THE BLOG

Does the US Have a Moral Obligation to Save the World From Evil Men?

05/05/2015 03:27 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016
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The escalating conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, and Russia's continuing threat to the stability of the Ukraine are the latest conflicts testing the United States' foreign policy. While some will always protest America's involvement in foreign wars for various reasons, others believe that the country is morally obligated to liberate the oppressed and feed the hungry wherever they may be in the world.

At first glance, the sentiment seems praiseworthy. Numerous regions of the world are embroiled in brutal wars where all forms of human atrocities are being committed, and it behooves a powerful nation like the U.S. to use its mighty army, wealth and resources to save the helpless victims caught in the middle of these struggles.

Some nations are willing to send food to starving countries, but only the U.S. seems burdened with the question of whether they should also save its people from evil men. Yet, who made us the world's keeper? Is it really our moral obligation to intervene in other people's conflicts, or fight their wars, when it seems that the good side is losing?

Might Made Right

The concept that powerful nations are morally bound to help the weaker ones is actually quite new. Prior to World War I, it was taken for granted that rulers had a mandate from their people to make their countries more powerful by conquering the weaker ones, or exacting tribute from those they spared.

Despite the occasional prick of conscience, for example, early American settlers had no qualms about massacring Native Americans and stealing their land. That's what their relatives did back home. Europe's imperialistic fervor, conquering the Americas, India and Africa, was based on a long and honored tradition, like the Incas, Aztecs, Romans, Chinese, and Egyptians for centuries before. Alliances were formed only when nations saw a benefit to pooling their resources, to protect themselves, or to subjugate other, weaker nations.

Saving Grace

After World War I, flushed with victory, the U.S. was seduced by its own propaganda as a protector of the weak around the world. Unfortunately, this noble concept was distorted in subsequent years, as Americans came to believe in the superiority of democracy over every other form of government. To this day, we still believe that, if a foreign country's political system does not mirror our own, it must be flawed -- and saved.

It was our guiding principle as we chased the ghost of communism around the globe after World War II. We saw it as an insidious and contagious disease that, like Ebola, must be wiped out at the source to prevent its spread to healthy, democratic nations. It led to the debacle in Korea and Vietnam and the anarchy in South America, where we supported one dictatorial government after another in the belief that the end -- stopping communism -- justified the means: bringing democracy to the oppressed.

Middle Management

Today the U.S. chases the ghost of Islamic extremism around the globe, seeing it as dangerous to the stability of Western civilization. Yet, we engage in the same type of political manipulation of "infected" countries as we did when fighting communism. We often arm rebels whose motives may be no better than those they fight against. Some might even argue that the number of innocent civilians killed by American airstrikes against suspected militant locations is actually higher than those of civilians killed by the militants themselves.

More than 13 years ago, in our fervor to punish the parties responsible for 9/11, we contributed to the political and social instability of the Middle East. Now we're desperately trying to reassemble an irreparably broken system. But our situation is like that of a gambler on a losing streak. We keep betting higher and higher sums in an effort to save our pride and, hopefully, recoup our losses -- and keep digging ourselves into a deeper hole.

Is it time we swallowed our pride, cut our losses in the Middle East, and simply walked away?