by Winston Elliott III
On CatholicVote.org my associate Dr. Birzer has posted an essay entitled: “President Obama’s decision to declare war on Libya is unconstitutional, and also foolish.” And here on TIC a number of interesting comments have been made regarding the quote from Dr. Kirk entitled: “We Have Not Been Appointed the Correctors of Mankind.” I will take this opportunity to offer some thoughts on American intervention in the affairs foreign nations.
First, I agree with Dr. Birzer’s analysis of President Obama’s actions. The intent of the founders was to require that the Congress declare war so as to prevent the President from taking the American Republic’s military into battle solely on his own authority. The fact that several presidents have abused their power, and most congresses have abdicated their responsibility, does not change this fundamental aspect of our Constitution. As Dr. Birzer makes clear, President Obama knew this when President Bush was in office but seems to have conveniently lost his Constitutional memory since moving into the Oval Office.
Secondly, it is my view that we do not belong in Libya. And, it appears that for those who believe we should intervene in Libya there is no prudent limit to our intervention in the affairs of other nations, only expediency.
Many well intentioned souls desire that all nations have governments which, relying on democratic processes, support a western notion of basic human rights. Assuming the U.S. can achieve this desired goal, a questionable assumption at best, we should not believe that having the opportunity to vote will bring about the level of human rights they seek.
If the newly enfranchised nations are free to vote for a government which oppresses religious minorities, is that an improvement (Hamas, Nazis)? Are we then to interfere with the policies of the newly elected government which carries out the desires of the electorate? Is elected government the desired end state or is it accepted western concepts of freedom? Should we decide this for every nation?
If, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, we use our nation’s military might to reconstruct the governments of nations which do not meet our standards of democracy and civil rights, where does it end? What about China? North Korea? Somalia? Venezuela? What if the newly elected regimes demonstrate a high level of corruption? Is there no limit to our responsibility to remake the world into democracies which meet our definition of rights and competency?
Who of those that wish to bring about regime change is willing to sacrifice his life, or that of his son, to bring democratic government to China? Or restore it to Venezuela after Hugo Chavez finishes making himself the “elected” dictator?
There is a significant cost to waging war to overthrow established regimes, in blood and treasure. We should move from the hypothetical to the practical when discussing war, death and destruction. Simply put, some 6,000 Americans have died fighting to establish the fragile democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan (33,000 more wounded). The casualty estimates for Iraqis and Afghans in these wars are estimated to be at least 20 times American loses. How many dead for a free Libya?
Additionally, an estimated 1.3 trillion American tax dollars have been spent on these two nation building exercises in the last 10 years. Are these costs too high? Would Americans have preferred a 1.3 trillion dollar reduction of the federal debt?
We do not live in a utopian world. Every use of military power to improve the governments of other nations comes with a heavy price which is denominated in blood and sacrifice. We have an obligation to envision the faces of our dead and wounded soldiers when we consider the American Republic’s “duty” to stand up to tyranny and oppression in foreign lands.
What if each American had to personally sacrifice instead of only the proportionately few young people who risk life and limb? And would we so agreeably pay an immediate war tax surcharge of 30 to 40% of our current tax bill instead of borrowing to finance the wars and passing on the bill to unborn Americans?
No, those who support American imposed regime change sound laudable, but I hope that in the end we are not naive enough, or callous enough, to continue to offer up young and unborn Americans to pay the price for our utopian dreams of universal freedom as a gift to all at the point of a gun.
We must be prudent. We must serve as an example of freedom and responsibility to the world. We must be strong enough to assist, encourage and inspire other peoples to find their own paths to ordered liberty. Alas, we do not have the power to end injustice, oppression or sin. America is not God.
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Winston Elliott, III is Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative.