Moral Principles Selectively Applied in International Relations

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2004, George W. Bush was roundly criticized for “weakness” in light of Putin’s authoritarian pressures on Ukraine, much as Barack Obama is criticized for “weakness” in 2014. In both cases, one wonders what the strategic interest of a war-weary US is in the Ukraine, which in Cold War terms, is still within Russia’s “sphere of influence.”

The American people can sometimes be roused to foreign intervention by appeals to higher morality and idealism, or the principle that “aggression must not be rewarded,” as George H.W. Bush declared before “liberating” Kuwait from Iraq. But such appeals to principle are highly selective and often don’t work out well (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, now a mess). We have so far resisted intervention in Syria and Ukraine on the grounds that realism and pragmatism must prevail, but it’s not clear that diplomacy is having much impact.

The more I study foreign relations, the more I realize morality, realism, pragmatism and principles of non-aggression are selectively applied in the world.

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