When the US government actually saves lives


by Sunny
7th May, 2007 at 4:07 pm    

“Let me tell you a story of a disaster that you have probably never heard of and the overwhelming American response that you should know about,” says one of our favourite comrades Mash. He goes on to recount a US military operation that took place in April 1991 in Bangladesh.

In late spring of 1991 a US Navy Amphibious Task Force (ATF) returning from the Persian Gulf war was diverted, on order of President George H.W. Bush, to the Bay of Bengal.

Less than two weeks ago, on the evening of April 29 1991, Cyclone Marian, a storm with top sustained winds of 160 mph (Category 5), made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm (155 mph) along the coastline of Bangladesh. The resulting 20 foot high tidal wave killed over 138,000 people and left over 5 million people homeless. Marian was one of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record.

The United States responded on May 10 1991 by launching Operation Sea Angel, a relief operation that involved over 7000 US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. The man leading the effort, Lt. General Henry Stackpole, declared, “We went to Kuwait in the name of liberty, and we’ve come to Bangladesh in the name of humanity.”

That operation is estimated to have saved as many as 200,000 lives. Drishtipat’s Rumi Ahmed recall that fateful event (and has responses from servicemen who actually served during that humanitarian mission).

The point here, as Mash also makes, is obvious. The United States has massive operational capability in saving people during difficult circumstances and it has done so repeatedly, including offering vital help during the recent Kashmir earthquake and the one in Bam, Iran.

It is on this basis that many also supported the war in Iraq: that it would help saves lives from Saddam Hussain’s brutality. I think that was/is a laudable aim in itself. But I did not support it because, as a keen observer of American politics, I’d come to the conclusion that Bush cared little for the lives of non-Americans. He pulled out of half a dozen international treaties before 9/11, making the world more dangerous, in the name of American self-interest, and because the rhetoric for attacking Iraq was deeply dishonest. There were flaws in the reasoning, the evidence and the operations. There was no coherent planning and it showed from the start.

To classify all American intervention as good is misplaced too. They were bitterly opposed to India entering the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, one of the few wars during the 20th century that saved more lives than it cost. So not everyone who opposed their intervention in February 2003 wanted to let more Iraqis die and not everyone grateful for their help is an imperialist lackey. History shows the picture is a lot more muddled.


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Filed in: Bangladesh,Current affairs,United States






23 Comments below   |  

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  1. douglas clark — on 7th May, 2007 at 7:20 pm  

    From an admittedly unreliable source, still…

    http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/1104/ijpe/cossa.htm

  2. sabinaahmed — on 7th May, 2007 at 8:08 pm  

    The might of the USA and its operational capabilities have never been in doubt. It was never in doubt that they will take on an impoverished and ill-prepeared enenmy like Iraq and win,hopefully without much loss of civillian lives. What has been doubtfull, and has proved disastrous is thier ability to police a complex and little understood culture on the ground for long periods. Perhaps they behave more like conqureres and not as the liberators they wanted to be.
    And their aims have not been achieved either,there is no democracy in the Middle East, and the position of Israel has not been strengthened.And the world,especially the West is not a safe place.

  3. Eremos — on 7th May, 2007 at 8:22 pm  

    Sunny,

    You’re right history is a muddled picture. Just like this act of compassion that undoubtedly saved lives, we have a debacle in Iraq.

    Although the people who started the war did so in the name of power, politics and oil, there are infinitely more people who support it in the name of freedom. Let’s make sure that they, nor their reasons, are not forgotten.

  4. Naxal 1849 — on 7th May, 2007 at 8:34 pm  

    ‘And their aims have not been achieved either,there is no democracy in the Middle East, and the position of Israel has not been strengthened.And the world,especially the West is not a safe place.’

    These were their stated aims (except that bit about Israel). But oil was their prime motivation.

    Read up on the new Iraqi Oil Law that privatises Iraq’s previously public oil and puts it in the hands of multinational companies.

  5. Rumbold — on 7th May, 2007 at 9:18 pm  

    I do not want to get into a big debate about it, but Sunny’s statement that “the liberation of Bangladesh, [was] one of the few wars during the 20th century that saved more lives than it cost”, is simply counter-factual. It might well have done, but since we can never know, you cannot really make assertions like that.

  6. sabinaahmed — on 7th May, 2007 at 9:20 pm  

    I think Sunny is talking about the capacity of the US to do good.It is eveident that oil was the ultimate prize.but the American people were led to believe that they they were striking back at some of those who have struck them on 9/11.
    Sunny is talking about the good America can do, and it is true that it has contributed to relief projects around the world hugely. When the earthquake struck in Pakistan,it was the American Apache helicopters were first on the scene and were able to carry aid to the areas no one else could reach.

  7. douglas clark — on 7th May, 2007 at 9:29 pm  

    Naxal 1849,

    What is more to the point is Paul Bremner overturning a decision by Saddam Hussein to trade oil in Euros rather than petrodollars. Done deal, day one of the ‘Interim Administration’. Back to the dollar, shucks, what a surprise!

    Privatisation is a mere detail, subject to tax, extraction rights and all the rest of it. It does not mean that the oil has been expropriated. Although, it might.

    It does not mean that the US cannot be a force for good in the world, it just means that the current administration are a shower of self serving imperialists. Or oil men, if you prefer.

    The imperialism ‘de nous jours’ is about resources, and whether that is achieved through occupation, exploitation, or frankly murder, seems to be of no concern to western governments.

    I am particlularily exercised by the failure of people here to actually appreciate the number of Iraq citizens that we have killed. And as long as you live here, you are as culpable as me.

    Frankly, the USA should live up to it’s self image. Instead of living down, most of the time, to a quite shitty reality.

    So Sunny is right, it’s a bloody mess.

  8. Rumbold — on 7th May, 2007 at 9:41 pm  

    “What is more to the point is Paul Bremner overturning a decision by Saddam Hussein to trade oil in Euros rather than petrodollars.”

    Perhaps it was done for selfish reasons, and looks bad in hindsight because of the present strength of the Euro, but it made some economic sense at the time. The dollar has been weak for a number of years but it is only in the last couple of years that the Euro as a trading currency has really impressed.

    The present situation is a complete mess though.

  9. Naxal 1849 — on 7th May, 2007 at 9:48 pm  

    ‘And as long as you live here, you are as culpable as me.’

    Eh? I have never voted in my life. No blood on my hands.

    However, the point about the number of Iraqis killed is a good one. While hundreds of thousands perish in Iraq, all we get here is a constant blabbering about 50 people on 7/7. I’m not belittling the tragedy of their death, but some perspective is desperately needed.

    And by the way, I was simply pointing out the difference between the stated and actual aims of the Bush administration, nothing more.

    The US is just like any other superpower; could do good stuff but chooses not to (subject to who is in power).

  10. douglas clark — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:02 pm  

    Rumbold.

    You said:

    “Perhaps it was done for selfish reasons..”

    Yes, it was. It was to support the dollar as the preminent means of trading in oil.It only made sense to victors. or lackeys. It is, frankly a defining nuance in the G W Bush, victory is ours speech. These people do not give a monkeys for Iraq, or democracy.

    Which is obviously not what most Americans stand for. What they cannot get their heads around is how exploitative the American government is of their naivete.

    Try arguing this point of view on any American web site and you will know what I mean. Perfection is frankly another thread of the American dream. It does not mirror any sort of reality. It is, frankly shite.

    It is, unfortunately, these sonambulists, that we have to wake up.

  11. soru — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:05 pm  

    3 facts:

    1. You can’t profitably extract oil from a war zone, especially if you are one of the combatants. A refinery costs vastly more than the bomb that can destroy it. The only exception to that is Iraq’s offshore fields, currently producing almost all oil revenue and government income.

    2. A country with as bad a reputation as the US in the middle east won’t have peace if it tries to enforce an unfair oil deal.

    3. Opponents of any oil deal will always describe it as unfair, imperialistic.

    Whether the oil deal is fair or unfair I have no idea, but that’s the relevant context for any such discussion.

  12. Naxal 1849 — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:12 pm  

    ‘A country with as bad a reputation as the US in the middle east won’t have peace if it tries to enforce an unfair oil deal.’

    No shit. And they haven’t got peace have they?

    ‘Opponents of any oil deal will always describe it as unfair, imperialistic.’

    In this context, it is unfair and imperialistic.

  13. douglas clark — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:27 pm  

    Naxal 1849,

    You join a huge number of UK citizens in trying to excuse this governments policies by claiming that not voting gives you a ‘Get out of Jail Card’ from the policies it pursues. It most certainly does not.

    Failure to vote makes you as culpable as those that did vote. Given the option to vote, and the failure to do so, makes you complicit in accepting their policies. If you can’t even be bothered to vote, why should the government not think you complicit in their views. ‘After all, many people didn’t vote, clearly they agree with us’

    Do you see the problem?

    BTW, the blood is clearly on your hands.

    On your other point, yes I’d agree that 50 odd deaths in the UK does not equal 650,000 plus in Iraq. But there is no excuse for the deaths in the UK, they were not to blame, and the ignorant bastards that did it are beyond redemption. I hope they are burnt in Hell.

    This is not a dick sizing competition. You, frankly, have to give up the idea that the gun or the bomb is an answer before we can debate any of the issues seriously.

    Does that remind you of NI?

  14. Sid — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:39 pm  

    They were bitterly opposed to India entering the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh

    In 1971, Nixon’s one action of intervention was to send the nuclear-equipped USS Enterprise to the Indian Ocean to try to threaten the Indian military from aiding Bangladesh. And also prevented the docking of food aid, thereby contributing to the 3 million deaths in the genocide.

    USA’s relationship with Bangladesh’s has greatly improved since Nixon. Now they can be seen vaguely in the background of the background of a tenuous tug of war for democracy between civil society and the army, with the judiciary on one side. The US have been a benign, not to mention a positive influence in that regard.

  15. Naxal 1849 — on 7th May, 2007 at 11:05 pm  

    ‘After all, many people didn’t vote, clearly they agree with us’.

    I really don’t see how you jumped from not voting to agreeing with. It makes no logical sense.

    ‘the blood is clearly on your hands’

    Oh please, you clearly voted for Labour and are now on a guilt trip.

    ‘You, frankly, have to give up the idea that the gun or the bomb is an answer before we can debate any of the issues seriously.’

    Name me a major international dispute that has ever been settled by peaceful means?

    ‘Does that remind you of NI?’

    Does what?

  16. douglas clark — on 8th May, 2007 at 5:24 am  

    Naxal 1849,

    Of course it makes a twisted logical sense. If you can’t be bothered voting, the assumption by government is that you don’t care, one way or another, whether:

    – they have invaded a sovereign country without a reconstruction plan, unless you assume killing massive numbers of them constitutes such a plan, and that you don’t mind,

    - that any investigation instituted into systemic governmental failure will be ‘fixed’ before it starts,

    - that foreign policy is a matter for elite debate, and that you nor I have a worthwhile voice,

    - that we are all a hateful bunch of fools who they require to control through ID cards, DNA samples, talking CCTV and whatever other madness constitutes thought these days, ASBOs maybe, where unsupported gossip constitutes evidence,

    - where lies are truth, where advice from professionals is ignored in favour of political expediency, where minorities of the minority that still bother to vote are given undue respect,

    - where debate about anything has to be couched in their terms.

    You are, in their view, a contented sheep, watching Premier League, or Big Brother or whatever. By not voting you confirm their assumptions.

    That, and I could add to the list if you want me to, is some of the things you give up by misunderstanding what a vote is about. I do not blame you, specifically, but you only have to look at the turnout in France for their presidential election, to ours in the recent vote, to see why our politicians think they have a sinecure. And they do.

    I did not vote Labour, I voted largely SNP, with a second choice for Liberal and a third choice for Green. I am beginning to regret the Liberal vote, right enough.

    You ask:

    “Name me a major international dispute that has ever been settled by peaceful means?”

    Err, the cold war? Y’know the possibility of nuclear winter, death to everything except possibly cockroaches? That one? The unfortunate consequence of which is a lot of idiots in Washington signing up to PNAC. It was the human race that won that one, not a shower of neo cons.

    Conflict resolution is a subject that media is not usually interested in, and neither are most of the general public. Yet it has it’s unsung successes, Conor Foley, writing in CiF, has pointed out that the current number of conflicts in Africa is at an all time low. Despite the high profile of Darfur and Somalia. Real people worked hard to make it so, but warmongers get the headlines. Glory seeking bastards.

    I would have thought that you might have understood the point about Northern Ireland. Despite the bomb and the bullet, compromise has been the outcome. You actually don’t need the violence.

  17. ChrisC — on 8th May, 2007 at 11:27 am  

    Yes – we all want the US to intervene when *we* think they should!

    The currency denomination of oil is a complete red herring, by the way.

    If the seller wants to end up with euros he can either demand payment in euros or sell his dollars after the buyer has handed them over.
    If the seller wants to end up with dollars then the reverse obviously applies.
    The *denomination* is therefore irrelevant.

  18. douglas clark — on 8th May, 2007 at 1:21 pm  

    ChisC,

    Strange then, that Paul Bremner tore up the plan by Iraq to trade in euros rather than dollars as one of his earliest decisions. I thought it had a lot to do with seigniorage. Tell you what Chris, if you want to lend me a million bucks at zero percent interest, please feel free to do so.

  19. Random Guy — on 8th May, 2007 at 1:41 pm  

    do you know what would be handy? Someone should just make a chart of all US interventions in the last 50 years, in foreign countries, in whatever capacity, and then classify them according to:-

    - prevailing situation before intervention
    - US stated reasons to intervene
    - Likely real reasons of intervention
    - Duration of intervention
    - Lives that were saved or lost (note, these must relate to actual, not imagined numbers)
    - infrastructure of foreign country destroyed in millions/billions of dollars in the process of intervention
    - result of intervention
    - most importantly, where that country is today because of the intervention

    That really is the only way to get a handle on how good or bad an idea it is to intervene. It will hopefully shed some light on the benevolence of the US (or whatever country) in the proper context.

  20. Derius — on 8th May, 2007 at 1:59 pm  

    “BTW, the blood is clearly on your hands.

    yes I’d agree that 50 odd deaths in the UK does not equal 650,000 plus in Iraq. But there is no excuse for the deaths in the UK, they were not to blame, and the ignorant bastards that did it are beyond redemption. I hope they are burnt in Hell.”

    Posted by Douglas Clark

    Douglas, unless I have mis-read one of your previous posts, you appear to have contradicted yourself. You are in effect saying that the victims were blameless, but blood was on their hands!

    Which argument are you actually proposing? You can’t believe in both at once!

  21. Anas — on 8th May, 2007 at 2:11 pm  

    Here’s a list of a 100 years of US military interventions up till 2001:

    http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/interventions.htm

  22. douglas clark — on 8th May, 2007 at 2:34 pm  

    Derius,

    Having re-read what I wrote, I can quite understand your confusion! I was anything but clear.

    The point I was trying to address was that failing to vote does not of itself free you from responsibility for the actions your government takes on your behalf. At least, on the assumption that you have some sort of moral agency about you.

    So, those that didn’t vote at the last General Election should not be allowed a free ride away from any accountability for the outcomes that arose from their failure to vote. Which was the reason for the ‘blood on your hands’ quote.

    They are subverting the democratic process and claiming for themselves an innocence that in not justifiable.

  23. Derius — on 9th May, 2007 at 8:24 pm  

    “So, those that didn’t vote at the last General Election should not be allowed a free ride away from any accountability for the outcomes that arose from their failure to vote.”

    Posted by Douglas Clark

    Thanks for clearing that up. I agree with your quote above, by the way!

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