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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Arrogance! More Power!

I’m not an historian so we’re more in brainstorming and questioning mode than anything else here, but some lingering thoughts about The Arrogance of Power (which I posted about yesterday) come to mind. So here we go.

As a proposed solution to the Southeast Asia question, Fulbright advocated a withdrawal from Vietnam that would have allowed the US to better protect its interests elsewhere while demonstrating that it can be magnanimous as only a great nation can be. We’ll never know if his plan for withdrawal from Vietnam would have worked, but it doesn’t seem that cutting our losses in 1966 would have produced a far different outcome.

I’m not convinced that this is the appropriate solution in Iraq, and this is where the Iraq-Vietnam similarities seem to fall apart because to withdraw from Iraq and leave a power vacuum at this point could actually impact our national security in ways that withdrawing from Vietnam in 1966 would not have.

Our conundrum, of course, is that everyone wants Iraq to be free and democratic while Saddam Hussein pays for his hideous crimes. That's a good thing, but the problem for me is that a nation’s first responsibility ought to be to its own people, so I’m inclined to agree with Fulbright that by ensuring that our own house is in order first, we become a stronger force for peace and change in the world.

Fulbright quotes John Quincy Adams saying that, "America should be 'the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all' but 'the champion and vindicator only of her own'" and suggests that this kind of policy is the way to avoid the traps that come with the arrogance of power. Cold as it may sound, a nation’s first duty is to its people and our people were not served by invading Iraq or even Vietnam for that matter.

Invariably, the favorite question comes: What about World War II? Should we have stayed on the sidelines while so many suffered? My answer is at first no, but then it seems like a false comparison because in that case the threat to our freedom and security was real, it was not a unilateral intervention, and we came to the aid of our allies who were fighting for their lives in Europe. In the case of the Pacific, we properly responded to a direct attack.

This leads to another question: Did we intervene in World War II to stop the holocaust? I don’t think we did, in which case it seems inappropriate to say we were justified in intervening to end the holocaust unless you accept that the end result justifies the original argument whatever it might have been. A strange assertion since we can’t know how things will end. I do think that it would have been an acceptable reason to intervene, but how many Americans would have signed up for that? Does this mean that any humanitarian intervention will require lies and misdirection to get Americans to go along and give up our comfortable lives?

Naturally another question arises: How do we decide where we intervene? Intervening for humanitarian reasons in some places while looking the other way in others is very problematic for me. It’s like sparing some people on death row but not everyone.

So do we intervene only when the people being oppressed have oil? Do they have to be of a certain religious or ethnic group? Do we only intervene when we think the oppressors are weak? How should this be calculated and what should we sacrifice in terms of creating the best possible life for our own citizens?

I don’t support an isolationist foreign policy, but I can’t for the life of me see why we have to have a finger in every pie either. It feels like we’re caught in a vicious circle whereby we maintain a forceful presence overseas to protect our liberty, safety, and way of life which are threatened by people who are angry that we maintain a forceful presence overseas.

There has to be a place in the middle there somewhere between endless wars fought on the whims of questionable leadership and total disengagement from the world and its concerns.

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