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Kevin Bayona: US should not be ashamed of its recent wars

Posted: April 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Forgive me for not writing sooner about the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, which was March 19. I found myself engaged in deep reflection over what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan really mean and where they fall within the spectrum of American history.

I supported the invasions of both troubled states in 2001 and 2003. As I sit here today over a decade later, I take solace in the fact that my support for those campaigns goes undeterred, and our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq echoes a long history of American intervention abroad.

I have always considered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be one and the same campaign to lash out at a dark part of the world that was virtually disconnected from the functioning world.

Several years of violent, politically motivated attacks on the United States, reaching a crescendo on Sept. 11. 2001, resulted in the invasions of the two failed states in a backward part of the world.

America spent the following decade attempting to quell insurgencies and build societies that could mature into operational states devoid of violent fanaticism that would result in global political and military tremors.

America’s latest foreign expeditions were difficult and costly, but hopefully their final consequence will present the Middle East and the world with two states that will gradually acclimate themselves to an increasingly globalized world.

America can stand tall and be content in its noble endeavor to change a part of the world that desperately needed it, as well as its bold effort to affirm its geopolitical power in the heart of Eurasia — a familiar fusion of ideological and realist foreign policy that defines American history.

In 1801, the United States set upon a course from which there would be little deviation over the following 200 years. The various defective societies along the North African coast, commonly known as the Barbary States, unleashed a violent series of attacks, impressments and extortions upon the American people for years.

Eventually, the president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, and the secretary of state, James Madison, sanctioned the attempted overthrow of the King of Tripoli at the hands of a mercenary army, most of which consisted of Muslim soldiers.

The nascent American Navy and Marine Corps sailed across the pond in an ideological pursuit to put an end to the ubiquitous deficit of law and order that plagued the Mediterranean. America had taken its first step toward becoming the world’s policeman.

In 1899 the United States dismantled what was left of the Spanish Empire and as a result occupied the Philippines, rendering it America’s newest colony and civilizing mission. The Philippine War was very much a turning point in American history because it launched America into the great global game of geopolitics.

The campaign against the Spaniards began in 1898 when America invaded Cuba (a Spanish colony) to liberate the Cubans from Spanish oppression — a purely ideological endeavor. The subsequent quagmire in the Philippines resulted in hundreds of American deaths by ambush, attacks on army convoys, and assaults on telegraph lines.

President McKinley was intent on “assimilating” the Philippines for ideological reasons, but also for fear of being left behind while the other global powers conquered the world across both oceans on either side of the United States.

America would occupy these troubled lands until 1946.

The early 20th century was truly an era of American intervention. Most Americans have forgotten the invasions of Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Mexico (50 years after the Mexican-American War). America occupied many of these weak states for decades — desperate to enforce the Monroe Doctrine that President Monroe adopted more than 80 years before.

President Roosevelt wrote to his secretary of state in 1904, “If we intend to say ‘hands off’ to the powers of Europe, then sooner or later we must keep order ourselves.”
Still, the American occupations, though guided by realpolitik, generously provided the distressed islands with roads, bridges, hospitals, telephone lines and irrigation canals. Unfortunately, once the United States left, the islands predictably fell into the hands of thugs and precipitously decayed.

There are many campaigns, expeditions and excursions like the ones I’ve mentioned in places like China, Russia, Korea, Samoa, Hawaii, and others.

I encourage Americans to read about this forgotten history and adopt a more nuanced perspective on the real meaning and significance of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

America is now slowly withdrawing from these battered lands as they pass into history and join the tapestry of American foreign policy that has vigorously befallen the disorderly world since a band of rebel pirates attempted to bully a young and fledgling people in the New World. The world would never be the same again.

Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a B.A. in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.


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