But we are a decent people.
I bring this up because I have been getting a lot of people telling me that “The U.S. is not the policeman of the world” in that snide way only a coward can manage. And again let me say, I agree with you, America is not and cannot be the Policeman of the world….but we are a decent people.
What do I mean by that?
Well think about it this way. If you are walking down the street and you see a woman getting raped in alley. Do you just walk past? I hope not. I hope you at least scream, although it’s not quite as effective as looking for a piece of rebar and, in the parlance of Pulp Fiction, going medieval on someone’s ass. You do it not because of some rule or regulation, not because of some obligation, but because you are ethical, we feel empathy and we understand a basic concept of natural rights. You of course could walk by, but that would mean you are unethical, have no ability to feel empathy or any respect for another person’s natural rights. But I assume you are a decent person and will stop evil when you see it and are in a position to stop it. Now what if it wasn’t one person you had to fight off but a large group who caused not a single act of violence but were terrorizing your neighborhood. I believe a neighborhood watch would solve that issue. And the larger the problem the larger the group we form to counter that evil (I remember a couple hundred militias being formed to fight the greatest empire on Earth and their lobster-backs). We as individuals know that we should stop evil when we find it and are in a position to do so. We don’t do it for a reward or even to secure our own safety, as often ignoring the problem would put us at less risk…yet somehow we know that it is wrong to ignore evil and do nothing.
Yes we have police, country sheriffs, state troopers, and federal special agents…but we don’t say that these people make it ethically acceptable to walk by when we see evil right in front of us, we hire these professionals to be available to protect not just us, but those around us when we can’t be everywhere. We believe everyone is entitled to be free of the threat of violence, even if we have never met them.
And we would rightly judge anyone who did walk by and ignore evil in front of them morally reprehensible. Yes we might forgive someone if the problem was too big for them to deal with personally and if they did contact the police, but otherwise there is no ethical excuse.
Now some will say: Isn’t what you’re describing an ethical duty? Something you claim to hate? No, no it is not. A duty is a moral obligation, a concept that you have to do this, not because is good for you, not because it brings you pleasure or makes you feel good, not because to not do it will bring you emotional pain…no a duty is done because that is the rule, that is what you do, and you don’t question it. (Notice duty, when properly used is often in the context of a military organization, a place where you don’t get to question why, yours is but to do and die. Improperly duty is often misused in the place of “virtuous.”) We have a choice we can do something or not. There is no rule or obligation or duty toward one side or the other. But to do nothing does not mean we condone, we allow, we support that evil because we did nothing. And we are thus guilty for doing nothing. But we do act and stop evil where we find it, because we are a decent people.
But I go back to my original example. There are times and places where there is no authority, no cop to call upon to stop evil and it falls unto you, the person who sees it and has the power to act.
And as this is true with individuals, and groups of individuals, so it is true of governments. When a government is a tyranny, it is evil—the worst evil known, which commits as standard operating procedure the worst atrocities on a daily basis.
We as individuals see these evils, and we know our government is not ignorant of them. There is no police force of the world (if you even thought the U.N. you clearly don’t know how corrupt, evil, and ineffective that organization is) thus there are only individual nations. Nations which can act, which have the resources to act. They just lack the will. The world knew what Hitler was up to, maybe not down to the details of human skin lamp shades, but they knew he was killing people by hundreds of thousands and enforcing slave labor. That alone should have necessitated attacking Germany, but everyone waited until it was their own country being invaded before it became an issue…and millions of innocents died because no one had the will to challenge what they knew to be evil. Innocents were sacrificed, no one wanted to be viewed as acting unilaterally or being called the policeman of the world, no one wanted to take responsibility and say “This is wrong and it must stop.” (At least nowadays. Back in the old days Jefferson, the most anti-war of the Founding Fathers, would use the cutting down of a flag by the Bey of Tripoli as the justification to invade not just Tripoli, but Algiers and Tunis and bring the Barbary pirates to their knees. Not because they were a direct threat to U.S. interests, hell might have been cheaper to pay them off…no, because they were engaged in piracy and extortion and they needed to be stopped. And that was over piracy, nowadays we turn a blind eye to genocide, how distorted a policy is that?)
Nations like individuals have an ethical choice to make. Do they stop the evil which they know about and have the power to do something about, or do they ignore it and thus condone and agree with it. This is a choice every nation faces. When the U.S. acts “unilaterally” as the misnamed “policeman of the world” it’s not because it’s our job, it’s because we recognize evil when we see it and choose not to stand by and willingly let it happen. (I put unilaterally in quotations because I recall there being about 40 other countries that joined us in Iraq and Afghanistan, other nations that made the correct ethical choice to not sit quietly by and do nothing.)
Should the people in these nations rise up and overthrow their tyrants as the people of other nations have done. Yes, they should. But either they haven’t or they’ve been killed when they tried.
Does that mean we shouldn’t first try negotiation and diplomacy? No. We should because we are the reasonable ones…but don’t expect it to do much. Please tell me of the last time a dictator reformed when there wasn’t a threat or implication of force but just out the warm fuzziness of their cuddly heart?
Does that mean we should attack and not care about rebuilding? No. You do this to help the victims of evil, not because you enjoy beating up people. That means, unlike the actions of Clinton, Bush and Obama, when you invade a country the first thing you do after you beat them militarily is you rebuild the nation. Energy production and delivery systems, roads, plumbing, water…all the infrastructure we take for granted. And creating government. Notice that the biggest problem with Afghanistan and Iraq was we tried to immediately give control of the government back to the people (both within Bush’s first term). I love democracy as much as the next sane person, but shoe horning it in before the people have the structural and local infrastructure necessary to support it is insane. It was 4 years before we returned control of Germany to Germany (and that might have been rushed due to the Cold War) and 7 years before Japan was under self rule after their surrender. Classical liberal democratic-republics take time and support, they cannot be rushed and that is one of the biggest flaws of our invasion and occupation of these two nations. Oh, and why do we have a Peace Corp if we don’t use them in nations we’re helping to rebuild?…you know kind of what they’re supposed to be there for.
Now does this mean we should we invade every dictatorship this second? No, are you out of your mind! I said what you are aware of AND IN A POSITION TO STOP IT. Right now we first need to disentangle ourselves from our current exploits abroad which have either been bungled to the point of being irreparable in the immediate future (Afghanistan) or simply it was pointless to be there (Libya, Yemen, Uganda). I would say personally we should drop a massive amount of ordinance on every Taliban controlled area, carpet bomb (and possibly Dresden-style fire bomb) the hills where they are hiding (yes even in Pakistan), burn every poppy field, and send special forces in to kill every drug lord in the country and the get the hell out of there. We screwed up Afghanistan so badly I think the best thing we can do is destroy the worst aspects of the evil still left in the country and try to let them find their own way at this point. Had it been done better at first I would be having a different argument, but the actions of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama in regards to that country had been so stupidly incompetent we need to disengage from there for a while. Yes, right now the U.S. and the Western World need to re-embrace capitalism and get their economies straightened out, because then and only then will they be in a position where we can help others, but putting first things first does not mean we are not committed to the goal of stopping evil.
But we can’t act unilaterally, some say. The hell we can’t. Just because a group of people can watch a single woman get raped and murdered doesn’t relieve you of the ethical call to be the one person who actually does something. If the whole group does nothing, then the whole group deserves to be damned. And if one person chooses to act unilaterally, then they are the only good person among the group and the fact that they went against the will of the crowd does not condemn that one, it condemns the group. The same applies to nations. Every free nation on Earth should be doing all they can to end tyranny (granted, a lot aren’t exactly in an economic position to do so right now, that doesn’t exactly excuse the last 70 years of being complacent about evil).
There is no policeman of the world. There are merely free nations that have a choice. And because, on occasion, we are a nation made up of decent people who act to end evil rather than condoning it we act in a way that cowards label us as unilateral. (Again I would like to point out that other nations were with us in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan…so we are not alone in knowing right from wrong, the media just likes to paint it that way.)
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—attributed to Edmund Burke (he didn’t actually say it, but it is a nice summary of a large point he was making).