Monday, February 21, 2005

Liberty, Mill style

Money passage from Owen Harries, a senior fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and the author of Morality and Foreign Policy, arguing for moral standards to apply in foreign policy:

It is in terms of such a morality of prudence that I believe that the Bush Administration has seriously failed in Iraq. Its policy has been rich in unintended consequences (a global wave of intense anti-Americanism, the opposition of some of America's most important allies, the indefinite tying down of a third of a million military personnel, disgusting images of torture, the killing of large numbers of civilians) and dangerous precedents that may be exploited by others.

Those who criticise American policy are often criticised for being insensitive to the importance of freedom as a foreign policy goal. Yet as John Stuart Mill, a pre-eminent liberal philosopher, put it in his classic treatise On Liberty: "We have heard something lately about being willing to go to war for an idea. To go to war for an idea, if the war is aggressive, not defensive, is as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue; for it is as little justified to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit to our will in other respects."

These words were published in 1859 in an essay on the subject of non-intervention. At a time when we have been hearing much about "exporting democracy" they are worth a moment's consideration.

Yes, the political climate has changed substantially since 1859, but the idea of non-intervention hasn't. If the US wasn't so hell-bent on being a monotheistic superpower, concealing its lust to monopolise the last few drops of oil behind a "war on terror" or "crusade to spread democracy", the rest of us might be able to breathe a little more easily as Islamic resentment towards us subsided.

For the record, I am not an Islamic apologist; many of the countries where the worst state-sanctioned atrocities occur against queer people are under Islamic rule. I also don't pretend to offer a solution to the impossible conflicts between Islam/Christianity, Islam/Hindu, Islam/Judaism etc. I would just like for once to hear a US president acknowledge the real reason why war was raged against Iraq - protection of economic interests - and that Saddam would never have needed to be removed in the first place if the US hadn't installed, supported and armed him in the early 80s. Do people really have such short memories?


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