The View From 1776

Once More: Why are We in Iraq?

      http://www.thomasbrewton.com/index.php/weblog/once_more_why_are_we_in_iraq/

Despite liberals’ protests, there is no necessary conflict between moral principle and the use of political and military power.

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No one outside the Bush Administration’s highest councils can know with certainty all the reasons for our invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Liberal-socialists say that it was a disguised move to gain control of oil and to favor Big Business, and that the announced reasons were all lies.  Whatever their favored theory, liberals are united in denouncing President Bush’s flouting the “international community.”  Al Gore’s recent vitriolic screaming, “How dare he drag America’s good name through the mud,” captures the feeling accurately.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a U.S. naval officer and president of the Naval War College in 1892-93, gave an answer that is still very much on target.

His 1890, “The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783,” became world famous.  It had enormous influence, both here and abroad.  Even the British, who then ruled the seas, bestowed special honors upon Mahan.  Among other things, it completely reoriented US military and foreign policy.  One may therefore safely take his judgments seriously.

Of particular interest were his carefully considered views regarding the concept of international law then gaining prominence among liberals, ideas later manifested in the League of Nations and the UN.

At the end of the 19th century most people believed in Progress based on scientific management and state-planning.  Socialism then seemed to educated people to be the best hope of mankind.  Pacifism and the socialist brotherhood of man, both aspects of the Religion of Humanity spawned by the French Revolution, were all the rage.

Mahan?s great work had emphasized that, in the final analysis, international relations have always been struggles for power of one sort or another, over one dimension or another.  Many people challenged this, in light of the so-called scientific doctrines of the day.  Mahan responded in a series of essays, the main points of which were the following:

(1)  Mahan first restated the postulate , upon which the Declaration and the Constitution were based, that there is a fundamental, natural law of morality to which all peoples and all nations are subject.

(2)  When conflict arises between moral law and positive (i.e., statute) law, moral law must prevail.  Our Civil War was a good example.

(3)  Arbitration under international law, in a forum such as the UN, may be acceptable when no moral issue is involved.  But any regimen under which a nation is obligated to resort to such arbitration on all international disputes is unacceptable, because it might force a nation to compromise on matters of morality.  The evils of war, he said, are less than the moral evil of compromise with wrong.  The great danger of undiscriminating advocacy of arbitration (e.g., resort to the UN for approval of all international actions) is that it may lead men to tamper with equity, to compromise with unrighteousness, and to soothe their consciences with the belief that war is always so entirely wrong that beside it toleration of any evil is preferable (does any of this sound familiar from the likes of Jacques Chirac, Al Gore, and Peanut Carter?).

(4)  Pacifists who crusade against war, demanding that international law be substituted, forget that man-made law is no more than regulated force.  If international law is to be effective, there must be a powerful military police to enforce it.  So long as evil exists, force must be available to meet it.  (Not, of course, according to Jacques Chirac and American academics and liberal politicians).

(5)  Instead of utopian ideas about the brotherhood of man and scientific planning, Mahan preferred what he called the equilibrium of natural forces in the society of nations.  The trouble with international law is that, being artificial, it is too often inapplicable to specific situations.  Far better is prudent judgment tailored to specific problems.  In contrast, the natural play of countervailing forces will always reach a better solution that conforms to actual conditions.

(6)  Mahan harmonized the concept of the equilibrium of natural forces with moral law.  He saw our Monroe doctrine as an example.  There existed no legal basis, no precedent in international relations for the United States to declare that European nations would not be permitted to expand their hegemony among Western hemisphere nations by force.  It was a moral judgment, but one based upon the potential threat of real power.  (Similarly, there was no precedent for preemptive action against Iraq.  It was a moral judgment responding to the specific conditions confronting us).

(7)  Of singular importance was Mahan?s relating the concept of the equilibrium of international powers to the concept of individual liberty and individual development.  Our American ethos demanded a government of limited powers that left the individual maximum personal liberty.  In the same way, each nation should be free to develop itself without the superposition of an international regulatory body like the UN.

(8)  To the objection that his doctrine was no more than might-makes-right, he pointed out that might is a product of efficiency and hard work, both qualities in full agreement with moral rectitude.  Returning to his beginning principle, Mahan said that might is not the right to wield unlimited power over other nations.  It carries always with it the obligation to prefer natural law morality to evil.