October 19, 2005

"We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves"

"America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves -- safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life." ---President Bush's West Point Speech
Our friend Andrew commented on my post Men of Munich:
If guilt-by-doing-nothing-to-stop-it (call it Burkean guilt) is a new standard you wish to employ, we must blame the Conservatives and the Republican party for Milosevic’s tyrannical reign. Let’s not forget that Humanitarian intervention was a hallmark of the Clinton years, and has not been one of the Bush years...

In point of fact the “Bush Doctrine” you mention has nothing at all to do with humanitarianism, it’s one of preemptive warfare. We can debate the rightness or wrongness of that doctrine and that principle, but let us never forget what it is. The Bush Doctrine is one which explicitly puts American interests first, and any humanitarian considerations are merely incidental...
As for "guilt-by-doing-nothing-to-stop-it," I said that the whole world is complicit--in lots of things. The normal habit throughout history has been to ignore problems "elsewhere." And the modern trend has been, gradually and painfully, to start getting involved in various ways in helping others. This movement is not the preserve of any one faction, and you can point to good and bad in both parties. (However, there are no Republicans who would, if they could push a magic button, put Milosovic back in power. And there are a ton of lefties who seemingly WOULD undo the campaign to liberate Iraq if they could.)

BUT, far from having nothing to do with humanitarianism, the Bush Doctrine is the second-most important humanitarian project of our times, because it links the privileges of sovereignty with democratic legitimacy. And democracy is the best guarantor of human rights, and the best way to lift people out of the stagnant swamps that require humanitarian aid. The Bush Doctrine in effect says that the days when the world will tolerate tyranny are numbered. And that, in the long run will have far more humanitarian effect than a trillion food parcels dropped from helicopters.
And putting America's interests first is the third-most important humanitarian project we can support. Why? Because America's strength is the greatest hope for world freedom and prosperity, and because even our "selfish" interventions in the world are almost invariably accompanied by humanitarian and freedom-promoting efforts of a size and efficacy no other nation or group can match. And because we are the best teachers of democracy and capitalism (as witness the dismal results of putting the UN and Europeans in charge of democracy in the former Yugoslavia) and our people teach by example and encouragement even when their mission is not explicitly for that purpose. And because our selfish interests are in fact exactly the things that the world needs. Peace, profits, increasing trade, increasing freedom, scientific progress--all are things that help America and also help everybody else.

And the fourth-most important component of effective humanitarianism today is [sorry Dems, but I'll have some compliments for you at the end of this essay] keeping Republicans in power in Washington. That is because the Republican Party has become the main home of idealists and dreamers who hope to transform the world for the better. One Republican faction you've heard about are the "neocons," who are passionate Wilsonians, and press always for the spreading of democracy. But even more important are the "theocons," whose idealism is religious-based--they are especially important because they are in charge. Bush and Rice are in this group. And the "Hamiltonians" who press for increased trade and the interests of business will probably do the most good of all. The Dem's increasing hostility to free-trade should by itself disqualify them from office.

In recent decades Republicans have been much more effective at promoting democracy and freedom. For instance the Reagan and Bush1 administrations were stunningly successful, not just in the humanitarian triumph (in the long run) of bringing down the Soviet Union, but also in supporting the cause of democracy in Latin America and the Philippines, which went from regions characterized by dictators to areas where dictators are rare. (I bet Andrew doesn't hear any of that in his classes.) and while Mr Clinton deserves credit for intervention in Yugoslavia, his achievements are dwarfed by the liberation of 50 million people from tyrannies far worse then Milosovic's, and by the stunning recent elections we have seen. And by the many peaceful pro-democracy revolutions we are now seeing around the globe.

You are probably wondering why I started with second-most important, and forgot to list the most important humanitarian project of our times. Fuzzy-headed of me. The most important item is capitalism, because all the other good things come on the heels of prosperity. It's only when people reach a certain level of personal prosperity that they even start to think of helping others, and sharing some of their own with the needy. And more importantly, even better than humanitarian help is having people become secure enough that they don't even need help. Which is becoming true now for much of the world, with the world's percentage of non-poor growing steadily. Many places that used to feature famines now worry because their people are earning too much, and low-wage jobs are fleeing elsewhere! India is now a place that gives foreign aid to other countries! Astonishing, and it's the result of their beginning to dump socialist economics in favor of free enterprise, capitalism. While the prodigious amounts of "aid" India used to receive probably made its poverty worse, by propping-up failed socialist policies.

By the way, if we zoom our historical viewer out a bit, to see all of the 20th Century, then perhaps the key contribution to humanitariansm to be seen was accomplished by DEMOCRATS! This was the invention of nuclear weapons. The result was the immediate end of global wars, and also of all wars between Great Powers. The resultant spread of peace to much of the globe is the basis of the prosperity we now hope to extend to other places. And the unfortunate Cold War had the very positive side-effect of forcing the US to become the Global Cop, which sheltered the growth of Globalization and widespread capitalism. Actually, we are probably now at the end of wars between nation states. The conflicts that still happen are all within countries, and pretty much only within failed nations. Posted by John Weidner at October 19, 2005 6:38 PM
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