I’d like to continue my tradition of writing about the double standard that people hold against politicians of their party and politicians of the opposition. More importantly, this post is about war and its context in this double-standard-filled political world. Bush got a lot of criticism for being allegedly too gung-ho about going to war. Iraq, mainly. But the similarities between the Iraq War (mostly supported by Republicans) and Democratically-encouraged interventions is closer than one might originally think.
After two years of taking international relations courses (at a college!), all I can conclude is this: there’s no clear answer when it comes to foreign policy. I think one can formulate some pretty logical and consistent views regarding domestic political issues. But when it comes to foreign policy, there’s never an easy answer.
Was Iraq wrong because we invaded a sovereign country? Does that mean we shouldn’t have invaded Germany during World War II? Was WWII justified just because it involved millions of people instead of the tens of thousands (though perhaps more) that Saddaam gassed? If Iraq was wrong, does that mean we should do nothing about North Korea? How would intervention in Sudan be any different than Iraq or even a war with Iran? Would action is Sudan be justified as long as it was peacekeeping and not occupation? Should we try to stop every civil war and government-sponsored killing? Or only as long as its financially feasible? Does following financial feasibility really give us any moral high ground when we try to justify our acts?
I only ask these questions because I think there is a double standard when it comes to judging foreign policy decisions. A lot of the criticisms leveled at the Iraq War are thrown out the window when it comes down to issues that are seen more as “humanitarian”. People were, rightly I believe, angry at the United States for getting involved in conflicts that did not affect Americans. Don’t get involved with Hamas and Israel. Don’t get involved with Iran to the point that it leads to a revolution that puts a horrible government in power (it happened). But when those monks in Burma were being abused by the Burmese government, I remember a monk being interviewed on tv saying, “why isn’t anybody doing anything? Where is America now?” Those monks were being ridiculously oppressed, from what I can tell. But did this oppression affect Americans at all? If it didn’t, does the ‘moral obligation’ to help them differ than a moral obligation to help oppressed Iraqis under Hussein? Why did the people of the world turn their collective backs on the United States when Bush went into Iraq but also criticize America and western powers for not using military force to help these monks?
I’ve been talking under the assumption that the Iraq War was a mistake. So let’s talk about this stuff from the position that the Iraq War was good or at the very least justified. If the Iraq War was justified on the grounds that saving people from being potentially killed by their government, I don’t see a logical line to draw on when to act and when not to. If America felt the need and moral obligation to help every person that fell under this category, we’d probably be involved with over a hundred countries’ affairs. This is clearly not feasible. The current wars – in only two countries – have cost about a trillion dollars alone. Is it fair to say that interventions like the Iraq War are morally permissible but not an obligation?
When should we intervene in other countries’ affairs? Only when it is in self-defense? What about when there is a regard for human rights? Are there universal human rights? Should it just be when it is in our national self-interest (economic, political, military)?
I think the answers to these questions are not clear. Because of this, I am disappointed in the lack of humility by pundits and politicians and hope that people will recognize that pragmatism in foreign policy might not be as evil as people think.