A Thin Red Ethical Line in Global Policing

By Roberto Quiroga Chavez – Interventionism is a diplomatic ideal that recommends and is proactive about stepping into global affairs when perceived “bad actors” break—or sometimes just have been alleged to break—international law. In the international system individual countries are responsible for enforcing international law, but why should it seemingly always be America’s job to do that? This kind of diplomatic behavior could use a time out.

Joel Rosenthal, the president of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, is pro-intervention, and I recently attended an interview with Mr. Rosenthal at the Carnegie Council as part of a class. Mr. Rosenthal felt that pursuing an ethical pro-interventionist foreign policy was in America’s own self-interest. I asked him whether or not that ulterior motive was deceptive and part of what has bred bad blood around the world against America. Mr. Rosenthal pushed back on that characterization by saying that “moral equivalency” was a “cop out” when not intervening in global issues.

Dennis Jett, on the other hand, disagrees. He has made a counterpoint to intervention-based foreign policy, without totally ruling it out: “America cannot be the world’s cop, but it must not walk away from its broader responsibilities.”

Whether or not America should be the world’s police makes me think back to when George W. Bush himself tried to nation-build in the Middle-East in 2003.  After President Bush launched into Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard and started to institute a democratic government with the hope of it one day becoming independent and sovereign, most of the liberal media eviscerated the president for trying to do so.

But now, many political pundits from both sides of the aisle are pushing back against the isolationist views of the current Trump administration. Chuck Todd of NBC News asked Vice President-to-be Mike Pence whether or not the President-to-be was engaging in moral equivalency by not chastising Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin’s behavior in the international system because of an imperfect American history.  Not so long ago network news like NBC chastised President Bush for sending troops into Iraq based on alleged nuclear proliferation.

Current isolationist foes in the mass media may not be calling for blood to be spilled for interventionist purposes just yet, but being against removing troops from current military operations or NATO obligations will invariably cost military lives at some point if conflict erupts.

As the original dissenters of the Iraq War point out, intervening in global affairs leads to blow-back, which can include terrorism, and—as in the Iraq War—destabilizes the affected region. The Utopian proponents of democratic “nation-building” should reconcile their zeal with what Winston Churchill said about corporate self-rule: that democracy is the worst form of government save for all the other kinds.

As witnessed in the nation-building efforts in Iraq, democracy does not just work on its own; there has to be an abiding idealism from the citizenry to pursue self-governance at all costs.  The challenge that any free nation has in promoting world peace and order is understanding that their sovereignty is limited, and that moral high ground is important when trying to intervene in world affairs.  Without that you create resolve for bad actors. Global policing will seem “illegitimate” in the eyes of others in the international system if there is no moral high ground from those intervening.

The current nationalist, isolationist experiments on the rise among various Western states are a reaction, right or wrong, to interventionism. Interventionism itself needs to prove to be a viable, longsighted solution to the world’s problems. But right now, global policing is only exacerbating resentment from foreign countries against the West, proselytizing Western ideals, continuing the Euro-centric tradition of colonialism, disrupting the international order and threatening peace in a system that is not supposed to have a sovereign anyways.

Roberto Quiroga Chavez is a senior at John Jay College. His major is English.

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