Beyond Good and Evil

By Pollitt, Katha | The Nation, October 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Beyond Good and Evil


Pollitt, Katha, The Nation


So now it's official. If a foreign government does not offer its people "the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty," an eternal value that all people everywhere espouse, we can "take action." If we deem a nation a threat to our safety, we can even "take action" "pre-emptively," on the basis of a possibility that it may harm us in the future. We do this to preserve "a balance of power that favors human freedom"--although "our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States"--strong enough, in other words, to preserve an imbalance of power. This is the Bush doctrine, as revealed in National Security Strategy of the United States (NSSUS), a thirty-three-page Administration document submitted to Congress and released on September 20. It's a sort of long-winded version of Ann Coulter's famous suggestion about the 9/11 terrorists, that we "invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."

Have it your way, Francis Fukuyama. Let's say that there is only one happy way to organize society, that, as the NSSUS claims, "People everywhere want to say what they think; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children--male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor." Let's even say that "the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages." Are we going to invade Saudi Arabia, where speech is anything but free, voting unheard of, Christianity illegal and converting a Muslim a crime? Or northern Nigeria, where militant Muslims have installed Sharia law and propose to stone women who have sex outside marriage? And what about China--which elected Jiang Zemin? And do the slaves of Sudan and Mauretania, the indentured and child laborers of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh--millions of people--enjoy "the benefits of their labor"?

These are not rhetorical or frivolous questions. If the US government wants to promote humane and democratic values, there's no lack of peaceful ways to do so--we could start by pouring on the billions needed to make Afghanistan a livable country again. But what the Bush doctrine is really about is whipping up moral fervor for war against Iraq and who knows where else. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's desk bears a plaque imprinted with a quotation from Theodore Roosevelt: "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords." Never mind that the war party in the Administration consists almost entirely of men who avoided military service--Bush took a sheltered position with the Texas National Guard; Cheney didn't enlist, citing "other priorities"; Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle were both at the University of Chicago. It's interesting, too, that it's the military men--Colin Powell, Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf--the ones who've played that particular sport before, who have wanted to go slow and think about consequences. …

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