Interventionism for Fun and Profit

Yesterday I came across this Congressional Research Service report listing “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2004.” I took the data and made a graph:

It would appear Presidents Clinton & Bush enjoy playing chess with armed forces. It will be interesting to see the updated report through the present year since the first 5 years set us on pace to out-do the military extravaganza of the ’90s.

Brief aside: when I watched OSU beat up on Northwestern this past Saturday, I had to wonder what kind of insane nation frowns upon “running up the score” in a game while simultaneously condoning running up the body-count in an unjust war. The Iraq War, by conservative estimates, has claimed between 380,000 and 397,000 lives. Where is the outrage from the Pro-Life advocates? The problem is that Pro-Lifers love macabre math, calculating ethical weight solely on number of bodies involved. This is generally the only time they’re so utilitarian. But is, for example, the tragedy of the Holocaust that 6 million Jews died, or is the tragedy that any Jews died? Would Nazism diminish as a categorical evil if Anne Frank were the only one killed? Who loves this kind of calculation? Why do Pro-Lifers think this moral calculus is in any way beneficial?

Back on subject: I was poking around the CRS in the first place looking for information on preventive war. They were helpful when it came to precedent, writing that “the historical record indicates that the United States has never, to date [9/18/2002], engaged in a ‘preemptive’ military attack against another nation.”

Traditionally, most thinkers have repeatedly argued against such attacks. Paul Nitze, one of the early architects of Neocon foreign policy, briefly considered “preventive war” in 1950. He wrote, though, that “it goes without saying that the idea of ‘preventive’ war — in the sense of a military attack not provoked by a military attack upon us or our allies — is generally unacceptable to Americans.” He went on to call pre-emptive strikes “repugnant to many Americans” and “morally corrosive.” Nitze is merely echoing an old line of thought. Here is Abraham Lincoln, in a letter from February 15, 1848:

“Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose – – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.'”

This topic is fresh on my mind because of Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power and his good section on this shift in foreign policy. He relies heavily on Reinhold Niebuhr:

“Niebuhr regarded this line of reasoning with horror. ‘The idea of preventive war,’ he wrote, tempts those eager ‘to pick the most propitious moment for the start of what they regard as inevitable hostilities.’ Yet he went on to say that ‘the rest of us must resist such ideas with every moral resource.’ In Niebuhr’s judgment, the concept of preventive war failed both normatively and pragmatically. Not only was it morally wrong; it was also mad. ‘Nothing in history is inevitable,’ he observed, ‘including the probable. So long as war has not broken out, we still have the possibilities of avoiding it. Those who think that there is little difference between a cold and a hot war are either knaves or fools’.”

One thought on “Interventionism for Fun and Profit

  1. To slide a quick slippery slope, though I personally find it on the same level, cannot all wars be said to be preventative? I say this with regard to Christian ethics more than with regard to any one country’s foreign policy, as countries may do as they please, while I am a Christ follower and only do as Christ pleases. Isn’t all “violence” preventative, whether or not said violence occurs before or after attacks? Violent retaliation seems a sickening combination of vengeance and the attempt to prevent more such attacks. What difference can a Christian find between preventative war and defensive war? I can’t find any at all, from a “Christian” perspective. And if Christians find preventative war distasteful, morally reprehensible, and all other forms of flowery verbal frowns, then shouldn’t they find supposed “retaliation” equally, if not more distasteful?

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