The Logic of Idealism and Realism

 

     Mr. Henninger's WSJ column Wonder Land recently gave a stirring defense of the administration's policies in Iraq.  In the article, he clearly indicates his support for the administration's policies through his comparison of Hussein's Iraq with other horribly repressive regimes.  This comparison goes to the length of making the following statement of logic: "…we can't – literally cannot – shut our eyes to evil anymore.  Saddam is Rwanda is Darfur."  Perhaps, given his idealistic bent, Daniel should have carried his comparison to its further logical conclusions.  Saddam is Rwanda is Darfur is Equatorial Guinea is Uzbekistan is Kyrgyzstan, etc...  Perhaps the latter analogies were omitted because of the obvious problems which they present – the administrations support of these latter regimes, regimes which are equally as repressive as Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with the US going so far as to have a strategic alliance with one and, it would appear, turning a blind eye to US business interest's illegalities in their dealings with another. 

 

     Perhaps Daniel should reconsider his analysis regarding the impossibility of shutting our eyes to evil.  Perhaps we should rather ask the question in regards to our selective blindness – what do Equatorial Guinea, Central Asia, and Iraq have in common.  Although not the sine qua non of our foreign policy, the pragmatic necessity of realizing the importance of these areas to the world economy, and our energy needs, must be considered.  Daniel is correct, however, in his assessment regarding the impossibility of shutting our eyes to evil.  This is not because it exists in such stark forms as evidenced in the areas under question, but rather because of the degree to which it is exposed and constantly brought to our attention through the various media outlets.  We cannot shut our eyes to evil anymore because, regardless of whether we choose to look upon it or not, we cannot prevent it from becoming apparent to others, and our own willful blindness becomes either a personal choice or a willful abetting of evil.

 

     There has always been a tension between realism and idealism.  It is important, however, in dealing with this tension that we honestly confront the apparent contradictions and openly explain how our policies have resolved them.  It is in this regard that our rhetoric and our actions have currently met an impasse the resolution of which is conspicuously absent from any contemporary political discourse.  This impasse has occurred due to attempts to legitimate our actions in Iraq after finding that our original basis for similar attempts was unfounded.  The grounds upon which we attempted to legitimate our preventative war in Iraq were their possession of WMD and ties to Al Qaeda.  It has now been generally accepted that Iraq possessed no WMD.  Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda have likewise been exposed to be overblown along with the intimate link previously thought to exist between the current worldwide Islamic insurgency and state sponsors.  Although individual states may provide comfort and support to the insurgency, the insurgency itself is not primarily state guided, controlled, or inspired.  What it is inspired by, being a defensive jihad in their own words, is the actions of those they oppose.  It is on this count that Daniel's comments are most pertinent.  We simply cannot shut our eyes to evil because it is, in part, this evil which the Islamic insurgency is fighting. 

 

     It is a truism that Saddam Hussein was evil.  He was a cruel dictator who abused his people in the most inhumane ways.  I am glad that he is no longer in power.  What's more, I cannot think of any self respectable person who would not second this sentiment.  Saddam Hussein, however, was not singular in his abuse of position and power.  He shares this characteristic with many others with whom we have close relations.  It is in this regards that Daniel's comments are most pertinent.  While we may agree that it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, it seems another thing altogether to say that we should take the same policy towards Obiang of Equatorial Guinea or Karimov of Uzbekistan, although it is incontrovertible that both of these leaders are just as evil as Saddam Hussein. 

 

     It is here that idealism rises to prevent the realists from shutting their eyes.  It is also here that realism rises to confront the idealists with pragmatic necessity.  So what do Central Asia, Equatorial Guinea and Iraq have in common?  It doesn't take an economics degree to understand the importance of all three areas to the requirement of energy access, with Iraq obviously being the most important in this regard.  This is the realist perspective, at least in one regard.  The world needs access to energy.  Southwest, Central Asia, and Africa have a significant portion of these resources, with the latter projected to contribute up to 28% of US needs within 10 years or less.  A billion barrels here and a billion barrels there, and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of oil, as well as natural gas.  Additionally, these areas are the nexus of conflict between a resurgent Islamic nationalist movement and secular governments.  On the idealist side, these same areas evidence gross examples of human rights abuses and dictatorial rule.  As Daniel says, we are forced to look, whether we want to or not, at the evil while concomitantly coveting the resources which these areas possess.  We are forced to look at the evil because of the uncontrollable nature of information, the instabilities which this evil is creating, and the stated reasons for our actions; to spread liberty, human rights, and the rule of law.  In the triune of the sword, the diamond, and the mirror, it is the mirror which frightens us most because it is its reflection which causes us to see past our moralizing statements and, like Dorian Gray, see the inescapable inconsistencies in our soul.