreign adventures, and think about what the US could have done with that money instead…

#8 Comment By Alex On June 1, 2015 @ 3:59 am

Every conflict in witch the US vere involved into was lost and the situation got on the process worse. The US should come back home and pay their bills like Ron Paul said!!