Friday, September 4, 2009


I was reading an article this morning on Thesis by Scott discussing the difference between the foreign policy objectives of realists and pragmatists. It is a great article, even though I must admit it taxed my small carpenter brain. His article referenced an article by Paul Wolfowitz in Foreign Policy. Read that one, too. Then dig into the reference articles on the last page. Then start to ask yourself how your life ever got this way. Why are you sitting by yourself, reading this stuff on the computer? At 4 a.m. Didn't life promise more? Didn't you have dreams? Where is the glamour, the excitement? But, I digress.

It seems to me that the problem with American foreign policy is that we have ceased to be an impartial referee and protector of basic human rights and have instead decided to impose upon others some strange version of what the party in power deems to be the preferred form of governing. We have abandoned Truth in our own society so can no longer be seen as a fair and impartial arbiter of it.

Our role should be limited to insuring that the rights of the people, whether here or abroad, are protected; and outside of our borders, only when we are asked to help. Instead, we play this Byzantine game of installing rulers that support our view, at least the view of the party in power, with no consideration for the rights of the people in the country we are meddling in. We look only to some sort of political advantage for ourselves. We concern ourselves with things we cannot possibly control and then don't understand why our failure to control them leaves the people flocking to the support of our enemies.

But, don't we have the right to self defense? Certainly. If we believe that we are being threatened we should defend ourselves. Iraq is a case in point. We did everything that we could to allow the Iraqi government to live peacefully with the world. They refused to do so. Saddam violated treaties and flaunted weaponry that he was not allowed to have. He denied basic human rights to his people, engaging in wanton murder, rape, theft and torture. He made threats against the US and made sure that we knew he could carry them out. Was some of this bluster? Probably. However, there was enough substance to constitute a threat to our allies, our interests and our citizens.

The government, because it is an extension of the people, shares in the individuals right to self defense. The question is, how best to deploy our defense. I believe in subsidiarity, that all solutions should come from the lowest, simplest level. If my family were being threatened by someone I would confront that person and try to defuse the situation. We did this with Saddam. If this didn't work I would go to the legal authorities. America went to the U.N. When the legal authorities cannot remove or control the threat I would be forced to take action, to exercise my legitimate right of self defense.

Some would argue, among them Augustine, that I don't have the right to a preemptive strike, that I must wait until the first punch is thrown. I disagree. A credible threat needs to be defended against, following the rules of subsidiarity. When all that is left to contain the threat is violence then violence is justified. After all, what good is the right to self defense if you can't exercise it before you are destroyed?

So we exercised our right to self defense. Now we have responsibility for those impacted by the exercising of our right. The legitimate use of a human right cannot impinge upon the rights of another. We could legitimately attack Saddam because his attacks against our rights effectively forfeited his own. But what about his people. We cannot legally or morally abuse their rights if they have done nothing to us. However, they allowed Saddam to stay in power. Does this open the door to our intervention? Their inaction made it necessary for us to invoke our right of self defense. They do have some culpability.

Now we are responsible for the people of Iraq. We need to give them room to find their way. They have to make the final decision about what type of government they will have. We keep troops on the ground to defend against their enemies while they have time to develop their own defense. We help them to develop a government, acting as advisers but not designers. We sacrifice American lives to help them recover from our legitimate exercise of our rights. We accept our responsibility.

How long should we remain? As long as it takes. We caused the people of Iraq to be in the situation they find themselves in. We are responsible for them. Until we see that they are refusing to help themselves or they ask us to leave. When we have done all we can do, we go. Maybe the people would rather live in a brutal, tribal environment. If that is their choice, so be it. We will have fulfilled our responsibility.

If our departure opens the door to our enemies reestablishing their threat against us, then we may be stuck. We will become a permanent occupying army. Not by choice, however. If the Iraqi people accept the responsibility for the freedoms that they say they want we can leave.

Of course, maybe all of this could have been avoided in the first place if long ago, in a place far, far away, we hadn't supported Saddam in his war against Iran. We put the man in a place of power that we eventually had to remove him from. If we hadn't been playing all of these games in the first place we wouldn't have opened this Pandora's box.

"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world."

George Washington
Farewell Address

The American government, regardless of party control, has expanded far beyond the borders established by the Constitution. Until it returns to the role that the founders envisioned we will continue to inject ourselves in places we have no right to be under the guise of national security, alienating and angering people that should be our allies. The lights have dimmed in that shining city on the hill and are about to be extinguished.

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