The Left Hook! Archive


Tues., Oct. 22, 2002

Brief Notes On American Foreign Policy

With A Particular Focus on Iraq

A.  If we try to project power in a way to be a world cop, fighting evil wherever we see it, and intervening in various regions of the world in a manner that creates death and war, we'll likely end up with unintended consequences worse than the danger of pursuing other methods of foreign policy (diplomacy, deterrence, containment, etc.).

B.  Ethics matters.  Because one leader is evil doesn't mean that anything goes to get rid of him or her.  The acts we undertake have real consequences on real people, and we have to take that into account before we act.  If you go by pure "end justifies the means," you can rationalize just about anything by exaggerating the cost of not achieving the end (Saddam Hussein will destroy everything!) and minimizing the cost of acting (it'll be quick and easy, the Iraqis will welcome us).  That's a dangerous form of ethical reasoning, one called "rationalization."  A real ethical debate about regime change, war and its consequences doesn't take place in our society because we've become immune to moral arguments.  Ethics and principle has lost out to the logic of power.

C.  We should have a policy that reflects our values, both in its ends and in its means.  Starting a war, being the aggressor, does not reflect those values.  Not even Saddam Hussein's neighbors want a war, they know he's not a threat like he was in 1990.  And there are many leaders who are evil, we can't put ourselves in a position to be judge and jury of every government in the world, using power to eliminate ones we judge evil.  That turns this into a question not of ethics, but raw power--the most power state can choose.  That denies our values.

D.  Wars always have unintended consequences, and are hard to control.  Especially given the tinderbox of the mideast, attempting to start a war there is like going into an ammo dump with a lite stick of dynamite.

The result: given the economic situation, going to war could be the most dangerous decision to American peace and prosperity in decades.  It violates our ethics and values, and is based on very shoddy argumentation. If it happens I hope it is quick and relatively painless and that I look wrong after the fact, but the US has to be careful.  History is littered with states that over
estimated their ability to project power and ended up being hurt badly.

--Scott Erb

"PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting."

--from "The Devil's Dictionary,"
   Ambrose Bierce

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