Saturday, June 15, 2013

In Praise of Principles

Surprising although it may appear, even a quite pragmatic and seemingly self-centered idea, like national interest, can underpin a rational foreign policy. Surprise diminishes when I go on and see that national interest, at the level of the individual, translates into the protection of life, limb, and living space. Therefore George F. Kennan (1904-2005), the diplomat and thinker, who advocated an abstemious foreign policy based on national interest alone—resistant to humanitarian or moralistic temptations—was really urging a policy easily defended using Natural Law.

I once saw a mouse raise itself up on its hind legs as one of our cats was playing a terminal game with it. The mouse was trying to fend off the cat with its front legs. It was an astonishing if brief spectacle.

Policy based on principle must, of course, never be permitted to become legalistic or sophisticated. National interest does not include protecting the properties overseas of our commercial sector—never mind even more vaguely described interests like access to oil or other resources. Preemptive strikes and the euphemistically called “regime change” cannot be justified by national interest. And interventions on humanitarian grounds? Now that’s the tough one. Fact is, we must say no to that. Such interventions effectively translate into denial of sovereignty to others—also denial of the rights of people to govern themselves. In a very real sense Syria is undergoing an internal process of change. Call it democracy by other means. Now if we had a genuinely effective world government and a world army, then, of course, such mayhem as we see in Syria would be put down. But before such a condition actually arises, the End of Time may have to dawn.

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