Imagine that a person, Agent A1, known that neighbor N1 is brutally abusing his children. However, A1 does nothing about this. She may cast disapproving glances in the direction of their home, avoid contact with members of the household, and speak in tones of condemnation when talking about them, but she takes no action.
Later, she learns that neighbor N2 is brutally abusing his children. N2 owns property that A1 would like to own. By taking action against N2, this property might become available. She decides to take action against N2. In justifying her actions, she says that she is motivated by concern for the children.
Now, Agent A2 speaks up. She asserts, quite sensibly, that A1 is not motivated by compassion. If A1 were compassionate, she would have interfered with N1’s brutal abuse of his children as well. A1 is actually motivated by a desire for the property that this interference might force N2 to sell. Because of this, A2 condemns A1.
However, A2 does not condemn A1 for failure to interfere in the first instance. A2 instead protests that A1 should never have interfered even in the household of N2. N2 should be permitted to continue to brutalize his children, even killing and maiming many of them, without any type of community involvement at all.
I'm looking for a hero in this story.
I’m not finding one.
This characterizes some of the current debate on the situation in Libya – the decision to hinder Muammar Gaddafi’s ability to brutalize citizens who are supporting a change to a more democratic form of government.
Some people argue that the United States is not motivated out of compassion. There are people in the world who are suffering greater brutality than in Libya where the administration does almost nothing. But Libya has oil. So, the United States must be more concerned with supplies of oil than the wellbeing of civilians.
Yet, these protesters argue that the Obama Administration ought to do nothing. They argue for the international equivalent of a principle that says that the head of a household shall be left alone to brutalize his children in whatever manner suits his tastes and interests, and that the rest of the community must not get interfere.
At this point, I want to add one more character to this story. A1 shares her home with A3. A3 holds that members if the household ought to do nothing unless it can be demonstrated that a “household interest” is at stake. In other words, before A3 will allow A1 to act, A3 must be convinced that the action will profit the household in some way. If A1’s actions do not advance a “household interest”, then it is to be condemned.
Because of this, if A1 had taken action against N1's abuse, A3 would have been on him in an instant, rallying other members of the household to strip A1 of any type of ability to act, taking that decision-making power for themselves.
So, while it is true that the difference between N1 and N2 is that the household will not profit from interference in the first case but might profit in the second, there is a powerful force in this country that says that this is how it should be. They will not permit any type of action without being shown that a “national interest” is at stake. Taking action (particularly with an election coming up) in the international equivalent of N1 would mean that A3 wins the next election.
Ah, but A2-type thinkers are incapable of thinking in such complexities. They like a world of black and white – one in which taking action against the brutalization of children in another household is condemned in all circumstances.
I hold that, while we certainly require a presumption of international non-interference (in the same way we have a presumption against interference in the way parents raise their children), there are cases in which there is evidence to overcome this presumption. I condemn A2-type thinkers (pacifist Democratics and isolationist Republicans) for their utter lack of compassion and their blind obedience to rules. At the same time, I condemn A3-type thinkers (most Republicans as well as many independents and Democrats) for their utter lack of concern and compassion – people whose attitudes, if applied to individuals instead of countries would clearly create a community of alternating violence and indifference.
There is a reason for applying these principles of households to nations.
That is how peaceful communities are formed.