Political upheaval in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is reshaping migration trends in Europe. The number of illegal border-crossing detections in the EU started to surge in 2011, as thousands of Tunisians started to arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa following the onset of the Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africans who had previously migrated to Libya followed in 2011–2012, fleeing unrest in the post-Qaddafi era. The most recent surge in detections along the EU's maritime borders has been attributed to the growing numbers of Syrian, Afghan, and Eritrean migrants and refugees. Jeanne Park, “Europe’s Migration Crisis,” CFR Backgrounder, September 23, 2015, www.cfr.org/migration/eurpes-migration-crisis)
The Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder recognizes the crisis of migration brought on by upheavals all across the Global South. It identifies the massive migrations from Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa. But, interestingly enough the title suggests that the focus of concern is not as much about the pain and suffering of the people forced to migrate as the problem migration presents to the countries of the European Union.
A dispassionate analysis of the causes of this twenty-first century wave of migration should inevitably lead to what may be referred to as “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” These horrific moments, since the late 1940s, are central to understanding the pain and suffering of millions of people around the world. Horrific refers to human tragedies of such magnitude that they leave millions killed, injured, displaced, or unable to sustain life because of forces external to their ideas and actions. Moments refers to key policy decisions that reasonable persons can view as instrumental to the development of these human tragedies. United States foreign policy suggests that the United States has made policy decisions that have been inextricably connected to the human tragedies of the last sixty years.
Five such horrific moments in United States foreign policy need to be recognized for their consequences for humankind. First, in 1950 the United States embarked on global military operations in response to conflicts on the Korean peninsula. Korean political life was in disarray after World War II and the United States and the former Soviet Union stepped into the fray to “temporarily’ occupy the North and South. But the growing conflict between Koreans was not started by the two powers but was the result of internal political struggle among the Korean people. The point here is that after North Korean troops invaded South Korea, the United States, officially supported by the then pro-US United Nations, launched a large-scale military response. And, in violation of the UN resolution, the United States took the war to the North.
The end result of the expanded Korean War was that it set the precedent for United States sending troops anywhere in the world. The war justified dramatic increases in military spending. And it made military spending a permanent fixture of US economic and political life. Most importantly, it destroyed the Korean peninsula, particularly the economic infrastructure in the North; led to millions of Koreans killed, wounded, and displaced; and 37,000 US soldiers killed. The Korean War was the first instance of many in which the United States and the Soviet Union would be fighting the Cold War in the Global South.
Second, the Korean War established the principle that the US would engage in major wars elsewhere as circumstances were seen as necessary. The next war was in Vietnam. The war began in 1950 and the “moment” continued until 1975. The long agonizing experience involved repeating decisions escalating war: from funding the French colonial overseers of Vietnam; to creating and training a new government in South Vietnam; to sending thousands of specially trained counter-insurgency fighters; to transferring over 500,000 US soldiers to Vietnam; to massive bombing; the dropping of napalm; the killing of 3-4 million Vietnamese people; and unleashing genocidal violence in neighboring Cambodia.
Third, following multiple military and covert operations, the Reagan Administration embarked on a war against Central American peoples leading to about 200,000 deaths, injuries, and thousands set afoot seeking economic and military survival through desperate migrations to the north. Nicaragua was targeted for attack because the President’s neoconservative policy advisors regarded that country as a surrogate of the dreaded Soviet Union. US money and military advisors were allotted to help a dictatorship try to defeat a peasant guerrilla movement in El Salvador. The United States funded Guatemalan militarists who were engaging in a genocidal policy against the indigenous people of that country. Honduras was armed and became the military base for the wars of Central America.
In the twenty-first century the Bush administration waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq. The Taliban, who came to power in the 1990s after a long civil war in Afghanistan which began in 1979, created relative stability but were alleged to be partners to the crimes of 9/11. President Bush ordered the Afghanistan government to release Osama Bin Laden to US authorities or face war. When they refused the US attacked that country and thus created permanent instability. The war on Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. And Afghanistan is poorer, more devastated, and less stable than in October, 2001, when the war started.
The lies about why the United States had to make war on Iraq are common knowledge. Even if morality and international law are not brought to the analysis, everything the United States did and is still doing in Iraq has been wrong. After nearly a decade of war, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged with powerful military force and some popular support and is challenging the Iraqi government, the Kurds, the Turkish government, the Syrian government, and any other outside forces.
If the regional instability brought on by the Afghan and Iraq wars were not enough, the Obama administration, with NATO collaboration, led a massive bombing assault that destroyed the relatively stable Libyan regime setting in motion, internal violence, instability, and emigration.
Several lessons can be drawn from these “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” The pursuit of United States hegemony has generated violence all across the globe. This violence has destabilized stable political regimes, led to mass slaughter of the peoples of these countries, created opposition forces which now are targeting American citizens and institutions in the affected areas. In addition, the United States and other arms merchants have increased the flow of armaments to Asia, the Persian Gulf the Middle East, and Latin America. The overwhelming casualties of war since the end of World War II have been citizens of the Global South, people of color. In addition, these horrific moments have cost Americans billions of dollars and probably almost one million deaths and injuries sustained by United States soldiers.
Finally, referring to the migration problem that the Council of Foreign Relations Backgrounder referred to above, much of it is due to the horrific moments in United States foreign policy. The Korean and Vietnam Wars legitimized war strategies and military interventionism to achieve US global goals. These strategies continued in Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya creating a worldwide and desperate population of people fleeing war, ethnic hatreds, and poverty.