The Blog

Let's Take Moralizing Out of Foreign Policy Debate

The Israelis and Hezbollah are swimming in the blood of children, so nothing either side can say of an ethical nature is worth listening to.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

To talk of morality in the context of international conflict is oxymoronic. Until there is a viable system of international government with agreed-upon ethical principles and enforceable laws, bringing morality into discussions of war and conflict is hypocritical posturing.

The fact is, everyone engaging in mass killing of civilians has no moral standing whatever, regardless of provocation or motive or alleged instruction from God. There's no point in trying to achieve the 'moral high ground' when you're all up to your necks in the swamp. What, after all, could be more brutal, vicious, and cowardly than dropping bombs and firing rockets--never having to face up to the sickening results of your slaughter and devastation? The Israelis and Hezbollah are swimming in the blood of children, so nothing either side can say of an ethical nature is worth listening to.

Israeli spokesmen, for example, piously condemned Hezbollah fighters for 'hiding behind women and children'--that is, hanging out in their own neighborhoods instead of standing out in some open field where the Israelis could bomb them without hitting anyone else. This might have given the Israelis a slight moral edge if Hezbollah's 'cowardice' had actually prevented the Israelis from bombing. But since it didn't even slow them down, their tut-tutting becomes ludicrous.

Supposing a man goes berserk, barricades himself in his house with women and children as hostages and starts shooting at the neighbors. The police come. They spend hours trying to get the man to surrender. They would never think that blowing up the house to get the 'bad guy' was a moral act. Or even a sensible one. That's because police operate in a more or less civilized societal context with a more or less unified set of ethical rules.

International conflicts, on the other hand, take place without such a context, and until there is one they exist in a moral vacuum. Since this is the case, any reference to morality or ethics is simply obfuscating.

Furthermore, it's unnecessary. Why raise moral questions around foreign policy when practical ones are more telling? Was the invasion of Iraq immoral? Who cares? It was stupid! Was our failure to sign the land-mine ban immoral? Who cares? It was stupid! Was it immoral for the CIA to overthrow democratically-elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere, and replace them with tyrannical military dictators? Who cares? It was, in the long run, incredibly costly (you and I are still paying for it) and stupid!

American foreign policy ever since World War II has been a monument to short-run 'realism' and long-run idiocy. Thinking ahead seems to be taboo in American foreign policy planning. Its focus is always on opposition--on destruction; almost never--with the brief exception of the Marshall Plan--on creating a safe and prosperous world.

Mary Parker Follett once said the difference between competition and cooperation is simply the difference between the short run and the long run. But cooperation always seems like so much work--it's so much easier (in the short run) to bomb somebody. So much easier to destroy than to create. And it always feels so satisfying--like you're really accomplishing something--when all you're actually doing is making it harder for the next generation.

There are only two possible outcomes to war: genocide and peace. Genocide is impractical in today's world--we're too intermingled and interdependent. Which leaves peace. All wars, no matter how long or how bitter, end in peace and some sort of accomodation. Both sides scream undying hatred, threats of revenge and total annihilation, but it always ends in living together. One side is often defined as winning and the other as losing, but usually, within a few decades, no one can tell the difference any more.

Several centuries ago no one thought the British and French would ever stop fighting each other. Or Catholics and Protestants. So to talk about peace as 'unrealistic' is, in the long run, ridiculous. Because peace and accomodation is where it always eventually ends. It's just a question of how long vindictiveness, fanaticism, and machismo will keep the stupid business going.