The link is to a superbly written piece...you'd do well to read the whole thing.
At the recent World Economic Forum, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia said to Vice President Dick Cheney, "...convey to the American people that we will never forget that you came to Bosnia to help us survive as Muslims in the Balkan Peninsula. We will never forget that. We didn't have oil; you didn't have an interest to gain. You came to Bosnia-Herzegovina to show your credibility and your sense of morality."...I recently had an email exchange and debate on this very issue. A regular reader (and one whose opinion I respect) proposed a view different than I had espoused on the Danish visa restrictions for religious teachers. He argued that the Danish move was simply a logical extension of the Danish national interest. His comments got me to thinking about "national interest" or "self interest", if you will, and its proper roll in governing behavior. In part here is what I had to say:
American forces going half-way across the world to risk their lives to save Muslims -- sound familiar? The remarkable fact that there is currently a debate in Iraq about elections seems lost even on those who cover the story. There have never been free democratic elections in Iraq.
Never mind all that, say the critics of the war. We went to war under false pretenses, since we have found no weapons of mass destruction.
Follow the thinking behind such criticism and what you discover is a belief that unless we can prove Saddam was a direct and immediate threat to Main Street, USA the millions of people suffering under his regime are irrelevant....
American foreign policy is not always pretty, and certainly never perfect - and despite the self-righteousness of many of our European friends, their foreign policy is no different. Foreign policy decisions are often made in the self-interest of the country that makes them. However, there has been no country in the history of man that has made more decisions based on what is in the best interests of other nations than the United States.
Our home grown critics see none of this. To them, all wars are based on conspiracy and profiteering. Never mind the heroism of the soldiers, never mind the undying gratitude of those who have been liberated or restored or protected -- nay all the critics can see is a conspiracy.
And while the suffering of those innocent civilians caught in the crossfire is truly the most unjust and unfortunate, I always find it amazing that most of those critics concerned with Iraqi repression and suffering under American rule never gave a damn about their suffering under Saddam Hussein.
It's this narcissistic and simplistic view of foreign policy and the threats that exist in the world that lead to presidential candidates suggesting they can somehow will the threat of terrorism away; or self-righteous celebrities suggesting that the issues are not as difficult and complex as we know them to be, but instead are about convenient and outrageous conspiracy theories (these folk have books and movies to sell, remember)...
Ultimately, it is hard to imagine a more inhumane or crass foreign policy than one that dictates that we will do nothing on behalf of our fellow man until our own interests are threatened.
The problem with the Danish approach is that it does not object to evil on principle...it first says "no evil in my backyard" and secondly says "we will appease evil by not calling it evil in hopes of keeping it out of our backyard."Now the author above states the case in such a way as to help me clarify my argument. He summarizes his argument thusly: American foreign policy is not always pretty, and certainly never perfect - and despite the self-righteousness of many of our European friends, their foreign policy is no different. Foreign policy decisions are often made in the self-interest of the country that makes them. However, there has been no country in the history of man that has made more decisions based on what is in the best interests of other nations than the United States.
Who among us would stand by while our neighbor is pelted with stones if we have the means to resist the attacker? Most of us would do something...but the Danish approach says, its ok if you get stoned to death...so long as I don't get stoned to death. Oh...and to appease those who throw stones, we won't even object to stone throwers...we will simply not allow anyone with hands to cross this line.
This is a sad approach because there may be much good in many of those people with hands. Indeed, one of the primary functions people play in this world is in elevating one another to higher achievements than one might reach on one's own. Our standards tend to be higher when our personal borders encourage interfacing with many people. I'm sure that analogy applies to nations as well.
Returning to the flaw in the national interest as ultimate barometer argument...again, if one accepts the premise of a higher order than simply "What is good for Denmark" - is that if we, on a daily and personal basis, implemented such an approach society would crumble.
Every day you and I engage in behaviors that do not further our personal interests. You allow me to finish talking before you begin. I allow you to step ahead of me in the grocery line because you have 2 items, and I have 20. Neither of these actions are in our personal interests. The entire basis of laws and manners evolved over time to facilitate the collective success of great masses of people, while not guaranteeing any particular individual anything. And yet we subscribe to these more's because they facilitate the greater good.
Which brings me back to the problem with the national interest as the only barometer, or the ultimate barometer for evaluating issues. As you do and I do - I believe it behooves nations to support actions supporting the greater good. Otherwise we return to the feudal days when there were those inside the castle walls, and those outside. And all of humanity is one series of individual strongholds with nothing binding them together.
I see the war on terror (which does, in my eyes seem overwhelmingly dominated by the war on radical Islam) as perhaps the first great battle transcending issues as simple as the nation state. For that reason, I believe we must develop and apply models beyond simple national interest to these new challenges.
From where I sit it in fact seems that it has been frequently that US foreign policy has been exercised for reasons other than pure national interest on our part. Not always...but frequently. And looking over history of the 20th century, I'm hard pressed to find instances of significant action on the part of other nations for reasons that notably supercede national interests. What instances I do see tend to center around the Anglosphere, notably the willingness of Great Britain and Australia to support us in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Some will point to Desert Storm and the multinational coalition there. I don't doubt there was a certain element of altruism among the coalition members, but I strongly suspect if I could lay out the facts about political and economic concessions made by the USA to form that coalition, not to mention a desire to appear on the winning side (was there ever any doubt, really?) any thoughts of doing right for right's sake would fly out the window.
Ultimately, that's what it comes down to, isn't it? Doing the right thing. And the right thing isn't always that which profits the doer. We common, everyday folks understand that...we practice this sort of living every day...living that supports the greater good of the community. That is what civility is about. And manners. And volunteerism.
For this to become an element of foreign policy, however, the leaders crafting such policy must believe that there is something called "the right thing". They must believe there are things in this world that are inherently good. And if that be the case, then they also believe there are things in this world that are inherently bad. It is only on that premise that one's soul can resonate in sync with that which is right...and prompt action.
The so-called sophisticates and elites do not believe in right and wrong, good and evil. Subscribing to the "I'm OK, You're OK" thesis, all ethics become situational, all decisions are evaluated against as single standard: What is the impact on me? If the answer is none, then whatever it is is "OK". Not right, or wrong, simply "OK". Or that is what they would have us believe.
That is why they can sit back and snipe that we haven't found WMD in the face of the liberation of 25 million people. So long as Saddam was not a threat to US...we should never have intervened.
If there was a mistake made on the part of some in the administration, it was attempting to frame the action in terms of national interest and legality. In fact, we should have called it what it was: The Right Thing To Do. Period.
We were founded on the principles that there is a right thing and a wrong thing. And today our foreign policy expresses those same principles. We (sometimes) accept those responsibilities.
We are the superpower...our responsbilities are commensurate with our status. We can't play the games other nations play. The truth behind our situation is no more complex than this: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Sound vaguely familiar? Go look it up.
I recently read a criticism of the US somewhere on the internet. It said words to the effect that "if your military is 10 times the size of your nearest adversary (referring inaccurately to the USA - Ed) then you are not in the business of defense, you are in the business of agression."
That author missed the point. Democracies around the world, especially the Europeans, can get away with spending a pittance on their own defense, because they know that the USA will come to their aid. They know we will do the right thing. Look at all the east European countries scrambling to get into NATO. Doing so provides them even greater incentive to reduce their defense related expenses...because the USA will be there for them.
We stand nearly alone in our commitment to doing the right thing around the world. Our foreign policy is nearly unique (today) because it permits, even requires action on the simple premise that "it is the right thing to do". Citizens of other nations, and those in our own country whose morals don't include the acknowledgement of right and wrong, good and evil - they can't understand it. It is this lack of comprehension that causes them to scream "blood for oil", "hegemony", "imperialist" when the clear lessons of history over the last 100 years clearly indicate such accusations are nonsense. The right thing is not an element of foreign policy in their minds.
And "the right thing to do" can simply not be found in an equation consisting purely of one's national (or self) interest.