The Ahistorical Way a Neoconservative Remembers the 1990s

Bill Kristol suggests in his most recent column that America spent the decade "not policing the world." Not so, says the historical record.
bill clinton full 1990s Reuters.jpg

The indefatigable Bill Kristol has written an article in The Weekly Standard that every American ought to read. There is no more clarifying example of how skewed the neoconservative perspective on military intervention is than the claim he makes about U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s. In his telling, politicians like Rand Paul want to harness war-weariness reminiscent of those post-Cold War days, when American voters no longer wanted to act as "the policemen of the world." 

"That decade of not policing the world ended with 9/11," Kristol warns.

Let's look back Wikipedia's list of the events of the decade when, in Kristol's telling, America wasn't policing the world:

  • 1990: "On August 9, President Bush reported that he launched Operation Desert Shield by ordering the forward deployment of substantial elements of the U.S. armed forces into the Persian Gulf region to help defend Saudi Arabia after the August 2 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq."
  • 1991: "In response to the refusal by Iraq to leave Kuwait, U.S. and Coalition aircraft attacked Iraqi forces and military targets in Iraq and Kuwait in conjunction with a coalition of allies."
  • 1991 to 1996: "Operation Provide Comfort: Delivery of humanitarian relief and military protection for Kurds fleeing their homes in northern Iraq during the 1991 uprising, by a small Allied ground force based in Turkey."
  • 1991: "After widespread looting and rioting broke out in Kinshasa, Air Force C-141s transported 100 Belgian troops and equipment into Kinshasa, Zaire. American planes also carried 300 French troops into the Central African Republic."
  • 1992: "The United States began a series of military exercises in Kuwait, following Iraqi refusal to recognize a new border drawn up by the United Nations and refusal to cooperate with UN inspection teams."
  • 1992 to 2003: "The U.S., United Kingdom, and it's Gulf War allies declared and enforced 'no-fly zones' over the majority of sovereign Iraqi airspace."
  • 1992 to 1995: "President Bush deployed U.S. armed forces to Somalia in response to a humanitarian crisis."
  • 1993 to 1995: "On April 12, 1993, in response to a United Nations Security Council passage of Resolution 816, U.S. and NATO enforced the no-fly zone over the Bosnian airspace."
  • 1993: "President Clinton reported the deployment of 350 U.S. soldiers to the Republic of Macedonia to participate in the UN Protection Force to help maintain stability in the area of former Yugoslavia."
  • 1994: "Operation Uphold Democracy: U.S. ships had begun an embargo against Haiti. Up to 20,000 U.S. military troops were later deployed to Haiti to restore democratically-elected Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from a military regime which came into power in 1991."
  • 1994: "On April 19, 1994, President Clinton reported that the U.S. contingent in Macedonia had been increased by a reinforced company of 200 personnel."
  • 1995: "In August 30, 1995, U.S. and NATO aircraft began a major bombing campaign of Bosnian Serb Army."
  • 1996: "President Clinton reported the deployment of U.S. military personnel to Bangui, Central African Republic, to conduct the evacuation from that country of private U.S. citizens and certain U.S. government employees, and to provide enhanced security for the American Embassy."
  • 1997: "In an effort to ensure the security of American citizens in Cambodia during a period of domestic conflict there, a Task Force of about 550 U.S. military personnel were deployed at Utapao Air Base in Thailand."
  • 1998: "U.S. and British forces conduct a major four-day bombing campaign from December 16-19, 1998 on Iraqi targets."
  • 1998: "Operation Infinite Reach: On August 20, President Clinton ordered a cruise missile attack against two suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical factory in Sudan."

During this same period, American troops remained in South Korea as a safeguard against North Korean aggression. The U.S. Navy was patrolling the world's seas. The Drug Enforcement Agency was operating in dozens of foreign countries. A trade embargo against Cuba was maintained. President Clinton attempted to forge peace between Israel and Palestine, and sent American warships to the Taiwan straight in response to Chinese weapons testing in the area. And U.S. military bases operated in Japan and Germany, among many other foreign countries.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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