RUFFOLO: U.S. must remove military forces from foreign nations

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The first military action under President Joe Biden was an airstrike against Syria Feb. 25. Photo via Flickr.

Though some may take pride in the strength of the American military, it is time for the Biden administration to reduce the country’s unfettered military powers abroad. 

The U.S. military struck a site in Syria used by two Iranian-backed militia groups in response to rocket attacks on American forces Feb. 25. This was the first military action President Joe Biden took since taking office. The action drew criticism, mainly because Biden had not asked for necessary congressional authority. However, it is most necessary to question why there are still American troops occupying the area at all. 

The United States has had troops in Syria since late 2015 under the direction of President Barack Obama, and what this decision has accomplished for the Syrian civil war still remains unclear.

Some view the military presence as necessary to prevent the rush to reclaim the area’s oil fields by Syria’s President Bashar Assad and his allies from Russia and Iran. However, U.S. presence in Syria hurts Syria more than it helps it. The airstrike conducted Feb. 25 killed a civilian contractor and severely injured a service member. This is not the first time U.S. backed airstrikes have caused damage, as it is also worth mentioning the past airstrikes that left thousands dead and decimated cities.

The United States is notoriously picky about what human rights violations it acknowledges. It may claim its presence in Syria is to prevent the abuse against civilians by Assad and Russia, yet support two of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Israel, one of the United States’ major allies in the Middle East, struck missiles near the Syrian capital Damascus Feb. 28 and then again March 17. 

The United States requested $3.3 billion in foreign military funding and $500 million in missile defense for Israel in 2021 and has given a sizable amount of military aid to the country in the past. Like the United States, Israel has a long-lasting brutal military regime, with human rights violations against Palestinians, such as institutionalized discrimination and the rampant killing of innocent civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has also re-instituted a travel ban against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and security forces have killed 20 Palestinians and wounded 2,001 in the West Bank since Oct. 5, according to a 2021 Human Rights Watch report. If the United States was truly so committed to stopping human rights abuses, they would end their strong relationship with Israel. 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two main partners of the United States in the Middle East, have led a military coalition against Yemen since 2015 and Yemen continues to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. While Biden has claimed that Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations will not be ignored, such as their embracing of enslavement, it is unlikely he will choose to cut ties with the country altogether, as Biden as still mentioned wanting to promote American interests abroad. 

But what would truly be in the best interest of the United States and other nations in the Middle East would be to quickly withdraw and remove itself from all conflict in the military east, no matter how much it economically benefits from its relationship with Saudi Arabia because of the obstruction of civil rights and thousands of deaths and destruction the nation has been responsible for.  

The Department of Defense requested $705.4 billion for the 2021 fiscal year and taxpayers have reportedly spent $13.34 trillion from 2000 through 2019. Many have noted the United States has an empire-like military budget and have called its vast operations unnecessary at best and detrimental at worse.

The United States’ large militaristic, imperialist presence on the world has caused long-lasting damage and perpetuated the continual struggle of those in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

For example, civilians in Cambodia and Laos are still experiencing the effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical sprayed during the Vietnam War used to clear vegetation. Children in this area are born with facial and bodily deformities and developmental disabilities. While the United States has admitted to the harmful effects of the chemical, it has not fully addressed the geographical extent of the damage. 

At the the start of his administration, Biden boasted about having women military generals in the United States armed forces, and others similarly applauded it as a progressive move. But it would truly be progressive and groundbreaking if Biden largely descaled U.S. military involvement and ended its regime-like power and legacy once and for all.

This story was written by Lucia Ruffolo. She can be reached at lucia.ruffolo@marquette.edu