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
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.