I am definitely straying outside my area of expertise here. Foreign policy is complicated today. It was always complicated, but our modern world with all the wars and rumors of wars that abound is a minefield to negotiate. I do not pretend to have an authoritative word to end debate but an opinion to open the floor for your discussion.
Among many of my friends, it is almost a given that the US’ tendency toward intervention is a disaster. The gulf wars and Afghanistan would be exhibit A in their theory that we have caused more trouble than we have solved with our tendencies to send troops around the world to try to set things right.
I’d like to tell two transparently obvious stories that illustrate two ends of the spectrum of this debate.
Story 1 – A Mr. Murrica lived on main street in his town. He was a strong and powerful man – the biggest and strongest around. He was also the wealthiest man around. One day, as he was walking down the street he looked across the street and saw a man severely beating a child. The child was crying out for help but no one came. Mr. Murrica was horrified at what he saw. He shouted across at the man to stop but the man ignored him and kept beating the child. Finally, he grabbed the child’s hair and started dragging the child into a dark alley out of view.
What should Mr. Murrica do? Several times in the past he had tried to intervene in situations like this, but he was roundly criticized by others for being a bully, for sticking his nose in to other people’s private business, and for trying to impose his beliefs, will and ways on others. So, he shouted over at the man that what he was doing was wrong and he should stop, he shook his head sadly, and walked home with a heavy heart.
Story 2 – After the incident with the child on the street, Mr. Murrica felt so guilty he determined that he would never again stand by and watch someone treating another person badly, regardless of what anyone thought. So, he took to walking up and down the streets of the town looking for anyone he thought was mistreating someone else. Once, he found the man who has mistreated the child repeating his evil act. He gave him a sound beating. He broke up several other fights, stopped a robbery and helped a woman who was being picked on by a group of men. But it all seemed to go to his head. He started inserting himself into every discussion, every argument, every little spat between anyone on the public streets. He actually began to go from home to home asking if there were any problems that needed solving. People really began to hate Mr. Murrica because he interjected himself into their lives in an unacceptable way.
These silly little caricatures illustrate what I believe are two very important principles that ought to guide our foreign policy.
1) The Necessity of Intervention – God has placed America in a unique position in this world. We are truly the only military superpower left after the collapse of the Soviet Union (though there are signs that perhaps Putin wants to revive the Cold War era). We have a military capability no other nation can come close to matching. When there is a great evil going on in the world, when Saddam invades Kuwait, when global jihad produces Al-Qaeda and ISIS, when tyrants oppress the innocent, we cannot simply sit by and watch. We cannot shake our heads, give stern warnings, then retreat inside our relatively safe borders. That is, to me, immoral. No other nation on earth has the potential to do as much good as does the USA and we ought to do it when we can, and under the right circumstances.
It is not just acceptable, but in my mind, a moral imperative that we use the national power and strength we are blessed with to fight evil in this world, to protect the oppressed from their oppressors, to intervene in world affairs – under the right circumstances.
2) The Limits of Intervention – We ought not, on the other hand, be bullies and insert ourselves into every international or intra-national spat going on. When we intervene without proper justification, we arouse anger and cause a backlash. We cannot fix all of the world problems and we should not try.
Obviously, we must balance these two competing influences. Intervention, under certain circumstances, is a moral imperative. Under other circumstances it becomes a violation of justice. Finding that perfect balance is not easy and there are always going to be pendulum swings of public opinion. After 9/11, there was a “let’s go over there and take ’em out” mentality that led to two rather messy wars. We “won” both wars fairly easily but didn’t have a sufficient plan to “win the peace” and both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be political quagmires and breeding grounds for terrorism.
The pendulum has certainly swung back in the other direction now. It seems to be a truism among some that American intervention in the foreign affairs of other nations is wrong.
There has always been a bit of an isolationist tendency among Americans. Prior to Pearl Harbor, public opinion was that we should stay out of Europe’s war and not get involved. It seems unthinkable now, but many thought that the threat of Hitler and Naziism was not worth our intervention in a foreign war. Within hours of the Pearl Harbor tragedy opinion had changed.
My premise is that military intervention is a moral necessity under certain circumstances and a moral offense in others.
NOTE: to say that military intervention is often a moral necessity is not to say that the WAY we do it is always right. I am specific
The question is pretty simply – when is intervention in international affairs justified and when is it not? Most of us would agree with my theory that sometimes intervention is necessary and just, while in other circumstances it is not. The problem is drawing that line. I tend to draw it more on the interventionist side than many of my friends do. In think intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary. The possibility of failures in the conduct of the wars do not the fact that the motivation of them was just and good. If I were in Congress (heaven help us!) I would advocate for a military response to IS/ISIS/ISIL.
But where do we draw the line? On that we will not likely agree. But here are some of the things that might help us draw the line.
1. When we are defending our vital national interests.
That term is nebulous, like reasonable doubt or probable cause. Does America have a vital national interest in intervening in global jihad/terrorism? I certainly think so. Doe we have a vital national interest in the problems that have plagued many of the African nations? I’m not sure. Is oil a vital national interest? My truck thinks it is.
2. When there is beyond the internal affairs of another nation.
We ought not get involved when the only issues are internal national issues. We’ve been at odds with Cuba since Castro came to power, but after the Bay of Pigs have never tried military intervention. Of course, we have covert operatives at work in other nations, but I am talking bout military intervention.
As Mr. Murrica was not justified going house to house trying to solve family matters, we ought not flex our muscles to threaten other nations or direct their affairs.
3. When the innocent are abused.
If there had been no other military justification, would not the holocaust of the Jews in Europe been reason enough for the USA to get involved? We cannot stand by and watch bully and tyrants oppress powerless people on a large scale. ISIS is going through Iraq and Syria committing atrocities. We cannot just sit back and say, “wow, that is terrible,” when we have the power to act. We ought to coordinate with other governments, support their efforts and work with them in partnership as much as possible, but we must act.
When ethnic cleansing is taking place in Africa or parts of Europe or wherever, we have some responsibility to intervene. We cannot just sit idly by and watch tyrants oppress innocents or terrorists brutalize them.
4. When our allies need us.
If one of our international friends needs us, we need to do what we can to help.
5. When we can produce something better.
In the 20th Century we defeated Germany twice and conquered Japan once. We did not occupy or subjugate these nations, we rebuilt them and now they are healthy, independent nations who are our allies in international affairs.
Our failures in the Middle East have not primarily been military. When we have gone over there, we have defeated the armies we faced. I remember during the first Gulf War how opponents of the war warned of Saddam’s army and predicted tens of thousands of body bags coming home from Kuwait. That is not what happened.
Our problem today is making sure that when we take down one regime, the one that replaces it is not worse. Many rejoiced during the so-called “Arab Spring.” The problem was that some of these who overthrew governments were not moderates seeking peace but extremists seeking to impose Sharia and establish Muslim states.
Our military has been very effective, but too often we have failed in “nation-building.” If we are going to intervene, we need to make sure that what is left after our intervention will be superior to what was there before. That is what makes the Mid East so difficult. Groups like Al-Qaeda and their progeny are relentless. We just about destroyed the Taliban, but they are making a comeback. We had Al-Qaeda pretty well beaten, but they have rebounded. Intervention in Islamic countries is always going to be difficult because of the presence of radicalized groups and their willingness to fight dirty.
I’m not sure we will ever perfectly draw the line, but we must work on it. I am not defending everything America has done in the conduct of our wars; we’ve made plenty of mistakes. But I think the current chorus calling for non-intervention in international affairs has at times gone too far. We need to seek to find a balanced approach to military intervention. We will never reach that balance.
But God has put this nation in a unique position at this time in history. We have the power to set some things right, to fight tyrants and terrorists and prevail. We ought to use that power wisely, justly and faithfully.