Necessary foreign entanglements

By Steven Martinovich
web posted March 20, 2000

The average American, it would appear, is more familiar with the thoughts of their Founding Fathers then the chattering class gives them credit for. In the spirit of avoiding unnecessary foreign entanglements, a recent poll has found that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the U.S. military defending in case of attacks allies such as Taiwan, Israel and South Korea.

Being averse to risking American lives to defend another nation even cuts across party lines, with Republicans, Democrats and self-styled independents all opposing military assistance even for Kuwait, the site of the last great American victory less than one decade ago, a war that was wildly popular with the average person on the street.

Sixty-nine per cent opposed helping Taiwan, while 59 per cent would leave Israel to its own defence. Seventy-one per cent would not defend Kuwait again and 72 per cent believe if North Korea's flag flew over Seoul after an invasion, nothing should be done about it. Recent hotspot Kosovo fared worse of all, with 74 per cent opposing military assistance.

The news, of course, is little comfort for our allies looking down the barrel of a gun. Trained and supplied by the United States, Taiwan has been repeatedly threatened by China in recent weeks with warnings of military force unless progress towards reunification occurs. Israel, though handily dispatching its neighbors in several wars already, reportedly isn't the same nation that it used to be when it comes to military prowess and South Korea remains in a technical state of war with a violent Stalinist regime.

The problem with blindly avoiding all unnecessary foreign entanglements, as George Washington famously advised, is that it judges all entanglements by the same measure. Rather than decide whether the war is a moral one, Washington's injunction treats both sides with the same yard stick.

Simply put and perhaps somewhat idealistically, nations involved in wars can be placed in either one of two camps: moral and immoral. Supposing that only nations like Iraq or Nazi Germany attack other nations unprovoked, which by extension means nations like the United States or Canada generally only use force in reaction to force, a nation attacked is usually a moral one. It is a nation that safeguards its citizen's rights. On the other hand, attacking nations tend to be immoral ones, the ones who attack others unprovoked and use repression against its own citizens.

Allowing a flagrantly immoral nation to destroy a moral one would be wrong. It would be allowing the destruction of the good by evil. Being a free and moral nation we have the right to attack the aggressor or assist just as the United States did when it supplied arms and material -- and eventually soldiers when Nazi Germany -- couldn't be contained by Allied powers. Understandably, the people of a moral nation want to remain free from a state which has demonstrated it has no qualms when it comes to using force against its own citizens.

In practice, sometimes it's easy to figure out whether military assistance should be rendered, such as Kosovo. In Kosovo there were no white hats to save. Neither the Serbs nor the Kosovo Liberation Army was particularly deserving of the west's support, either moral or military. The government of Yugoslavia is nothing more than a brutal dictatorship and the KLA are drug and gun running terrorists responsible for hundreds of assassinations and rapes in Kosovo before NATO become their unofficial air force. Repression is the norm in that region, hardly the democratic and capitalist forces we like to think that we'd help out and most certainly an unnecessary entanglement.

Avoiding wars that don't have to be fought is a good practice but judging which ones are which is no easy matter as historical example easily proves. Americans, overwhelmingly opposed to joining in both the First and Second World War, eventually joined the fight against tyranny and with the popular support of citizens after watching nation after nation fall to the forces of fascism and communism.

Leaders of free nations must strike a balance between rational self-interest and wanton meddling in foreign wars. Our moral allies, who generally are freer and more prosperous nations, are worthwhile allies. It's valuable to have friends on the international stage, as the Persian Gulf War proved for George Bush, and to keep them one must stand by them in times of adversity.

Of course, we don't have a duty to sacrifice ourselves, but it would be just if we assisted nations like Taiwan, South Korea or Israel either directly or indirectly. The argument of isolationism does have the aura of prudence surrounding it but in the long-term it would be a dangerous course. The good must be defended from the evil or one day we may wake up and find the world under the sway of evil.

Avoiding those unnecessary foreign entanglements may be appealing, but not if we're proclaiming peace in our time.

Steve Martinovich is a freelance writer and the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.

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