Oct 102002

Arthur Silber, an Objectivist who runs an excellent blog and has been kind enough to recommend me into the bargain, and whom I’m about to pay back with my usual graciousness, complains that “our foreign policy still lacks overall, long-term principles.” And he tells us what these principles ought to be, viz., that the U.S. ought to consider only its own interests; and that the U.S., being the freest country in the world, has the moral right to invade any country that systematically oppresses its own citizens, which definitely includes Iraq.

Fine. I agree with Arthur. I daresay most of Arthur’s readers agree with Arthur. I think most sentient people this side of Noam Chomsky agree with Arthur, as Arthur himself acknowledges when in the same post he points out the declining respectability of the “self-determination” argument. Almost everyone agrees on these principles because it is safe to do so, since they provide no practical guidance whatever. Arthur is flogging a horse that, if it isn’t quite dead, is at least very ill. On the critical question of whether we should actually invade Iraq, Arthur concludes, resoundingly, that he has no idea:

I don’t spend a great deal of time analyzing whether we ought to invade Iraq or Iran, as opposed to helping those people and groups passionately committed to replacing those countries’ current regimes, or as opposed to some other kind of military action, either overt or covert. Let me be clear: certainly I want a ruler like Saddam Hussein gone — and yesterday, if possible. And I view him as a very serious danger to us, and to the entire civilized world. But I view the question as to exactly in what manner to achieve this end to be one of military tactics and strategy — and I am certain there is a wealth of information, which is undoubtedly highly classified, that is critically relevant to answering this question. Thus, I simply don’t have the required information to reach an informed conclusion. This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the answer; of course I am. I only mean that, in the context of knowledge available to me, I simply don’t have sufficient information to reach a conclusion that I myself would find satisfactory.

I respectfully submit that we have a good deal of information already. We know that Saddam pays off people who kill Americans. We know that he has colluded to have Americans murdered. We know that he murders his own people by the hundreds of thousands. We know that he is pursuing nuclear weapons. What theoretically classified information would allow Arthur to reach a conclusion on Iraq? And what — subject to the facts, of course — would that conclusion be?

Objectivists are often loath to discuss foreign policy because foreign policy is largely a matter of strategy and tactics, which are so grubby and, well, unphilosophical. This is fine for Objectivism — a philosophy need not be a foreign policy. It is not fine for Objectivists. For the next several years the most serious issue facing this country will be how to deal with Islamo-fascism, and what is in “the self-interest of the United States” will involve messy, ineluctable questions of strategy and tactics, not just lofty philosophic generalities. Arthur asks why we should invade Iraq, as opposed to North Korea or China. In the realm of philosophy that is impossible to answer: none of these regimes is “better” or “worse” than the others in any intelligible sense. But in the realm of politics it is easy to answer: the Middle East is making the most trouble for us these days, Iraq is in the middle of it, eliminating Saddam will destabilize the other dictators down there, and none of this will happen by itself. These are all unphilosophical arguments, but that’s foreign policy.

To be fair, Arthur acknowledges that his foreign policy views are a work in progress and has promised to write further on the subject, and I look forward to his sorting some of these matters out.

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