Thursday, August 5, 2010

Morality and International Policy

The following blog post is excerpted from an essay by George Weigel in First Things of August/September 2010.

United States foreign policy has oscillated between two poles. One pole is the Realpolitik, self-interested policies of Theodore Roosevelt and a liberal, idealistic, interest in the welfare of the world’s people in general. In other words, it has varied between our interest and our purposes in the world. Our Realpolitik presidents have been Theodore Roosevelt, Harding, early Franklin Roosevelt, Nixon, Ford, and H.W. Bush. Presidents committed to the welfare of the international community have been Wilson, later FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, and George W. Bush. Our policies in foreign affairs have varied with the situations and the philosophical bent of our leaders, and American foreign policy has moved according to these forces.

Whatever we, Americans, have done in the past 110 years, has been good or bad, according to one’s values and outlook. But Winston Churchill has said that Americans will always do the right thing after they have tried everything else.

We find ourselves caught, however, in a clash of which is the moral and the safest thing to do—the thing that will help the world’s people and that will secure American safety and prosperity.

On the Right side of the argument is the Protestant moralistic viewpoint that attempts to reduce international relationships to questions resolved by the Sermon on the Mount. On the other side is the camp that attempts to resolve all moral and policy questions on the basis of human reasoning in view of the situations on the ground at the moment. Neither viewpoint seems capable of resolving the problems of the world.

What seems to be needed in this conundrum of values is a combination of common sense and a good dose of Christian moral thinking, applied to situations as they arise. But it is patently evident that neither approach will do as an answer in itself. It would be nice if we could answer all our questions of foreign policy by referring to the pages of the Bible; but it seems hardly possible that one could deal effectively with such tyrants as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein by turning the other cheek. Unfortunately, this dilemma will not be resolved; but we need leaders who will not ignore one pole of the argument in favor of the other.

The New Left in American politics sees all of the problems in foreign policy as being due to personal selfishness and self-interest on the part of the American people; and they would like to apologize to all the world for the bad things the United States has stood for; they decline to defend human rights activists in Russia, China, and Iran; and they turn their backs on our allies and reinforce the activities of our enemies. This is the message of the Obama administration; and it absolutely will not work. I am hoping that future administrations will correct this imbalance of thinking and bring a semblance of common sense back into American policy.

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