Almost a decade ago now, I engaged in some pretty heated debate with a number of hawkish Americans about their country's intent to go to war in Iraq. I can respect any point of view that is backed up with rational thought, even if it is contrary to my own. Had someone been able and willing to defend the decision to invade Iraq rationally (as Christopher Hitchens did and continues to do), I would respect their position though I would strongly disagree with it. I am a pacifist in general, so there aren't many military interventions that I can get behind philosophically, but I am most vocal against military action when I see a country projecting their self-interest under the guise of spreading freedom, protecting democracy, or simply protecting human rights.
A couple of Americans with whom I engaged on this topic insisted that America's plans to invade Iraq were purely altuistic. The argument was the Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrrant (which is true) and that his people needed freeing from him as a dictator. In addition, of course, there was the issue of weapons of mass desctuction (WMD) that were about to turn into mushroom clouds all over the West. I challenged those I argued with on this, saying that America's interest in invading Iraq was purely self-motivated. It had nothing to do with care for the average Iraqi, and all to do with promoting long-term American interests in the region. Had someone acknowledged that fact, and yet clung to the position that their country was justified in projecting those interests, I would have respected their argument (thought I would still have disagreed with the invasion) a lot more than if they bought the propaganda about freedom and human rights.
I saw a chart in The Economist today that I thought was relevant to this discussion. Before looking at the chart, try to think of the one region in the world that, in the past 60 years, has seen more dictators and government corruption, and less democracy, than almost any other region in the world. Do you think of Africa? If you don't you probably should. Since the Second World War, you'd be hard pressed to isolate another region in the world that has had more ruthless dictators and less democracy and basic human rights. Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Charles Taylor, Sani Abacha, Laurent Kabila, Robert Mugabe, are just a few of the men who have ruled with impunity and fear. The continent has wallowed in fear, civil war, and genocide for generations. True success stories of democracy, human rights, and lasting peace are few and far between. If ever there was a continent that begged for intervention to "install" democracy, peace, and human rights (if all those things can be installed from outside) then Africa was it.
Yet, take a look at this chart from The Economist online on November 21st 2011:
You'll notice that the number of American troops deployed to Africa is so negligibly small as to be amost unmeasurable. Why?