For most UA students today, the 1999 Kosovo War may be a distant memory. For David N. Gibbs, it's all too relevant.
Gibbs, an associate professor of history and political science, has published a new book, ""First Do No Wrong: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia,"" which contends that the United States' intervention into the Balkan wars of the 1990s was not only wrong, but actually made the situation worse.
For Gibbs, President Bill Clinton's decision to intervene in Kosovo marked the beginning of a new era of ""humanitarian intervention,"" supported by leftists and conservatives alike.
Gibbs cites President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq and President Barack Obama's commitment to ""winning the war"" in Afghanistan as a continuation of that trend.
""To the political left, intervention had been seen as a predatory activity,"" Gibbs said. That changed, he said, with the interventions of the 1990s, beginning with the 1991 Persian Gulf War and continuing under the Clinton administration. He found himself at odds with liberal friends who argued that military action was sometimes necessary to prevent genocide or liberate countries from dictatorships.
""A large number of people I know advocated more intervention,"" Gibbs said. ""They dropped their anti-militarism. Increasingly, you had liberals and even socialists supporting neoconservatives like (former U.S. deputy secretary of defense) Paul Wolfowitz.""
Gibbs said he found these pro-intervention arguments ""naïve and misguided."" He contends in his book that the real motivation for intervention into the Kosovo conflict lay in the U.S. government's wish to strengthen its sway over international affairs in the face of an ""independent"" European Union. He also argues that ""a certain sense of regret"" at the passing of the Cold War, and a desire to create new enemies to take the place of the Soviet threat, lay behind the intervention.
American foreign policy is ""a self-sustaining machine,"" Gibbs said. ""Many liberal intellectuals foolishly sign up for the enterprise of justifying it.""
Gibbs describes himself as ""a man of the left,"" but his argument has found favor with many conservatives ""despite this unfortunate deficiency,"" as he jokingly put it. His book has received positive reviews in the right-leaning Washington Times from a former Reagan administration official, and from the World Socialist Web site.
Gibbs spent ten years working on the book, which marked a new direction for him after his first book, about the Congo crisis of the 1960s.
""It was a totally new field for me,"" Gibbs said. ""I was trying to gain an understanding of the basic change that had occurred with the end of the Cold War.
""I was trained as a political scientist during the Cold War. It took a while for me and others to get a handle on that.""
Despite his disdain for most military interventions, Gibbs is careful to disassociate himself from paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, who has gone so far as to allege that America's entrance into World War II was unnecessary. Gibbs said he thinks that some of America's past wars, such as World War II and the Civil War, have been justified.
He also said he ""probably would not have opposed intervention"" to stop the Rwanda genocide in 1994. But he added that even justified wars create a dangerous precedent.
""Each intervention increases the likelihood of further intervention,"" Gibbs said.