By and large Americans are good-hearted. They do not like to see others suffer. They loathe cruelty and oppression. Therefore, it is only natural that many Americans favor military intervention for humanitarian reasons. When there were stories of Iraqi soldiers murdering Kuwaiti babies in incubators during the Iraqi invasion in 1990, many Americans wanted the United States military to intervene. While these stories turned out to be false, one can understand the desire to help. When Qaddafi was allegedly murdering civilians and giving his soldiers Viagra so they could rape innocent women, one could understand the desire to intervene. Of course, it turned out that these stories were untrue and that it was the Libyan rebels who were seeking to commit genocide against black Libyans who had been loyal to Qaddafi, but that is neither here nor there. When the Islamic State was allegedly set to massacre Yazidis, many Americans again wanted President Obama to risk American blood and treasure for humanitarian purposes.
Among the important questions that arise concerning humanitarian military intervention is where one draws the line. Consider the following.
1. The Egyptian military junta led by President el-Sisi has been oppressing members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Should the United States intervene militarily against Egypt on the behalf of these Islamists?
2. In Syria, both the despotic regime of Assad and the bloodthirsty Jihadist rebels have been committing atrocities. Should the United States intervene and attack both sides in this civil war?
3. Sunnis in Iraq have been massacring Shiites and Kurds. However, Shiites have also been oppressing Sunnis. Both Sunnis and Shiites have been oppressing Christians. Kurds have also oppressed Christians in Iraq. Should President Obama send American troops back into Iraq and simply kill everyone on all sides to make all this oppression stop?
4. Members of Hamas in Gaza have been killing Israeli soldiers and civilians. However, Israeli soldiers have been killing scores of civilians in Gaza. Should the United States intervene and go to war against both Palestine and ally Israel?
5. Many American allies such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, and Kuwait are oppressive totalitarian regimes. Should the United States go to war against these nations?
6. China has long oppressed the Tibetans, members of Falun Gong, Chinese Muslims, etc. Should the United States intervene on humanitarian grounds and go to war with China despite the fact that this would set off a nuclear conflict?
7. Russia has long oppressed Chechens. Should the United States heroically defend the Chechens even though it would set off World War III and a certain Apocalypse?
Where do we draw the line? Are some human beings more equal than others? Do some have more of a right to life? Are the lives of Christians somehow worth more than the lives of non-Christians? Are the lives of Africans somehow worth less than the lives of others? Is killing large numbers of a group of people likely to make them more tolerant of others? Or is it more likely that many innocents will be killed and create unforeseen blowback? Perhaps the nation is best following the advice of John Quincy Adams:
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
Military intervention nearly anywhere at any time can be justified on humanitarian grounds. If one follows this Wilsonian strategy, then it will lead to Orwellian continuous war. Ultimately, far more innocents will wind up suffering than being saved.