Religion and American Foreign Policy: Prophetic, Perilous, Inevitable
10 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Fr. Bryan Hehir, President, Catholic Charities, USA; Distinguished Professor of Ethics and International Affairs, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Michael Walzer, Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N.J.; Author, Just and Unjust Wars and Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality
Charles Krauthammer, Columnist, Washington Post
James M. Lindsay, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution; Author, Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense
Louise Richardson, Executive Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University; Author, When Allies Differ: Anglo-American Relations in the Suez and Falkland Crises
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Co-chair, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution; Columnist, Washington Post
Copyright © 2003 The Brookings Institution and Georgetown University
All Rights Reserved
E.J. DIONNE: Welcome to “Religion and American Foreign Policy: Prophetic, Perilous, Inevitable.” We are very glad you could join us for this discussion today. The event is co-sponsored by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and The Brookings Foreign Policy and Governance Studies Programs.
I want to mention first that we are sorry to be missing today two people from the Pew Forum. My co-chair, Jean Bethke Elshtain, whom many of you know and is a friend of many on our panel here, had some teaching responsibilities, and Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the Forum, had to attend a family funeral.
It’s customary for someone to begin by saying what a pleasure it is to welcome a panel. In my case, it is no exaggeration to say that it’s an enormous honor to welcome this panel. I don’t think we have seen a group of this quality since Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Irving Howe and Isaiah Berlin got together, and I’m not sure that meeting ever actually happened. I would like to have been there, though.
As are so many others here, I am personally indebted to Father Bryan Hehir and Michael Walzer for being such brilliant writers and teachers and, it’s not an exaggeration to say, such moral guides. They know the difference between morality and moralism. So much of what I think that is sensible has been inspired by them in some way; and I should say that the errors and the stupidity in what I think are all my fault.
They and our entire panel, I think, embody what Walzer wrote in The Company of Critics about the connected critic: “Glory doesn’t belong only to the critical equivalent of the epic or tragic poet. If the critic is to speak for his fellows, he must also speak with them. And when what he says sounds unpatriotic, he has to insist upon his own deeper patriotism.” I think today we have a panel of patriots. I say that also for Walter Burns’s benefit, who has written so thoughtfully on that subject.
As you can see, we have an excellent set of respondents. I wouldn’t want Charles Krauthammer ever to be blamed for any of my views; it wouldn’t be fair to him. But he is a brilliant analyst and moral voice who instructs us and, in my case, indirectly, usually, thank goodness, fraternally corrects week after week after week. It’s such an honor to have Charles with us.
Jim Lindsay is a brilliant foreign policy analyst, a great wit, a son of Massachusetts and a Red Sox fan.
And Louise Richardson is also a brilliant analyst, a specialist on terrorism, and the author of a singularly appropriate book for this moment, When Allies Differ.
I will give somewhat more formal introductions in a moment, and I will offer a lot of thank yous at the end, but I just want to make a couple of quick points. First, I must thank Kayla Meltzer Drogosz. Again, it’s one of those cliched phrases, but it’s true in this case that without Kayla this event never would have happened. She has extraordinary intelligence and extraordinary energy, and they come together all the time. It’s beautiful. Thank you very much, Kayla. And thanks also to Christina Counselman, whose brilliance and delightfulness is known to so many of you.
Second, family matters to us here, so I would like to take a second to welcome a few special guests in the audience, specifically Brooke and Marva Shearer, respectively wife and mother-in-law of Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution. I’d also like to welcome Ryan Gillis, the nephew of Father Bryan Hehir.
You should know, this panel discussion will eventually be expanded and published as part of a series of books being put out by the Brookings Institution Press. The series, called The Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion and Public Life, brings together scholars and journalists who combine deep knowledge of policy with deep knowledge and concern for religious and moral questions.
The first volumes are close to completion. In one, a volume on poverty and welfare, Mary Jo Bane of Harvard University and Larry Mead of New York University join in dialogue. The second is on the morality of the market, and it brings together Rebecca Blank of the University of Michigan with William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal.
Because this is part of a book project, you will see a special copyright restriction when this transcript eventually appears on the Brookings and Pew Forum Web sites. But, of course, my journalistic colleagues are free to use this material today in the normal journalistic way. In fact, we wouldn’t mind it at all if you spread the good words of these good people.
And now to the good people themselves. Father Bryan Hehir is the president of Catholic Charities, USA, and a distinguished professor of ethics and international affairs in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Father Hehir’s writing and research engage issues of ethics, foreign policy and international relations, as well as Catholic social ethics and social thought and the role of religion in world politics. He was also recently the head of the Harvard Divinity School. And, in truth, Father Hehir has worn so many hats that he could have kept Alex Rose’s Old Hatter’s Union in business all by himself.
Michael Walzer is a professor at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is currently working on the toleration and accommodation of difference in all its forms, and on a collaborative project focusing on the history of Jewish political thought. His Just and Unjust Wars is an indispensable text in ethics and international affairs. His Spheres of Justice analyzed how society distributes not just wealth and power, but other social goods, such as honor, education, work, free time, even love.
Charles Krauthammer is the winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. He writes a nationally syndicated editorial page column for The Washington Post Writers Group. As you know, he appears regularly in The Washington Post. Meg Greenfield, the late editorial page editor of the Post, called Charles’s column “independent and hard to peg politically. It’s a very tough column,” she continued. “There’s no trendy in it. You never know what is going to happen next.” Now, that’s a great person to have on a panel. During the presidential campaign of 1980, he served as a speechwriter to Vice President Walter Mondale. He has written frequently for The New Republic, Time, and The Weekly Standard.
Jim Lindsay is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. He specializes in Congress and foreign affairs, foreign aid, immigration, missile defense, national security, politics — there’s nothing he doesn’t specialize in — public opinion, foreign affairs and war powers. Jim has published opinion articles in many, many newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Financial Times, and has appeared on the media as often as Larry King — BBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR; the list is very long.
Louise Richardson is executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study — you had to be involved in advanced study to get on to this panel — at Harvard University. From 1989 to 2001, she taught as assistant and then associate professor of government at Harvard, specializing in international security, where her focus has been on international security with an emphasis on terrorist movements. In addition to her book, When Allies Differ, she has published a number of journal articles and reviews on the subject of terrorism. She is currently working on two books, one of which studies the trajectories of terrorist campaigns and decision-making inside terrorist movements.
As I say, it’s an honor to introduce everyone, and it’s a particular honor to introduce my old friend Father Bryan Hehir. Thank you.
BRYAN HEHIR: Thank you, E.J.
Let me first express my appreciation for being able to be here as part of this panel. The appreciation runs across both the nature of the issue to be addressed and its significance. It’s a privilege to be able to talk about it, and secondly, to be with such distinguished colleagues and friends on the panel at Brookings, which has been a constant place of reflection and dialogue for the good of the Republic.
As usual, E.J. never hands his friends easy assignments. He has given Michael Walzer and me 30 minutes to address a topic that would take 30 years, and then confronted us with a very, very tough-minded group of commentators. So, I will try and weave my way through this assignment, which one would only do for a friend.
What I propose to do is the following. I want to address three questions. Firstly, the role of religion in world politics today. Secondly, religion and U.S. foreign policy, with some examples from the past and the present. And then, thirdly, in the final section, I just call it using a tradition, one person’s use of Catholic casuistry, where I propose only to speak for myself and no other part of the larger Church.
First, the question of the role of religion in world politics. The subtitle here I think is what you might call crossing a fault line. In the advertisement for this panel, the question was raised, can anyone doubt the power of religion in international affairs today? Well, to some degree, probably not. But what that power is used for and how it is used is a very open question. The power itself is not self-justifying. Indeed, my point at this point in the presentation is to stress to some degree the newness of the question, the role of religion and world politics.
Now, I need to make a distinction: Religion is an ancient part of the human legacy and a pervasive part of human history. So, religion has always been there, when nations have clashed, when causes were mounted to motivate large bodies of people and when peace was sought. Religion was always there. But what I intend to do when I talk about the newness of this question is consider the attention given to the role of religion in world politics. I would want to argue that what I might call the modern tradition of world politics, dating from the 17th century and extending into our own, did not think of religion as a significant element of policy and practice in world politics.
For myself, I find the cause of this in the inner logic of what some call the Westphalian tradition, but that is a contested interpretation. Essentially, that contested interpretation is that the Westphalian tradition, dating from the 17th century, has given modern world politics three basic ideas: the sovereignty of the state, the principle of non-intervention, and the notion that religion ought to be separate from the secular sphere of international relations.
Now, again, while that is a contested proposition, I don’t think it’s an implausible proposition. And without trying to argue the case on that specific point, I think what one wants to point to in terms of the newness of this question is the fact. The fact is that the outcome of the modern tradition of world politics is such that even as late as the 1980s, if you went to major texts of international relations, you simply did not find any attention to religion. You might find attention to morality in world politics in some texts, but there was hardly any systematic attention to the role of religion in world politics.
Moreover, the ministries of government reflected the academy’s view. The organization of ministries, whether they be foreign ministries or defense ministries, did not establish organizational, bureaucratic ways of addressing the question of religion and world politics.
Well, then what changed this, if there is a newness to the question? My point, I think, would be that religion, in a sense, came on the scene not by the strength of an argument, but by the power of events. If one looks back over the last 20 to 30 years, it seems to me it is impossible to interpret what has happened in Latin America without some attention to the role of the Catholic Church, what has happened in Eastern and Central Europe without some attention to the Lutherans in Berlin and a Polish pope allied with workers in Poland. One can’t account, it seems to me, for the depth and fervor of the politics of the Middle East in purely secular terms.
And so again and again, the question is, What is the variable that enters into the larger political mix and makes the difference? Again and again, it seems to me, the point has been raised over the last 10 to 15 years that a systematic attention to religion is at least important in getting the facts right. To put it negatively, to ignore the role of religion — not simply as a personal reality in people’s lives, but the role of religion as a public force — is to end up with bad briefings and bad analysis.
Now, to say that does not really confront the larger question that is before a panel like this. One can critique the past for not paying sufficient attention to the religious factor, but the real need is to ask how one does the constructive task. Once one agrees that there must be systematic attention to and integration of religious themes in the larger understanding of world politics, how is this to be carried out? This is a task that I submit neither the academy, nor governments, nor media have been well prepared for up until very recent times. But the changed landscape, what I call the newness of this question, is attested to by an outpouring of books and articles and journals, by debates in the public, and now by the explicit attention to religious questions in various ways in the formal world of diplomacy.
One could ask, What will this entail? Some constructive, systematic integration of the role of religion in the wider policy analysis? Well, at least we can get some hints. Certainly, one of the factors that is a pervasive part of international relations today is the existence and role of transnational actors. Transnational actors have the following characteristics. They are based in one place, present in several places, have a trained core of personnel, a single guiding philosophy and a systematic means of communication. That’s IBM, the World Bank and the Jesuits. All of them encapsulate those characteristics. They have certain comparative advantage in moving across national boundaries and regions in the realm of ideas, resources, people and policy.
To move beyond that, one has to ask, What kind of transnational actors are they? And once again, in general terms, I think, you can test the religious tradition by its ideas, its institutions and its community. In various religious traditions the weight will fall on one or two of these rather than the third, but, together, they make up a capacity to move and function in international politics.
For the moment, let me leave the case at that level, that there is both a factual presence of religion in world politics and an attentive audience for it, and an attentive audience of analysts, although there’s hardly agreement on how religion functions, broadly or in specific cases.
Let me turn to the question of the panel, which is a different level of the question, not religion in the international system, but religion and American foreign policy. And my purpose here is to simply use snapshots over a period of time of how religion has been used, in a good sense of the term, used to try to enter the U.S. foreign policy debate, or has impacted the U.S. foreign policy debate from within or without the United States. An overview of this question is found in Leo Ribuffo’s article on religion in the history of U.S. foreign policy. He tries to provide an overview and sketch of the whole 20th century, and even reaching back to the founding of the Republic. My attention is a narrower scope. I want to use what I’ll call two classical and two contemporary examples of how religion enters into the debate about American foreign policy.
The first classical example — I might say “of course” — will be Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr has pride of place in this discussion. I think it is fair to say that no other single religious figure had the impact on the question of foreign policy that Niebuhr had in his day. If one asks what the source of his influence was, I think it was the way he wove together an ancient tradition of theological reflection with a high degree of personal genius and then combined it with the unique place that Protestantism held in mid-century America. Niebuhr combined these three things as almost no one else did. He spoke for Protestantism, but he also spoke for himself in a way that he was in a sense an independent actor. He was waited upon by the intellectual and policy elite in post-war America. Stanley Hoffman’s comment on Hans Morgenthau applies also to Reinhold Niebuhr. Hoffman made the point that what Morgenthau brought to the foreign policy debate in post-World War II United States was exactly what the debate needed, a kind of interpretation of the realist tradition in a country that had not abided by the realist tradition, but now stood on the threshold of the exercise of great power, and asked how should that power be used. To some degree, from a different angle of vision, Niebuhr had exactly the same kind of fit in the wider debate.
He combined, as I said, an ancient theological tradition with personal genius. When Niebuhr spoke to the question of foreign policy, it was always a casserole, an extraordinary mix of sacred scripture, Augustinian realism, psychological insight and acute political analysis. He provided legitimation for U.S. power during the Cold War, and yet he was a continuing critic of the use of that power. There is the word prophetic in the title of this panel. Niebuhr was a certain kind of prophet, because he was not a stable ally either for the church or for the government. He would criticize the church when it failed to address power effectively, and he would criticize the government when it used power improperly.
The paradox, of course, of Niebuhr was something that he pointed to, namely, that what attracted others to his analysis was always something that he rooted in his religious vision. The more he explained the roots of his vision, the harder it was for some of his allies to understand how he got from the vision to the conclusions. They liked the conclusion, but they were less sure of the truth of the vision than the man Niebuhr himself.
Niebuhr had no peer in the 1940s and ’50s. Catholicism, for example, was perhaps best described by John Courtney Murray, its leading advocate, in the late ’50s when Murray said “There seems, in fact, to be some reason for saying that the Catholic community is not much interested in foreign affairs beyond its contribution in sustaining the domestic mood of anti-Communism.” Murray said that in 1960, in his book, We Hold These Truths, but he said it just at the time when things were beginning to change. It was just at the time when John the 23rd ascended to the seat of Peter. And it was just before my second example appeared.
My second example is the encyclical of John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, peace on Earth. Forty years ago this year, in May of 1963, Pacem in Terris was issued in a sense as John XXIII’s last will and testament. It came out less than a month before he died. He had decided to write it during the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, when he felt, as we all did, that the world had moved to the very edge of massive destructive capability, and he determined at that time he would try to say something to this question. I used Pacem in Terris, not because I seek to examine its content, but because it represents a different style of trying to join religious reflection with policy analysis in the realm of foreign policy.
Niebuhr brought religion directly to bear upon foreign policy, and a whole range of other policy issues. Pacem in Terris points to a tradition that in a sense sees the role of religion as indirect. Between religion and the political order lies the moral order. Pacem in Terris is really not a recognizable, specifically different religious document. It is a philosophical analysis, admittedly arising from a specific religious community, but a philosophical analysis of world order, of questions of human rights, arms control and disarmament, international organizations, the role of the sovereign state and of the order that ought to exist at every level of human affairs. This document, as I said, illustrates a different approach, an approach that you can find in the role and place of the Catholic bishops over the last 25 to 30 years in much of what they have written. Most recently, their statement on Iraq is much more a derivative of the Pacem in Terris style of analysis — moral, philosophical analysis about politics — than bringing religious themes directly to bear upon religion.
Niebuhr found this style of analysis one with which he was uncomfortable. He felt it was rationalistic, overly confident of making distinctions in the political order with moral certitude. He felt that it also was more optimistic than his vision of world affairs, or than his starting point for interpreting human nature and human affairs. I point out, therefore, two different ways of these classical examples of thinking about religion and politics, the direct confrontation of the political order with religious themes, mediated by theology, and an argument that what religion should contribute to the public policy discourse is philosophical analysis, ethical analysis of politics, with the purpose being that the ethical analysis, stated principally in non-religious terms, might find a hearing in parts of the wider public that would not be convinced by direct approach to theology and religion.
Let me offer two contemporary examples that are now part of the wider debate about religion and foreign policy. Neither of them were, for different reasons, evident at the time that Murray and Niebuhr represented these two other approaches to religion and foreign policy. Today, of course, one must, in any assessment of religion and American foreign policy, attend to the evangelical community. It is a community that is much more complex in its make-up than is sometimes described in the media. It is often simply identified with “a conservative view of politics.” In fact, there is more pluralism in the community than that. It certainly uses a direct appeal to the scriptures, but in a different way, I suggest, than Niebuhr did. There is less of a dialectical argument about biblical witness, philosophical and psychological categories combined with it, and much more direct lines drawn from biblical truths to contemporary events.
It is also less ecumenical, in a sense, than Niebuhr’s style of analysis. Niebuhr used the scriptures, but, of course, as we know, had a remarkable appeal across the wider American public. There was a group called Atheists For Niebuhr that held membership in the wider American discussion. And finally, the evangelical community’s approach to foreign policy can often be very specific about questions of religious freedom, about questions of the politics of the Middle East and the role of Israel. It does not reflect either Niebuhr or Murray. It is distinct from those two examples.
The final example I would use is not from within the United States, and, again, certainly was not present at the time of the classical examples, and that’s John Paul II. Here you find a figure who combines, I think, not only the power of office — that is self-evident — but more importantly for our concerns, a mix of ideas and charisma. That is to say, an intellectual foundation that is articulated in detail, but is also joined with a personal style of ministry. John Paul II, in a sense, works from the tradition of Pacem in Terris. He praised it in a recent speech he gave. But the interesting thing is there are ways in which you watch John Paul II interpret world events, and he sounds somewhat Niebuhrian, not identical to be sure. But he is not satisfied with remaining within the realm of philosophical categories. He constantly appeals to religious themes. In one of his writings he says it is impossible to interpret the possibility of evil that surrounds us without turning to religious themes. He uses, however, the philosophical tradition of Pacem in Terris, matched with direct appeals to religion, so he is not easily fitted into the three other categories that I have outlined.
My point is that we have a variety of appeals to religion and philosophy today, as we try to sort out the debate on religion and U.S. foreign policy. The question is raised, Can religion have an impact on foreign policy? I think the answer is yes, but the answer also has to quickly move to the question of how and in what way and by what criteria should you judge the role of religion in foreign policy.
Murray, whom I mentioned earlier, once said the function of religious communities and moral argument was two-fold. They should try to set the right terms for public policy debate, he said, and, secondly, to provide guidance for personal conscience. Setting the right terms for public policy debate has a kind of imperial ring about it, as if there were a kind of dominance of religious argument or moral argument. I don’t think he meant it that way. I think what he meant was you provide space within the policy equation for religious arguments to be brought systematically into dialogue with other factors, and, again, for moral argument to be brought into dialogue with all the factors, including the claims of religious community.
The notion that you provide guidance for personal conscience is, in a sense, the fallback position. If you try to set the right terms for public policy debate and the debate moves in the direction that you feel directly contradicts your own deepest held values, what do you do as a citizen, as a government employee, as a member of the military? Well, you fall back on the right of conscience. You say, this may be the policy of the state, but this is my policy, and I am willing to both withdraw and suffer the consequences because of my degree of disagreement with the policy.
So this two-fold function, I think, is what the role of religion and morality reaches for: how to set both the right terms for public policy debate, and how to provide solid, moral insight for guidance of personal conscience.
Let me turn in my remaining eight minutes to what I will call simply one person’s use of a tradition. I call it Catholic casuistry because casuistry is the style that has been most dominant in Catholic moral analysis. I turn to this because it seems to me it’s hard to come to Brookings and stay at the level of theory. It’s not quite clear to me, it seems to me, that that might be the expectation of the audience. So I’m purposely trying to engage issues here only as one person working out of a tradition, but speaking for no one but myself in the tradition.
Let me turn first then to an issue, an issue as represented in a major policy statement by our government, the National Security Strategy, published in September of 2002. This was clearly a catalytic text. It has generated a broad range of analysis, and it should be credited with catalyzing debates about American power and purpose after a long period of inattention to these questions over the last decade.
John Lewis Gaddis of Yale described it as a transformative document, and it’s clear the intent of the document is to be transformative. The consequences of the transformation are what people argue and disagree about. I would love to have either Niebuhr or John Paul II address the text. I think it would attract both of them, because the document, in the first instance, is a mix of normative claims and political analysis, of ethical claims and policy conclusions. And so it is the kind of raw material that is at the heart of this discussion we’re having today, however you feel about its outcome.
Without being able to analyze it, I simply want to focus on what seems to me to be three dominant characteristics of the text. It argues that, when necessary, the United States will act unilaterally. That’s in political terms. Secondly, it argues that, when necessary, the United States will act preemptively, in strategic terms. And, thirdly, it argues that the United States will act in an interventionary way when it thinks either U.S. interests or global interests are threatened.
Now, each of these needs to be debated on its own terms. They are large questions. But in the time available to me, let me run to a commentary in the form of a conclusion. My sense is that while you can take each of these apart, you put the three together, and the combined effect of them is to challenge and erode what I will call a conservative order of international relations. I’m using that phrase in a positive way. What I mean by a conservative order of international relations to some degree is rooted in the realist premise that in a world without any central political authority, the overriding question one must attend to is how one keeps order, maintains peace, and yet does not let injustice triumph. That conservative premise of international relations, to some degree, is then modified by liberal policy, arguing from the liberal tradition that the way you maintain order in anarchy is by a dynamic of restraint, restraint on the use of power, and you restrain power by law, multilateral institutions, and then policy argument within each country.
These three characteristics of the existing document seem to me threaten this conservative order. A unilateral use of power above and beyond the specific case of self-defense at least challenges deeply the concept that a multilateral approach of authorization of power has wisdom in it, not as a moral authorization, but as a legal authorization. Preemption challenges the wisdom of deterrence. Indeed, it is said deterrence no longer works. My sense is it works in some instances and not in others, and so the broad definition that it does not work goes too far.
And, finally, it is interventionary. Intervention is one of the most complicated issues of the present international system. Intervention is a pervasive part of the history of world politics. In what I have called the modern era of world politics, one sought to rule out interventions by the principle of non-intervention. That had certain utility in maintaining the value of order. It always threatened to sacrifice the value of justice.
And so exceptions were made to the principle. The first exception was genocide. It was recognized as an exception that intervention should occur when genocide was occurring. Secondly, in the 1990s, we had an extended debate about humanitarian military intervention, seeking to expand, again, the categories that make intervention justifiable.
I think it is possible and necessary to expand those categories, but I also think that when you adopt an interventionary policy without qualification, and particularly not in terms of the usual cases of humanitarian military intervention, but great power politics involving weapons of mass destruction, one is shifting the emphasis of how we have tried to manage great power politics and weapons of mass destruction. It is, I think, questionable whether the document points us in the right direction.
For the moment, I will close the discussion, but the casuistry could then move from these two issues of the national security document and the intervention debate, of course, to the Iraq debate, but I’m sure we will get to that.
Thank you very much.
E.J. DIONNE: I’d just like to note that there is a successor organization to Atheists for Niebuhr. It’s called Atheists for Hehir, but I don’t want to get him in trouble with Rome. I also noticed some of my Jesuit friends in the audience, and I can imagine their saying while Father was talking, Who are these interlopers, IBM and the World Bank? Welcome to you all.
MICHAEL WALZER: My friend E.J. Dionne did not read to you the four questions that he posed to us, and he didn’t do that because you would have immediately realized that they were impossible to answer and that our responses are completely inadequate. It may also be the case, listening to me after Bryan Hehir, that you won’t realize that we’re responding to the same questions, because they were very complex questions.
The original title of this panel was not “Religion and American Foreign Policy.” It was “Faith, Morals and Foreign Policy.” That’s the way it was presented to me, and I will talk mostly about morals, not about faith, which is perhaps a Jewish strategy in dealing with these questions.
Let me begin with four propositions for a more moral foreign policy. The first obligation of the state, any state, is its Hobbesian obligation to protect the life and liberty of its own citizens. The second obligation is not to inflict harm on the citizens of other states. The third obligation is to help citizens of other states, when it’s possible to do that, avoid or escape crimes and disasters of collective life, genocide, tyranny, conquest, ethnic cleansing, famine and disease. The fourth obligation is to help the citizens of other states, when they want to be helped, to build decent and non-repressive political systems.
These propositions can be expressed and understood in different cultural idioms. We can be guided in fulfilling the four obligations by a variety of moral traditions, both secular and religious in character. Some of those traditions, like that of the West, exist in both religious and secular versions, and when this is so, the two versions are not far apart. Indeed, they should not differ at all according to standard Jewish and Christian teaching, since knowledge of the morality of social and political life does not depend on a stark revelation to a particular people, or on faith in a particular creed. As Spinoza wrote, “God is equally gracious to all,” by which he meant, the laws of morality are universally available to human reason.
I don’t want to deny that those laws can be worked out in very different ways. I’ve always argued that they can be and are. But all the ways are recognizable as morality. And they will overlap extensively with one another. We can describe the overlapping consensus in, let’s say, Jewish, Christian and secular languages. I don’t think it matters much which one we choose, so long as the descriptions roughly match.
Consider the example of just war theory, which has a role in regulating our behavior with regard to the first and third proposition, both of which may sometimes require states to go to war, and individual citizens to fight, either in self-defense, or in defense of others. As a theory, just war has its origin in Catholic moral philosophy. But as a set of propositions about aggression, non-combatant immunity, treatment of prisoners of war, and so on, it has a much more complicated and diverse history. We might even say that it originates in many different places. In any case, Catholic just war theory was incorporated into and adapted to the uses of international law in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it was rediscovered by secular moral philosophers and political theorists in the 20th century.
The argument with which we are currently engaged — about self-defense and humanitarian intervention, about preemption and terrorism — can be worked out in the language of Catholic natural law or in the language of international lawyers or in the language of contemporary analytic philosophy. Each of these is probably translatable without much loss into the other, and so, again, it doesn’t matter which one we choose to speak.
I’m not even sure that each tradition has some characteristic weakness that doesn’t appear in the others. The most important weaknesses are common to all of them, or, better, to all their practitioners, above all the tendency toward accommodation and rationalization on the one hand, and the tendency to absolutism on the other.
I need to say something briefly about these two. Any moral theory will stand in tension with political practice. That’s not because or not necessarily because politicians are wicked or power hungry or selfishly opportunistic, though those descriptions fit many of the ones we know and love; rather because politicians, even the best of them, operate in a world of conflicting interest and values where they are constantly forced into compromises which are, as we say, morally compromising.
Some theorists are much too eager to understand and excuse these compromises as necessary features of political life. And others are much too eager to condemn them, every one, without making any effort to understand them. These are two ways of getting morally lost. In the first case, lost in the endless adjustments of principle to expedience; in the second case, lost in the distant reaches of righteousness.
What does it mean not to get lost? What does it mean to sustain a critical engagement with the real world? Let’s look at what that might involve with regard to one of the questions posed for this meeting, intervention in foreign countries to stop or try to stop massacre or ethnic cleansing. This comes under the third of my opening propositions, the obligation to help other people avoid or escape the crime of collective life. And surely this obligation to help is widely accepted, at least in some general sense.
There are no significant differences among the different moral traditions with regard to the wrongness of massacre and ethnic cleansing. The disagreements that exist about who should intervene and when and how and under whose authority, with what degree of force, those disagreements exist not between traditions but within them. When Elie Wiesel urged President Clinton to act forcefully in Bosnia, he spoke with an urgency motivated by the 20th century Jewish experience of disaster. But there was nothing peculiarly Jewish in his recognition that something awful was going on in Bosnia. And American Jews disagreed among themselves, like other Americans, about who should act and how, as did American Catholics, even when they appealed to a theory of just war that they supposedly held in common.
Still, let me try to state some more detailed propositions about intervention, that seem to me in line with just war theory, as I understand it, in the hope of winning agreement from the very large number of people who, theorists or not, believe that we ought to fight justly. One, in a system of sovereign states, multilateral action is preferable to the action of single states, since it protects those acted upon from imperial ambition and state aggrandizement. But unilateral military responses to crimes against humanity are defensible, and sometimes morally necessary. UN authorization is not a legitimacy requirement for humanitarian intervention. One might argue the reverse: The UN puts its own legitimacy at risk when it fails to authorize military action in the face of terrible crimes.
Two, the fact that prudential calculations may sometimes preclude action even in the face of crimes against humanity doesn’t require or justify inaction for the sake of moral consistency in cases where those calculations produce a different result. We needn’t stay out of East Timor just because we failed to intervene in Tibet.
Three, the likelihood, even the certainty of civilian deaths is not a bar to military action, if that action is necessary to stop a massacre or ethnic cleansing, so long as positive steps are taken to minimize the number of civilians killed, and so long as the number is not disproportionate to the disaster that is averted. The doctrine of double effects developed by Catholic philosophers reflecting on the unintended consequences of our actions is still a good doctrine. In fact, working through the double effect argument is a useful example of what critical engagement with the real world requires. To oppose military action because it has deadly side effects — collateral damage is the current euphemism — is to fall into a bad absolute. To justify all the deadly side effects without setting limits on their scope, and how they are produced is to accept what should never be accepted.
Four, the notion that force is the last resort in any moral or political crisis is not a plausible guide to foreign policy decision making. Military resistance may rightly be the first resort of a state or nation facing actual armed aggression. The Finns in 1939, say, confronting Russian invaders. The moral meaning of lastness is simply this, that whenever there are alternatives to the use of force, and time to try them out, we are morally bound to do that. But, the timely use of force can be justified, even if there is still time to send another diplomatic note or call another meeting. In fact, there’s always time to do something, or to do it again, before deciding on the use of force, but it isn’t wise or right to refrain from forceful action against an aggression or massacre in progress on the grounds that we haven’t yet reached the last resort. There’s a sense in which we never reach it, or never can reach it. Lastness is a metaphysical condition, ultimately unreachable, whereas political action must be timely if it is to be effective.
These four points suggest something of what I mean by critical engagement. I’ve been arguing that one can be engaged through the medium of different religious and moral traditions, I’m not inclined to insist, at least not today, on the value of any particular one. Indeed, it’s possible to make arguments like the one I’ve just been making, outside any tradition, speaking, as it were, for oneself alone in the language of pure reason. Still, I do believe that the hand of the critic is strengthened if he is able to argue within a common tradition of some sort, for then the concept and categories he uses will be widely known, and insofar as he uses them persuasively, he will take on something of the authority of the tradition. He doesn’t speak only for himself, but lays claim to the accumulated wisdom of many generations.
I should stress that this is accumulated human wisdom. Even people who work within religious traditions should never lay claim to, should never be allowed to lay claim to, divine authority. That’s a move designed to silence opponents, and critics. I leave aside the peculiar intensity, zeal and remorselessness with which policies commanded by God are commonly carried out. I mean to focus here only on the use of God’s name to stop the argument; a healthy tradition cannot tolerate stops of that sort. All claims are open to dispute. Traditions are sites for arguments, and that’s not less true of religion than of secular tradition. They are useful sites, because the arguments that go on there are worth winning, even though the victories are temporary. If I make a strong case, using the commonly recognized concepts and categories, that this war is unjust, or that this humanitarian intervention is morally necessary, I have done something more than express an opinion. I have occupied the discursive high ground, as we all mean to do, and now the burden of the argument falls on anyone who wants to defend the war, or oppose the intervention.
The usefulness of traditional argument is especially obvious when we have to challenge traditional wisdom or vested interest. Consider the question, another question posed to us, of foreign aid, or more generally of global poverty and inequality. Given the extent of unnecessary pain and death in the world today, the argument for massive resource transfers from rich to poor countries can be made within any of the existing moral, religious traditions, and made with real force. But that last statement might only suggest how ineffective traditional argument is, for obviously the transfers are not taking place, or their scope is tiny, given the need. But I said only that the argument can be made, not that it has been made, or that it is being made. The critical attack on global inequality has only just begun.
As it develops, critics will certainly explore the uses of traditional concepts and categories. They will appeal to our conscience, which is to say to the moral knowledge that we share, with God or one another, depending on one’s view of such matters. In any case, the idea of a common humanity is part of that shared knowledge, which can be expressed in religious terms, we are all created in the image of God; or in secular terms, we share the same rational capacity, and physical vulnerabilities, we live in the same world of economic and political independence. I’m not sure that we understand our obligations within the available moral or religious traditions. Moral understanding is a deep subject, and I cannot claim to know how we come to it, I suspect that the route is not direct. But we explain our obligations to one another within the traditions, and we argue about their extent and about exactly what actions they require, individually and collectively.
Let me suggest now some of the questions about global inequality and foreign aid that we need to address. You will have no difficulty recognizing concepts and categories that already figure in our moral consciousness. To what extent have the prevailing inequalities been created by willful human action? Do they follow from a history of military conquest, colonial rule, economic exploitation, financial speculation, and so on, or are they largely the consequences of geography and culture? We can be bound in different ways to help the poor and hungry people around the world, but we are bound most tightly if we are in some significant, even if partial, way responsible for poverty and hunger.
Two: What sacrifices are we obligated to make so as to reduce the suffering of the world’s poorest people? The easiest argument for global transfers is that a very small percentage of the GNP of the world’s wealthiest nations would make an enormous difference in the everyday life of the most impoverished. That seems true, but what if over time a more substantial percentage is required?
Three: How is the responsibility to act distributed among individuals and states? What should we be doing today and tomorrow, and with what other people should we be doing it?
Four: How should we in the wealthiest nation respond to the self-destructive politics, corruption and violence of many of the poorest countries? What kinds of political or economic pressure or intervention are permitted, if they are necessary, to make external assistance effective for the neediest people?
I can’t pretend to have the answers to those questions. Perhaps, indeed, they’re too hard, or perhaps they are politically unproductive, and they should be avoided as far as we can avoid them. Think back to America’s first, and most massive entry into the project of foreign aid, the Marshall Plan. My memory of the debates of the late 1940s — I was only on the brink of political consciousness at that time — is that the crucial argument in favor of helping European recovery was an argument from enlightened self-interest. Marshall and other leading figures in the Truman administration also made claims about political affinity and moral solidarity. I don’t recall how the claims were cast – not, I suspect, in religious terms. Nor were we told that we were responsible for the desperate condition of Europe after World War II, because we didn’t intervene, say, to stop Hitler in the 1930s, or because our armies contributed to the devastation of the continent in the 1940s. The Marshall Plan was not driven by liberal guilt, but rather by a lively sense of interdependence and common destiny. Europe and America were in this together, however this was understood.
Half a century later, it’s time to start thinking about the rest of the world in similar terms. Of course, we should address critical problems of famine and disease, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the brutal exploitation of children in many parts of the Third World, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and much else, in humanitarian terms, drawing on the ethical traditions that explain our duties to fellow human beings who are strangers. But we won’t succeed in dealing with these problems so long as we understand them only in humanitarian terms. We also need to grasp their political dimension, the way they connect with our strategic interest in security, stability and peace. There is nothing wrong with insisting that even a morally driven transfer of resources should meet the test of a cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, that kind of analysis stands within one of the key Western ethical traditions, which may even be, if its various versions are taken together, the dominant tradition, utilitarianism.
It also stands well within our religious traditions. In Catholic just war theory, for example, the considerations of probability — that is the likelihood of actually achieving the just results — and proportionality obviously involve a similar analysis. Calculations of costs and benefits are deeply embedded in our judgments about justice and warfare, and they should be a central part of our judgments about justice in foreign aid also. But those calculations are most likely to be accurate if they are carried out by men and women who are, at least in worldly matters, skeptical and iconoclastic, able to think outside the constraints of religious doctrine or political ideology. When we make war, and when we redistribute resources around the globe, we need to have what might be called, however we come by it, a religious faith in the future of humanity, but at the same time, we need to be utterly realistic about its present condition.
I’d like now to try as quickly as I can to illustrate that moral realism, with an argument about the war that is apparently coming with Iraq. There are two ways of opposing a war with Iraq: The first way is simple and wrong, the second way is right, but very difficult. The first way is to deny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly, or to argue that however ugly it is, it doesn’t pose any significant threat to its neighbors, or to world peace. Perhaps, despite Saddam’s denial, his government is, in fact, seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, but other governments are doing the same thing, and if or when Iraq succeeds in developing such weapons, so the argument continues, we can deal with that through conventional deterrents, in exactly the same way that the United States and the Soviet Union dealt with each other in the Cold War years. Obviously, if that argument is right, there’s no reason to attack Iraq, nor is there any reason for a strong inspection system, or for the current embargo, or for the northern and southern no-fly zone.
A significant part of the anti-war movement, at least in the United States, seems to have adopted exactly this position. Its leaders oppose any targeting of the Iraqi regime, and have succeeded in keeping even the demand for ongoing UN inspections out of a number of the anti-war statements that have been circulating here. This first form of opposition certainly keeps things simple, but it’s wrong on every count. The tyranny and brutality of the Iraqi regime is widely known and cannot be covered up. Its use of chemical weapons in the recent past, the recklessness of its invasion of Iran and Kuwait, the rhetoric of threat and violence that is now standard in Baghdad, the record of the1990s, when UN inspectors were systematically obstructed, the cruel repression of the uprisings that followed the Gulf War in ’91, the torture and murder of political opponents — how can all this be ignored by a serious political movement? How can it be ignored by a movement of the left?
Nor should anyone be comfortable with the idea of an Iraq armed with nuclear weapons and then deterred from using them. Not only is it unclear that deterrence would work with a regime like Saddam’s, but the emerging system of deterrence will be highly unstable, for it won’t only involve the United States and Iraq, it will also involve Israel and Iraq. If Iraq is permitted to build nuclear weapons, Israel will have to acquire what it does not have at the present time, second strike capacity, and then there will be Israeli ships in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean, equipped with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. That may be conventional deterrence, but it is insane to look forward to.
The right way to oppose the war is to argue that the present system of containment and control is working, and can be made to work better. This means that we should acknowledge the awfulness of the Iraqi regime, and the dangers it poses, and then aim to deal with those dangers through coercive measures short of war. This isn’t a policy easy to defend, for we know exactly what coercive measures are necessary, and we also know how costly they are.
First, the existing embargo: This can be adjusted, should be, so as to allow a wider range of products necessary to the civilian population into the country, while still excluding military supplies and the technologies necessary to the development of weapons of mass destruction. However smart the sanctions are, they will still constitute a partial blockade, a forceful restraint of trade, and given the way Saddam spends his available money, they will impose severe hardships on ordinary Iraqis. It’s fair to say that their own government is responsible for these hardships, since it could spend its money differently, but that does not make them easier to bear. Malnourished children, hospitals without medical supplies, declining longevity rates, all this is the indirect consequence of the embargo.
Second, the no-fly zone: Preventing Iraqi planes from flying over an area that amounts to about half the country requires constant American overflights, and this requires in turn what has averaged out as twice-weekly bombings of radar and anti-aircraft facilities. So far no planes or pilots have been lost, and I believe that few civilians have been killed or injured in the bombing raids. Still, this is a risky and costly business, and if it is short of war, it isn’t far short. On the other hand, if Saddam were allowed free reign in the North and South against the Kurds and Shiites, the results would probably be a repression so brutal that it would justify, perhaps even require, a military intervention on humanitarian grounds, and that would be a full scale war.
Third, the UN inspectors: These will have to go on indefinitely, as a regular feature of the Iraqi landscape, for whether or not the inspectors find weapons of mass destruction, some of which are very easy to hide, they themselves are a barrier to any deployment of such weapons. As long as they are moving freely and aggressively around the country on their own time schedules, Iraq is effectively disarmed. But the inspection regime will collapse as it collapsed in the ’90s unless there is a visible readiness to use force to sustain it, and that means there have to be troops in the vicinity like the troops the U.S. government has moved into position. It would be better obviously if these troops were not only American. But again maintaining a readiness of this sort, whoever maintains it, is costly and risky.
Defending the embargo, the American over-flights and the UN inspections, this is the right way to oppose and avoid a war, but it invites an obvious counter argument. A short war, which makes it possible to end the embargo, end the weekly bombings, end the inspection regime, wouldn’t that be morally and politically preferable to this avoidance? A short war, a new regime, a demilitarized Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi ports, wouldn’t that be better than a permanent system of coercion and control? Well, maybe, probably, but who can guarantee that the war would be short?
We say of war that it is the last resort because of the unpredictable, unexpected, unintended and unavoidable horrors that it regularly brings. In fact, as I argued a moment ago, war isn’t the last resort. The notion of lastness is only cautionary. Look hard for alternatives before you choose war. Right now there are alternatives, and that is the best moral and political argument against going to war. But it isn’t an argument easy to march with. What do you write on the placard? What slogans do you shout? And can you march alongside people who are little more than apologists for Saddam, who intend to march to strengthen his hand? Who are our comrades in this campaign against war?
I suggest that it isn’t and shouldn’t be only an anti-war campaign. It should be a campaign for a strong international system, one that is organized and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction and to guarantee the physical security of all the world’s people. The threefold constraints on Saddam’s regime are only one example but a very important one of how such an international system should function. But an international system has to be the work of many different states, not of one state. There have to be many agents ready to take responsibility for the success of the system, not just one.
Today the UN inspection system is in place in Iraq only because of what many American leftists and many Europeans called a reckless U.S. threat to go to war. Without that threat UN, negotiators would still be dithering with Iraqi negotiators, working on but never finally agreeing on the details of an inspection system. The inspectors would not even have packed their bags and most of the leaders of Europe would be pretending that this was a good thing.
Some of us on the American left are embarrassed to realize that the threat we oppose is the chief reason for the existence of a strong inspection system, and the existence of a strong inspection system is today the best argument against going to war.
It would have been much better if the U.S. threat had not been necessary, if the threat had come, say, from France and Russia, Iraq’s chief trading partners, whose unwillingness to confront Saddam and give some muscle to the UN project was an important cause of the collapse of inspections in the 1990s. This is what an internationalist morality requires, that other states besides the United States take responsibility for the global rule of law and be prepared to act politically and militarily with that end in view.
American internationalists need to criticize the Bush administration’s unilateralist impulses and its refusal to cooperate with other states on a whole range of issues from global warming to the international criminal court.
But it would be easier to make our case, our case would be stronger, if it were clear that there were other agents in international society capable of acting independently and, if necessary, forcefully and ready to answer for what they do in places like Bosnia or Rwanda or Iraq. When we talk about American foreign policy we cannot avoid talking about the foreign policy of other states. When we campaign against the second Gulf War, we should also be campaigning for genuine multilateral responsibility.
E.J. DIONNE: I just want to say a couple of quick things before I turn to Charles. I noticed that when Professor Walzer said it invites an obvious counterargument he seemed to be looking Charles’ way down the podium.
Professor Walzer is absolutely right about those questions we sent these folks. Two of the best courses I took in college were from Professor Walzer, and I realized, while listening to him say what he did today about the questions, that when Kayla and I put together these questions, it was revenge for the kinds of questions we were asked in college. In the department that Professor Walzer chaired I actually had a general exam question — this is true — that read as follows: “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Under what circumstances is this true? When does it cease to be true?” We did not put that question on the list that we sent to this panel.
Charles Krauthammer is a delightful colleague and, by inheritance, we share an interest in Canadian politics, even a passionate one. If you recall, the Canadian election happened shortly after our election, meaning it happened in the middle of the recount. I called Charles’s office one day and he wasn’t there, so I said to his assistant, “Tell Charles I’m calling about the election; he’ll know what I mean.” And Charles knew that I was calling not about Palm Beach and Miami but about Ottawa and Montreal.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce the tough-minded realist and warmhearted person Charles Krauthammer. (Applause.)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Thank you, E.J. It’s a pleasure to be here in such august and remarkable company. It’s an honor to be asked to contribute to the panel. Bryan Hehir and I had a debate almost 20 years ago on the question of morality of nuclear weapons, and I believe it was at Georgetown University, which is a way of proving George Schultz’s axiom that nothing ever gets settled in this town. Here we are back again, 20 years later, on a variation of the same question.
I’m going to start by responding to a few of the questions that E.J. has posed and then I was rather provoked by the remarkably elegant and eloquent presentations of my colleagues. And I have even more to say about that, but I’ll try to squeeze it all in 15 minutes.
E.J. asked, Can religious convictions guide a moral foreign policy? Do they lead to fanaticism? And I’m not sure that question has any kind of answer. You all know that you can read scripture any way you want. A group of us have been reading the Bible for the last couple of years once a week and we’re about at II Kings, and I can assure you that my first travel through Joshua was a revelation. For a book with a reputation, the Bible I mean, of speaking to the deepest and moral senses of humanity, Joshua is knee deep in blood, and if you were looking for any kind of message that you want out of the Bible, I’m sure it depends on where you look, but you’ll be able to find it.
An even more remarkable example, of course, is Isaiah with the famous verse where he says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard lie down with the kid and the calf with the young lion and an old child shall lead them,” what people don’t know is that three verses before he speaks of “the coming of the messiah, the rod of Jesse, who shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.” This is not all peaches and cream. It’s not all love thy neighbor, which simply is a way of saying, which I think is rather obvious, that you can read scripture any way you want.
Now, we don’t all just speak of religion as interpretations of scripture; we have our traditions. But again that doesn’t answer the question which way will religion incline you on foreign affairs or intervention or any of these other issues, because it depends which religious tradition, which strain we are talking about. Who speaks for Islam? Is it Osama or is it the kind of moderate universalist that we see in other parts of the world, for example, in Indonesia? Who speaks for Judaism? Is it the Meritz secularist party in Israel or is it the Kach extremist party?
So I’m not sure that in any way it’s a useful question, because religion as an abstraction will not tell you, inform you, guide you as to how to act either collectively or individually.
A second point, I think, which is rather important, is the influence of religion in American foreign policy. I was at a conference just a few days ago in which many people expressed apprehension and even offense at the president’s invocation of religion in the State of the Union address in his discussion of Iraq and the coming war. One of the participants even spoke of, quote, “carrying the cross to Baghdad.”
I think this apprehension is rather absurd, and the American political tradition has long been suffused with a sense of Providence acting in history from the least theistic of the Founders, Jefferson, who four times invoked the deity in the Declaration of Independence, to most famously and most beautifully Lincoln, whose second inaugural was perhaps the most moving invocation of divine purpose and providence in all American history.
The Bush invocation was very much in that tradition, and I think that the secular elites in America and the Europeans who are aghast by what they see as a God-driven cowboy have a total misunderstanding of the roots of that tradition.
We are not going to Baghdad, and we did not go to Afghanistan, to Christianize. We went, and I think we will be going, to civilize. And our definitions of civilization are rather secular as they derive most directly from the Enlightenment, which in itself was a reaction to religion. Now, some may have a spiritual impulse behind this civilizing mission, but that does not in any way make what we are doing a religious crusade.
I have some other thoughts about E.J.’s questions, but I must say that I feel the obligation as the representative of a certain school of thinking here to respond to what Bryan and Professor Walzer have said. I particularly want to focus on three aspects. The first is the critique of unilateralism and the notion that, as I believe Bryan said, that multilateralism is the embodiment of a sort of a conservative tradition, which sees law-based multilateralism as the foundation of international order. The second point is the critique of preemption, and the third is what I see as a kind of utopianism in the presentations that we have heard.
I don’t understand how in any way one can say as we have heard earlier that multilateralism in-and-of-itself is morally superior to unilateralism. I don’t see how numbers determine legitimacy. By that standard, Zionism is racism. We had an overwhelming majority of the UN say exactly that. I don’t understand how we derive our standards of legitimacy by the embodiment of multilateralism and, if you like, universalism in the United Nations.
We just heard last week that in May the UN Commission on Disarmament will be chaired by Iraq and the chair after it will be Iran. For the UN Commission on Human Rights, the newly elected chair is Libya, a government who specializes in abduction, assassination, violent repression and torture.
What we have in the UN is an Orwellian universe run by majority, which to me is the antithesis of international morality. For us somehow to see the locus of international legitimacy in an institution as corrupt and disruptive as the United Nations is to me simply astonishing.
In fact, I would disagree strongly with what Father Hehir said, that the foundation of order is multilateral action in international law. I think they are a fiction. They do not exist and they certainly do not defend order. The foundation of the current order in the world, the guarantor, if you like, of the peace in just about every region of the world is power and, most specifically, American power. We live in a completely unique international system that has been unique for the last 1,500 years, a system that is unipolar. We have not seen this since the end of the Roman Empire, and I do not think we have adjusted our thinking to understand exactly what that means.
It means that the peace in the Pacific Rim, the peace in the Persian Gulf, the peace in the Balkans, the peace in most of the regions in the world where it’s threatened, and where it does exist is a result either indirectly or directly of American power or the threat of American power. It is overwhelming. And it is the fear and adjustment to that power, which I think in today’s world is the guarantor of security and peace. We saw that in Afghanistan. We’re seeing it in the Gulf. And we see it elsewhere in the world.
The idea that somehow there is some multilateral structure that is keeping the peace, or some international law or agreement, I think is absurd. Do a thought experiment. Imagine the removal of the United States by some act of God from the world today and imagine how long international law and multilateralism would keep the peace in the Pacific, in the Korean Peninsula, in the Gulf, in the Balkans or anywhere else in the world.
Secondly, there was a critique of the idea of preemption, I suspect as an expression of the projection of American unilateralism, if you like, but also as a doctrine. I’m not sure I understand it, and I think this opposition is almost reflexive to a preemptive foreign policy, to preemptive intervention. It completely ignores the events of September 11th, which I think should have illuminated how radically the world has changed, specifically that we now live in an age — perhaps we were living in it earlier but we did not really acknowledge or understand it — of the distinct possibility of instant annihilation.
We have weapons of mass destruction, which until 50 years ago never existed in human history, and we have something even newer now, which is the democratization of the knowledge of how those weapons are produced, and the spread of those weapons around the world into the hands of actors who are not deterrable, who are willing to die in the name of their cause and who are quite active in trying to seek and acquire these weapons and who will use them tomorrow if they acquire them today.
In such a world adhering to theories hundreds of years old about preemption, which were based on the assumption that we could only be attacked by a foreign enemy mobilizing a land army whose progress would be slow and could be observed and could only attack very slowly and deliberately and obviously and observablely; that world no longer exists. It died on September 11th, and if we do not understand that we live in a new world we will suffer that kind of instant annihilation and then all of our debates about preemption will be rather beside the point.
Lastly, I simply want to say that when Professor Walzer ended his remarks, he said something to the effect that the opponents of American unilateralism and opponents of the war would be strengthened in their arguments if they would urge other centers of power in the world, in the multilateral world, other actors in the world, to bear the burdens in advance of peace and security and humanitarianism.
I think he’s right about that, but the fact that those powers don’t exist, the fact that France is today acting out of a basic self-interest, that Russia is acting in the same way, that China, the other great power, has no interest whatsoever in the relief of the suffering of the people of Iraq, to say the least tells us that we live in a world where such actors do not exist and that to imagine that we are going to mobilize international world opinion, meaning the French and the Russians and the Chinese and others, in defense of the principles that we hold dear is a wan hope that will not be fulfilled. And if we await that kind of rescue from the others, we will be waiting forever.
I do not understand in any way how we derive legitimacy in our actions acting in the name of what we believe is right and humane and civilized by getting the nod and the okay of the butchers of the Tiananmen Square on the Security Council. I don’t understand how the legitimacy of our action depends on the support and approval of Syria, which sits on the Security Council and also is a member of the State Department’s list of terrorist states.
There is a kind of absurdity in this reliance on others when we know how the others are acting. We know who they are and we know that they are not guided in their actions in the world by anything remotely like the principles of morality and humanitarianism, which are so important in guiding our own actions.
So I would say that I would like to live in the world that Professor Walzer has outlined. That world doesn’t exist. There is no prospect that it will exist in our lifetime. And in the face of the threat that we know exists, that we have seen on September 11th and that we know are threatening the next September 11th we have no choice but to act unilaterally and by our own definitions of what is right and just.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you, Charles. I think it was appropriate to join those points. I also hope at some point you’ll share with us so we can share with you the other things that had to be precluded by that very proper intervention.
My friend and colleague Jim Lindsay.
JAMES LINDSAY: Thank you, E.J. I’m a little bit intimidated to have to follow up on Charles’ elegance.
E.J. DIONNE: That’s why I set it up that way. (Laughter.)
JAMES LINDSAY: I know, and I wish I had known.
Let me begin by thanking you for the invitation to come here and for hosting this event. Let me also put in a plug here for Professor Walzer’s book, which is called Just and Unjust Wars. When I was in graduate school this was probably one of only five books I read that was actually worth reading, and it stuck with me for a very long time. I believe there’s a newer edition out that has a preface. I think it is very good. I’ve actually taught using the book, and I can describe the students reading it as variously excited, enraged, provoked, puzzled but clearly enjoying it. I think that’s the highest praise I can give a book, that it actually makes students pay attention and want to argue and stay past the bell.
What I’d like to do in my time here is to respond to some of the remarks that Father Hehir made. I’d also like to at least take a passing wave at the unanswerable question that E.J. unfairly gave to me because of some issues he has with Professor Walzer back from being an undergraduate. And then I would like to get into the very provocative issues that Professor Walzer raised here today.
Let me begin with, I think, a point that Father Hehir brought out early on, which went beyond his brief but I think it was worth making, and that is the increasing salience of religion in world politics. I think, if anything, Father Hehir failed to emphasize how important that is and how it could greatly complicate international relations. I think Charles was quite right to point out to us that religious traditions are very diverse and there are different trends, strains, groups and communities within even individual religion. But it’s quite clear that religion has taken on increased salience in world politics and the problem with religion becoming a more vocal point, a more salient part of international relations, is that it makes it much more difficult to deal with.
It is often hard enough in world politics to deal with issues that are just about ordinary material things. When those material things take on a sacred cast, it becomes even more complicated to find ways of compromise and peaceful resolution of issues. So I think it can profoundly complicate us and I think that the Father here was quite right to say we need to think a lot more about it, but I think it’s going to be very hard to do because I’m not sure we know exactly how to handle religion, how to minimize its potential consequences, its ability to be quite volatile as an issue. And it’s not just simply an issue between Christendom and Islam, but one of, I think, Hinduism versus Islam in South Asia, which has quite rightly been described as if not the most, one of the most dangerous places on the earth.
The second issue that I think Father Hehir brought up is the issue of the erosion of sovereignty. Under the tradition of Westphalia state systems, states are sovereign in their border, and we were supposed to respect that, but clearly in the last several decades that notion has been eroded. We talk about intervening in other countries, and it’s not clear, however, that we have actually developed the proper set of rules of the road to govern intervention, when it is justified and when it is, in fact, not, which leads to complaints that sometimes intervention is simply unjustified or would be exercised by the powerful and the weak do nothing about it and other times it’s hailed as a great triumph of the evolution of the international system. So I think it’s an issue that actually deserves a lot more focus.
The third point I want to respond to in Father Hehir’s presentation is about the Bush administration’s national security strategy. I am not sure it is as transformative as Father Hehir suggests, and I’m not sure that emphasis on preemption that Charles talks about does lie at the level of a doctrine or is as easy to do as is sometimes suggested.
I think one of the puzzling things is that clearly one candidate for the doctrine of preemption would be North Korea, and, as Charles has recognized and discussed at great length in his recent columns, preemption in the case of North Korea is very difficult to do. This is not to argue against the notion of preemption; it’s simply to point out that it cannot be the sole base on which one builds a foreign policy.
And I should also add, in terms of preemption, I don’t think there’s anyone in the American political arena who would argue that the United States doesn’t have a right to preempt against terrorists themselves. The real issue would have to do with a very small handful of rogue states and quite clearly there very prudential reasons rear their headsS and we can argue quite forcefully as to whether an attack would or would not serve our interests in the long run.
Now let me sort of step back and talk to E.J.’s question a bit. It seems to me that I think it’s very important people keep in mind that I think for most Americans, regardless of their faith or whether they have a faith or not, tend to think of foreign policy in moral terms. I think it is also important to keep in mind, thinking about America, that in terms of America’s face to the world, it is not just what the government does but also what its people do, and, in that respect, I should note the very longstanding missionary movement in the United States.
You can go all the way back to 1806, to the haystack prayer meetings outside Williams College in my beloved home state of Massachusetts, which led to large numbers of missionaries, mostly Protestant missionaries during the 19th century subsequently supplemented by Catholic missionaries, Adventist missionaries, missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints, going out and proselytizing and, depending on one’s perspective, either doing many great deeds — and one can point to the creation of Robert College in Turkey or the American University in Beirut — or to deeds that perhaps many people would look back on today as not being so noble — and one could think of the history of Hawaii and the role of missionaries leading to the American seizure of Hawaii.
But my point is that in terms of at least exporting American values and American ideas, we think it’s important to keep in mind non-governmental actors, transnational actors, as Father Hehir points out, and that they existed long before IBM and General Motors.
I think also part of the problem we have in our dialogue is we often talk about liberals versus realists, and I believe Charles situates as a realist, as if somehow in this discussion liberals, using this formulation of people who are interested in morality, and realists have no interest in morals because they’re interested in raw, hard power. And I think that really, at least in the American context, I do think that most Americans do take moral considerations into their calculations.
Americans are particularly uncomfortable with raw, pure real politik. I think of Henry Kissinger. One of the interesting things about Kissinger’s tenure as national security advisor and then secretary of state is he produced a lot of critics, but his critics came from both the left and the right. While they may have disagreed on specific issues, they were united in one thing, and that was that Henry Kissinger’s amoral foreign policy was immoral. For leftists it was that Henry Kissinger was engaged in a policy that was targeted against leftist governments like Salvador Allende’s, but for his critics from the right the argument was that Kissinger was unwilling to face up to the evil of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes.
So I think it’s important to keep in mind in this debate that the tendency to think in moral terms, albeit inspired by religion, is not the province of one part of the foreign policy spectrum, which takes me to the question that touched on in the latter half of Professor Walzer’s comments, about how to think about the war and how to base opposition to the war.
And as Professor Walzer was talking, all I could do is think back to a discussion I had with one of the graduate students when I was teaching. A student came up to me after a discussion and said, “You know what, Professor Lindsay?” “What?” “Morality is really hard.” (Laughter.) And I said, “Well, if it were easy, do you think Professor Walzer would have written such a long book?”
I think it’s very important in these discussions to keep a couple of things in mind. First, are you trying to talk about what the moral thing to do is? The first order problem is, what’s the moral action? What is our moral code? As Professor Walzer talked about in his book, being a consequentialist or utilitarian means evaluating means in terms of the ends they achieve. You can be an absolutist and believe that certain means can never be justified regardless of how good the end is.
But it goes beyond that. I mean, morality is inevitably tied up into pragmatic calculations of the way the world works, what the consequences of actions will be. It’s also tied into calculations about probability of events, I think as Professor Walzer quite rightly pointed out.
And even individuals with coherent moral philosophies can on the same issue at different points in time come up with very different answers. I think Professor Walzer had a stimulating essay in The New Republic, I think back in September, talking about whether or not the Bush administration was justified in going to war in Iraq, and the argument is essentially, I think, the one we heard here today, but as he frankly acknowledged in the course of the essay, back in the mid to late 1990s, he had a different view on it, largely because the circumstances at the time were different.
And so I think it is a tendency when people raise the issue of morality, they sometimes think that this makes the conversation very simple, and I think that’s wildly misleading in many ways. It makes things much more complicated precisely because the morality is tied up with these broader calculations about prudence and probability. It doesn’t wipe them away.
And I would point to Professor Walzer’s argument about containment, putting focus on the issue of what the moral thing to do is. On a pragmatic ground one can raise a number of questions, like containment might work right now, but what reason would we have to believe that it would hold up over time. I mean, I’d love the president of the United States to come out and say, “The reason you have invigorated containment right now is precisely because I was willing to threaten to use force,” and all of a sudden countries that have been sitting on the sideline or that wanted this problem just to go away — and I think Charles quite eloquently pointed out a lot of countries would just like problems to go away — would all of a sudden get religion and decided to make inspectors an issue.
And the real question is, if you were to opt for a policy of continued containment, could it stand up? Would it be sustained both by international will? Does that dribble out over time as it did during the 1990s? Or would the Iraqis after a period of time decide they were going to start refusing to cooperate, and then would the world be willing to come up once again? I think it would, to borrow the president’s recent comments, be a bad movie I’ve seen before and don’t wish to again.
By the same token, there’s also a deeper issue here and this gets to the one that Professor Walzer in The New Republic article raised quite eloquently, and that’s the question if you’re going to argue that we need to have an international system, an international rule of law to handle the problem of international society, there also has to be a rule of enforcement. And, again, one of the real questions here is whether or not we are willing to enforce rules and whether or not there is room to have, for lack of a better word, a death penalty for regimes that continue to flout their international obligations. Again, it’s not clear to me that if you were to take the threat of war off the table that you wouldn’t end up right back where you were in the early 1990s.
I think a lot of these arguments also apply to Professor Walzer’s discussion of foreign aid. There’s a tendency again in much of these debates when you invoke morality that all of a sudden arguments or discussions of prudence, pragmatics, actually how the world works get shoved to a side. And while I appreciate the general thrust of Professor Walzer’s remarks about the importance of the broadening circle of winners in the international society, that doesn’t mean I would accept the notion that the answer is foreign aid or a mass transfer of resources, or that I would necessarily accept the issue is really one of the proper statistic to look at is share of world output or degree of inequality. On the latter point, one can imagine a recession happening in the developed world, which would then send income plunging and would narrow the income gap between the rich and the poor, but I hardly think that would do much for the poor themselves.
And I think on a lot of these issues one of the troubles of foreign aid is that economists have poured over this data for years trying to figure out how aid promotes growth, and a lot of the studies on balance suggest that it’s a wash or, if anything, levels of aid are negatively associated with economic growth.
But the point here is not to make a brief against foreign aid but to argue, at least in this particular issue, that to broaden the circle of winners by addressing the problems outside the developed world, any strategy has to be far broader than a strategy that simply deals with sending money somewhere else. We’re talking about trade policy, we’re talking about policies done to help countries establish the true basis of rule of law that allow lots of other things, good things, to happen.
But again what really troubles me is that while I appreciate the tendency of Americans to want to cast their arguments in moral terms, the tendency is for that to squelch debate because when people think that they are being moral it’s not too hard to all of a sudden segue into the realm of being high and mighty with a great deal of sanctimony so anybody who disagrees with you must by definition not be really interested in moral issues. And I think that tends to actually poison our debate rather than to advance it.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very much, Jim. (Applause.) I have never heard Jim poison a debate. He’s one of the reasons it’s great to hang around here. You walk down the hall and on one day you will get a great college course and the next day you will get a new policy. Bless you, Jim.
When we were going around to ask people to join this panel I can’t tell you the number of people who suggested that we call Louise Richardson and we’re very glad she answered our call and we’re grateful to have you here. (Applause.)
LOUISE RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, and I’m happy to be here. And I must confess, until Mr. Krauthammer spoke, I was very worried about my role on this panel because I found myself in agreement with just about everything that had been said, so it’s nice not to be entirely in agreement with everything.
And this is particularly true of the comments of Father Hehir, about which I really have very little to comment. I found his description of the genesis of the role of religion entirely convincing, and I do share his analysis of the national security document and the problems inherent in it.
And I must confess that I do worry, however, about Professor Walzer’s four propositions on intervention. I would certainly not worry about these propositions if Professor Walzer and people like him, who are concerned to do what is right, were those responsible for applying these propositions in particular circumstances, but I worry very much about their being left in the hands of people concerned only about the next election in considering their applicability to particular instances in foreign policy.
And I do also share his views that the Marshall Plan is a particularly august or exemplary instance of U.S. enlightened self-interest. To me, it’s unimaginable to think that we could mobilize the American people today behind a policy that would require us to spend three percent of GDP and give it away. And we were able to do so in the Marshall Plan I think partly because we were acting in our own interests. We felt that only a strong ally was a good ally and that by pouring money into Europe we would build a strong bulwark against Communism. It was easier to do because we did have a sense of affinity with those to whom we were giving money, and it was also easier to do because we were able to extrapolate from our own experiences the belief that by uniting the Europeans, they would become like us. We were able to impose conditions on the distribution of this money, which required the European economies to get together agree how to distribute it. This had wonderful long-term consequences and ended up being the genesis, really, of the European Union.
But I think we’re going to face a much more difficult situation today when we cannot make the same changes of affinity to those who require our aid, nor can we reasonably, I think, expect them to act in the ways that we did in our past by uniting to distribute this aid.
On his points about the war in Iraq, I agree that his second example is the wise way to oppose this war, and I can agree from personal experience of saying it’s a very difficult argument to make because I’ve been trying to make a variant of it for the past couple of months with very limited success.
But I have to say, counter to Mr. Krauthammer, I don’t think at all that there is this utopian view of the world. Any utopia I could fashion — and I’m sure they could too — is one that is very different than the world in which we find ourselves today. As difficult as the world in which we find ourselves is today, I do not think at all that it is the case that we are facing instant annihilation. I think, indeed, when we faced the Soviet Union armed to the teeth against us, we did face that prospect, and I tend to agree we do not face today our enemies in al-Qaeda and so on, while they do possess the motives to annihilate us, they certainly do not possess the means to do so.
And finally I would resist the invocation of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for just about any position we could take. This is a very problematic document indeed as evidenced by the fact that prior to September 11th Afghanistan didn’t even exist on this list. This list was compiled largely for domestic purposes with very little bearing on the realities of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba, for example, was on the list and, as anyone who knows much about terrorism knows, other than providing a few damp apartments to some geriatric left-wing Latin Americans, Cuba has not been a state sponsor of terrorism in recent years.
But as will readily become apparent, if it isn’t apparent already, I am in no sense a moral philosopher, and so I was completely immobilized by these four brutal questions that were sent to us. And I too did nothing to warrant them. I had never imposed such questions on my students. (Laughter.)
So I come to this subject as somebody who studied terrorists and terrorist movements and so I will try to address these questions through this lens, as one who has looked at terrorists and the role of religion in terrorist groups.
And certainly over the past 30 years and especially over the past 10 we have seen a dramatic increase in the role of religion and the mixture of religious and political motives amongst terrorist groups. The current wave of terrorism began in the late 1960s, but in the late 1960s, if one were to draw up a list of all the terrorist groups in existence, none of them had religious motives; today, with a list of about 50 terrorist groups, at least 15 of them have very clear religious motives today. And in the 19th and 20th centuries, the precursor to today’s terrorists were secular, reflected the secularization of society generally.
But actually to argue against the notion that this is an entirely brave new world into which we’ve entered, if you look prior to the French Revolution, you find that every single terrorist group that existed prior to the French Revolution actually had the same mixture of religious and political motives that we’re encountering today. This is true of ancient groups like the zealots in the first century after Christ; it’s true of the medieval groups, the assassins between the 11th and 13th century; and it’s true also of non-Islamic groups like those who operated in India for a great many years.
So this mixture of religious and political motives is not something that’s entirely new, and it has always been particularly dangerous. The religious terrorist groups have generally had two characteristics that set them apart from other terrorist groups. The first is they have always exercised less constraint. This is thought to be because their audience is God rather than the population from which they draw support. So [secular] terrorists by and large have not taken the opportunities available to them to kill as many people as possible; they haven’t needed to do that to achieve their ends, but [religious] terrorist groups have.
The second characteristic — and I’m delighted to be able to put al-Qaeda with the Jesuits and IBM and the World Bank — is that they have always been more transnational, which is partly why many of them have lasted longer than others. They’ve been harder to defeat because they have operated across borders, because obviously the boundaries of religion and the political boundaries have not overlapped.
So as I look at the role religion plays in terrorist groups, I see, I think, three different roles, and I think we often mistakenly lump all these together. Sometimes religion simply plays the role of being a tag of ethnic identity, which is clearly the case in Northern Ireland, which is not a religious conflict at all. The use of religious appellations simply makes it easier to identify one’s friends and one’s enemies.
The second, and by far the most common, role religion plays in terrorist groups is as a recruitment tool, a mask for political motives, a means of acquiring or claiming legitimacy. And a case, I would argue, here is Hamas. If you read the literature of Hamas, it’s suffused with religious rhetoric, and yet if you look at the actions of Hamas, I think they can be explained by the very political ambition to replace the PLO as the legitimate voice of the Palestinians. So their religion is simply used as a tool.
And the third role religion plays is as an ideology, as a guide to action, as an alternate claim to legitimacy and sovereignty, as is the case, for example, in certain religious cults like Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that released the Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway.
And I have to admit it’s a little unclear which of these three categories al-Qaeda fits into. We don’t quite understand the group well enough to know the relative rates of the religious and political movements in the group.
So the question for us is, What are we to do in the face of an enemy whose actions violate every norm of what we consider civilized behavior, who, unlike previous terrorists, are clearly trying to kill as many noncombatants as possible? This is an enormously difficult question.
And the first thing I think we have to do is to understand the enemy, and the extent of our ignorance of al-Qaeda, of its operations, its motives, its appeal, its recruitment strategy is certainly a damning indictment of people like me who study these groups and, more to the point, of our intelligence services who have a lot more resources than scholars to investigate these groups. So we really genuinely don’t know, I think, what the relative weight for al-Qaeda is of the millenarianist claims that they make and then the very political pragmatic claims that they also make.
So not all religious terrorist groups, I think, can be lumped together as this undifferentiated mass of religious fanatics. There are real differences between them, and we have to understand these differences if we’re to fashion an effective response.
So in our conflict with al-Qaeda, what we have here, I think, are two flatly contradictory claims to ethical behavior. Bin Laden completely rejects our view of ourselves as ethical human beings just as much as we reject his saying he is acting in the name of the Koran.
Bin Laden has, in fact, made repeated efforts to justify his actions. By issuing fatwas, he’s claiming a degree of religious legitimacy for his actions. In his first fatwa, in 1996, he declared that American troops were legitimate targets because of their occupation of the Islamic holy places. That made them legitimate targets.
Two years later he issued another fatwa in which he claimed that now American civilians were legitimate targets. Again he tried to provide a justification for this expansion, and he made this expansion on two grounds. First, if the U.S. public witnessed the actions of its government, [and did not have the] will to destroy that government, then the U.S. public is, in fact, culpable for the actions of the U.S. government. The second argument was what he claimed to be the U.S. murder of two million Iraqi children through sanctions and the U.S. bombing of Iraq, which means that the U.S. is killing civilians too.
So here it seems to me we have the ultimate vicious cycle: Al-Qaeda argues that our killings of all other civilians justify their killing of our civilians ,and we appear to believe that their killing of our civilians justifies our abandonment of the normal moral constraints inciting them.
Now, if you believe, as I do, that these claims to moral equivalence are spurious, and if you believe, as I do, that we do, in fact, occupy the moral high ground, then the onus, it seems to me,is on us to break this vicious cycle.
I’m absolutely convinced moreover that in this instance, if not necessarily in all others, in the instance of the campaign against terrorism, an ethical response is also the most efficacious response.
I believe that the campaign against terrorism is not one that can be won by military means. The history of anti-terrorist campaigns is fairly unequivocal on this point. It’s fundamentally a political and psychological conflict and it has to be fought, and can only be won, I believe, on those terms.
Now, the world view of bin Laden and his followers is so diametrically opposed to our own that there’s little or no point, it seems to me, in trying to negotiate with him or his followers. The focus of our attention seems to me to be the potential recruits of these terrorist organizations, those whose silent complicity is enough to permit these organizations to thrive.
And we do this, I believe, by demonstrating through our response to this ghastly atrocity that was visited on us that we believe what we say when we say we believe in the rule of law and that we believe in the value of democratic principles.
And we do this in a variety of ways. We do this by limiting our punishment to the evildoers; by refusing to participate in the cycle of violence into which the terrorists are trying to provoke us; by refusing to fall victim to the most common motives of the terrorists, which is the desire for revenge; by draining the swamp such as the impoverished refugee camps in the Madras, in which these groups grow; and by demonstrating our commitment to the rule of law by acting through international institutions and abiding by the structure of international law, by using this as an opportunity to reaffirm our belief in international law.
We can have a firm declaratory policy that nobody has a right to kill innocent civilians to achieve political aims, and we will oppose whoever does that. And if we declare this and apply it evenly and hold ourselves to it, we have some hope of winning the argument with the potential recruits of the terrorists.
In the past year and a half this country, I feel, has witnessed very little public debate on the ethical response to terrorism. We have been concerned, I fear, primarily with what works, not what is right. We have witnessed — I had written “an almost Orwellian,” and I use Orwellian not as Mr. Krauthammer did, to apply to the United Nations, but rather in the misuse of the English language or I believe the use/misuse of the English language most grotesquely, for example, in the USA Patriot Act. And the distinctions we have drawn between the range of our enemies from citizens to resident aliens to foreigners seem to me not to have been based on efforts to draw moral distinctions but rather to come up with names to justify whatever treatments we care to administer.
The public, it seems to me, is clearly frightened, so we cannot rely on an aroused public to hold our leadership accountable. There was virtually no public outcry last November when we blew up a car in Yemen carrying an al-Qaeda suspect and five other people, whom we couldn’t identify at the time. And this did not violate our prohibition against assassination simply because we didn’t call it assassination.
So in thinking about what underlying principles should guide our choice of action, it seems to me that the tradition of U.S. involvement overseas is not a bad place to start. One principle is that we should not claim a right for ourselves that we are not prepared to concede to others — and this would be an argument, I think, against the claim to preemption that was contained in the current national security doctrine, as one example, and here I agree with Father Hehir.
In the Cuban missile crisis, when there was a call for a preemptive strike against Cuba at a time, arguably, when this country was under greater threat than it is today, Robert Kennedy responded, “For 175 years we haven’t been that kind of country,” and I think that too is a good guiding principle, albeit a secular one, to keep in mind.
So the principles of restraint, of noncombatant in unity, of belief in the rule of law all seem to me to be derivable from multiple religious traditions, and again here Professor Walzer made this point eloquently, so they’re not derivable simply from one. So it seems to me that our job is to mobilize people of all religious traditions behind them. Thank you. (Applause.)
E.J. DIONNE: I have a feeling we could spin off a great debate here between Charles and Louise with Jim moderating, and then we could go off to lunch and come back. I think it would be a great discussion, and maybe we’ll have it someday. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time; in fact, we’re over time. And I don’t apologize for that because you all have helped us by being here at the creation of what we hope will be a good volume. But I would like at least to have one round of fast questions or comments if people want to put some issues on the table before I allow Father Hehir and Professor Walzer to make closing comments and to reply.
We’ve got some mikes in the room. If you could be sort of constrained in your comments I would be grateful. Also, I want to give the preference to any journalist friends who have deadlines to meet. Can we start in the front over here, please? Right over to the right. That’s my bias. Forgive me, but these folks may have to work on this immediately. Thank you.
QUESTION: Pat Safir. I’m with Catholic News Service.
This is just an open question for whoever wants to try it. What happens to the various discussions about the interplay between religious morality and public policy when something like this occurs: The Bush administration is sending a team of people to the Vatican to try to influence the Vatican’s position about the war in Iraq. Where does that come from and where does that fit, when the government is trying to influence the religion?
E.J. DIONNE: Hang onto that for a second to answer.
Barbara Bradley from NPR has joined us. There’s a mike there.
QUESTION: I have a number of questions but I’ll limit it to one. We’ve just seen the conclusion — not up in this room but other people, most other people have seen the conclusion — of evidence presented by Colin Powell about what Iraq actually has and has not done to cooperate with inspections. I’m just wondering, when you’re looking at this issue from a religious or moral point of view, does evidence matter? Does evidence in this kind of case matter, or can you make the case for war without knowing whether Iraq has complied with the requirements of the UN or not?
E.J. DIONNE: Barbara — by the way, could you give your married last name, because I still think of you as Barbara Bradley.
QUESTION: Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.
Who else wants to? This gentleman here and then the gentleman back there and then we will ask for replies and conclusions. Sir?
QUESTION: We’ve heard a lot of talk about the relation between religion and war, and I’d like to ask you to comment, if you may, about the relation between religion and peace, the application or the working towards peace. Particularly in the case of Israel and the Palestinians, it seems that we had one past president who was pushing very hard for peace, partly motivated by religion, by his religious faith, and it seems that we have a current president who’s somehow –
E.J. DIONNE: Were you talking about Carter or Clinton there?
QUESTION: I’m talking about Clinton. Carter as well, of course.
And we have a current president who seems to be somewhat leery maybe of pushing for peace because of his association with religious groups.
It’s an open question if you’d care to comment about this issue at all.
E.J. DIONNE: And then Al Milliken in the back, if somebody could — the most faithful attendee of Pew Forum events so he gets to ask the last question. Bless you, Al.
QUESTION: Al Milliken, Washington Independent Writers.
Is it just coincidence or divine providence that Christian missionaries have played such a newsworthy role thus far in the war on terrorism? And are Muslims who refer to their enemies as crusaders justified? Hasn’t the American religion actually taken the concept of crusading well beyond the purpose of the original crusaders? And even if their goals and purposes may be different, aren’t liberals, conservatives, Americans across the political spectrum a very crusading people no matter how politically, spiritually or biblically incorrect that idea may be?
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very much.
All right, let’s get one more in and then, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to close. Sir?
QUESTION: Pat Rogers from Religion News Service.
The title here is “Religion in American Foreign Policy” and I wanted to ask anybody who wants to answer it a two-part question. To what extent does President Bush’s religious background shape his foreign policy and to what extent is that a departure from other presidents? I guess we can’t go through them all but limit to the most recent ones, how different is that from the other foreign policies that are shaped, to the extent they are, by religion?
E.J. DIONNE: That’s a good question. Please include Rutherford B. Hayes and Millard Fillmore. (Laughter.)
Let’s see, I guess, we’re going to have to shut down. I want to just see if our three respondents have something to say. Charles, do you want to reply to some of the arguments that have been made before I turn to Professor Walzer and Father Hehir?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Do you have another hour? I will limit myself to a footnote, which is that Professor Richardson was critical of my invoking the State Department’s terrorism list in describing Syria. I think we’ll all agree that Syria is really defined as a terrorist state. The reason I use the State Department to legitimize my categorizing it is that I thought that at the Brookings Institution it might actually carry weight. (Laughter.) Of course, as you know, I don’t care one way or the other what the State Department says about anything, but I thought perhaps as a debating device it might work. Obviously it didn’t, so I will not try that again.
I’m not sure there’s much I want to add to what I said. I think much of this discussion I’ve found very interesting but entirely irrelevant to what’s happening in the world today, and I meant that with respect. These are important arguments. They are longstanding arguments. But I think in many ways they are very divorced from the realities of today. We can speak about mobilizing the world. There is no world to mobilize here. I mean, that’s the reason we’re acting unilaterally, with the exception of some people like the British and the Australians and others who see the world the way that we do.
I understand the motive, the history of the impulse of multilateralism. I understand the vision that FDR and Cordell Hull had after the Second World War in wanting to abolish the old system of international relations. Cordell Hull said that expressively when he returned from the Moscow conference in 1943.
The fact is, that vision did not work out. We’re now 50 years later. We know that. And to act as if we are speaking of a world where there is international law, international community, multilateral action, community of interest is simply to live in a fantasy. And the cost of living in a fantasy today is so high that we cannot afford to.
E.J. DIONNE: Louise, you have 30 seconds. Do you want to bash the State Department for 30 seconds?
LOUISE RICHARDSON: No, no, I’d love to choose the opportunity to agree with Mr. Krauthammer, because I do think if there were an objective list at the State Department of terrorists Syria would undoubtedly fall on it, so on that we’re in agreement.
Just very briefly, the questions are way to important to deal with in 30 seconds. On the question of does evidence matter I think it only matters because we have declared it to matter. I think there’s little doubt in any of our minds about the nastiness of the regime, but given that we –[TAPE CHANGE.]
E.J. DIONNE: Jim, do you have any last thoughts before I turn it over to the presenters?
JAMES LINDSAY: Evidence matters because, if you go back to the argument that Professor Walzer makes about [inaudible] the moral argument leads you to support the sustaining of containment, if the evidence shows that containment is, in fact, not happening, if they’re evading inspections, then I think you have a real question with that line of argument.
In terms of whether or not we should or shouldn’t crusade, I will leave it to Father Hehir to take that one. (Laughter.) Although, I did go to Catholic school, so I’d be happy, in a different session to talk about it. Though, I think it’s important to keep in mind that the impulse to proselytize, in some branches of Christianity, is important, and I think those people feel that’s part of their mission.
The third thing has to do with the question: to what extent religion should be used to influence what presidents do? Presidents are the sum total of their experiences, and that includes their religious beliefs, but it doesn’t end with their religious beliefs. The problem with trying to psychoanalyze presidents, particularly when you don’t have a Ph.D. in psychoanalysis –
E.J. DIONNE: Charles is a psychiatrist. Watch it. (Laughter.)
JAMES LINDSAY: I’m aware of that. But what you end up with is that religion can lead people in very different directions. I mean, presidents Clinton, Carter, and Bush are all Protestant, but it’s not clear that that would lead them to the same attitudes concerning foreign policy. So, I’m not really sure that I’d want to rest too much on religion when it comes to a president’s decision on foreign policy.
E.J. DIONNE: Bryan and Michael?
BRYAN HEHIR: Obviously, you have to be selective here, so let me take two points from Michael and two points from Charles, and not do any of them justice. Michael Walzer made me think about last resort for a long time, because he feels it has much less utility, if I can use that term, than I think it does. I think he’s absolutely right: It’s a metaphysical term, ultimately, and not a blind run in the sand.
But let me just say that if I were to approach the Iraq issue, as I have in other settings, I’d begin with George Will’s argument that this is an optional war, that is to say, this is a war we can choose to fight or not to fight. And in deciding that, you have to deal with empirical facts [Inaudible] there’s no way out of that.
If you try to do it from the normative point of view, I would ask the question: Is it a necessary war? And necessity is rooted, I think, in the last resort principle. And so, that’s where I would pose the argument. Is it a necessary war? And I just want to be mischievous and claim John Merscheimer as an ally, that it isn’t necessary — known to lead the left all the time.
But that’s the way I would pose the question: In an optional war, is it necessary? I think it’s rooted in last resort, one of the utilities of last resort. Unilateralism and multilateralism — Charles has shaped a lot of the foreign policy debate, for over 10 years, with the notion of unipolarity. It has been contested on empirical grounds, but that’s less significant at the moment. It seems to me the thrust of his argument is that it is a unipolar world, empirically, and we ought to make it a unipolar world morally and legally. And that, I think, is the problematical aspect of it. No one doubts the empirical role and strengths of the United States, but what kind of, in a sense, benefits does that confer not only on the moral order, but the legal order? And that’s the final point about multilateralism.
I don’t think that multilateralism adds to your moral case. Adding up people doesn’t give you better arguments. It does say something about the legal case, and in his last article on unipolarity, I think the line is drawn between us. He says, “Those who stress multilateral constraints want to put harnesses on the sovereign states.” I fully agree. I think the sovereign state has real but relative moral value. It has unique significance in international politics. It should not be the only agent in world politics.
And there is a need to try to constrain it. And particularly, that’s important when you’re the most powerful state in the world, what you think of that?
E.J. DIONNE: Professor Walzer?
MICHAEL WALZER: I do think there is an American propensity to think in crusading terms, in American foreign policy debates, and I don’t think those are good terms. I’m not sympathetic to the idea of a faith-based foreign policy, also not to an ideologically based foreign policy.
I think the voices of religious people and the voices of people committed to this or that political ideology should be part of the debate. It’s not a good idea here, or in Taliban Afghanistan, when one of those voices dominates the debate.
But I’m going to focus my last remarks on the notion of multilateralism, in response to Charles. And I want this response not to sound utopian or moralizing, so I’m going to have to be careful, since those are obviously tendencies I could fall into. I don’t think multilateralism is morally superior. I think it is pragmatically preferable.
The United States has today something very close to absolute power in the world, because of all our military dominance. And absolute power has dangers, not only for other people, but also for the people who possess it. And it has, crucially, two dangers: that absolute power corrupts, and it makes people stupid.
Absolutism is corrupting and stupefying. (Laughter.) And, therefore, you need other people around to tell you when you’re not behaving well. You need partners, not followers, but partners with whom you have to negotiate alliances and, sometimes, compromise.
A balance of power is not — Charles is right about this — a balance of power doesn’t exist in the world today, and it isn’t likely to exist in the near future. But what we can have and need is a division of labor. And it’s enormously important that we act in ways that facilitate a division of labor.
Now, even the French can participate in a division of labor if what they are doing now in Africa prevents what happens in Sierra Leone from happening in the Ivory Coast. They are participating, in a very important way, in maintaining decency in the world, in a place where we are very, very unlikely to lift a finger for the sake of decency.
So, we need partners, and we need to be ready to negotiate with our partners so that we don’t become corrupt and stupid.
E.J. DIONNE: I am not stupefied but in awe of our distinguished panel here. I want, by the way, to make a quick comment on Barbara’s question, which it that it seems to me evidence matters quite a lot in this war. It’s primarily about weapons of mass destruction. It matters somewhat less, perhaps quite a bit less, if one thinks this war is primarily about regime change or about a democratic transformation in the Middle East. But I’ll just leave that there.
I really want to thank our panel, and I want to thank a bunch of people, not least is this great audience here. There are some people in this audience who may hear from us, and we may be inviting you to reply to our distinguished panelists. I want to thank Melissa Rogers, who, alas, could not be here because of her sad family obligation, and the rest of the staff of the Pew Forum: Sandra Stencel, Heather Morton, Kirsten Hunter, Grace McMillan, Aaron Pennekamp and Tom Cassels.
I again want to thank Kayla. And by the way, all those questions they complained about, those were Kayla’s questions. So, from now on, we’ll just refer to them that way. And Christina Counselman. And we’re indebted here at Brookings to Strobe Talbott, Jim Steinberg and Carol Graham for their support of this endeavor. It shows, actually, different parts of this place can work well together.
This was actually cosponsored by both the Foreign Policy and Governance Studies programs here, and we thank them and Jim Lindsay very much. Thank you to Ron Nessen and the Brookings communication staff: Colin Johnson, Fred Dews and Adrianna Pita. And thanks to Stacy Rosenberg and Emily Horne.
And last but not least, our continued gratitude to the Pew Charitable Trusts, or St. Pew, as I refer to them, for making all of these discussions possible. You will be able to find this discussion, in a few days, both at www.brookings.edu and www.pewforum.org. Again, note that copyright restriction. And given the title of this panel, I think I can say, God bless all of these panelists, and thank you very, very much.
(END OF EVENT.)
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