As a younger more religious man I used to study the bible and prayerbook and while I have subsequently fallen away from Christianity and indeed any form or religion but I do not deny that many wise and sensible things have been said and done in the name of some God or other. Some lines from the confession of the traditional Anglican Evensong have always stuck with me:
"We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. [...] We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;" (Source)
This it seems to me is as good a summary of honour and the requirements to be a good human as anything else. It is not sufficient to only live with some of this -- to be honourable you must avoid sins of all three sorts, that is to say you must both act where required as well as avoid action and you must look beyond simple self gratification. I am aware that I have "erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep" all too often -- indeed taking the time to write this could be one way -- but that is human nature and I must acknowledge it and strive to do better.
The question comes in cases where neither action nor inaction is blameless. At which point I fall back on a second line of defence:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -- Mahatma Ghandi
I would rather be complicit in sins of commission than sins of ommission. I would rather be active than passive. To me it is more of a crime to do nothing than to wrongly attempt change. Passivity is for rocks.
There are certain things I believe are bad for the human race, the main one being the concept of tribalism, ethnicity or nationalism. I am proud to be English but I am not blind to the faults of England through the centuries and I believe that the idea of global bodies is good even where such bodies may be to the detriment of England. The UN and the EU are good examples as I believe that bodies with their jurisdiction are a good idea and for these bodies to work the whole world must abandon some national sovereignty. However belief in the concept does not equate to support for the entity as it currently exists. Indeed both are so flawed that I actually question whether either can be successfully reformed to remove the flagrant two-faced dishonesty I see in them.
However there are some things that I believe are good such as freedom and toleration. I believe I and anyone else has the right to do whatever they please so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. If, to take an extreme example, you wish to torture someone to death and they agree then good luck to you. On the other hand if there is reason to doubt that you have their permission then you have no right to perform such an act and deserve to be punished severely for it.
How does this relate to Iraq and the global security situation?
Fairly simply. We of the developed world must be honest with ourselves and with the rest of the world. Too often the desire to avoid being the man who picks the speck from his neighbour's eye but ignores the log in his own means that we also avoid being the man who picks the log from his neighbour's eye but ignores the speck in his own. Moreover, and this is precisely part the problem with the EU and UN, we prefer to pretend that words are equivalent to deeds. Honest appraisal would stop us from pretending that countries such as Sudan or Libya have any business with committees to enforce human rights except as defendants. Honest appraisal would require us to notice when countries announce intent to comply with international agreements but yet flagrantly violate them even to the extent of not passing the required legislation. The USA is not a perfect country and George W Bush is not a perfect president but both are streets ahead of the behaviour of many of their critics. France, for example, brazenly violates one international agreement after another and its president as well as many of its politicians and journalists have documented links to almost every dictatorship in the world, yet rather than criticise France and its government for violating one EU ruling after another despite promises to be good and attempt to enforce compliance on others, we criticise the USA and Bush for stating that they intend to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty or the ICJ and doing so.
There is also the condescending attitude that the less developed nations are "not ready for democracy" or whatever and that we should judge them more leniently. Why? The nations of Eastern Europe that joined the EU this month were treated if anything more harshly than the existing EU members when it came to accession. That hasn't stopped them from meeting the goals for democracy, justice and open markets and it has not stopped others such as Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey from strenuous efforts to comply.
I read an article about Israeli interrogators using some extreme methods of torture and teaching them to the US. If the descriptions of their behaviour are correct then they are barbaric and deserve condemnation and Israel as a nation needs to determine whether it can support such methods. But equally we should condemn the interrogators of Saudi Arabia and Iran who are at least as vicious and who operate in an environment where anyone critical is liable to experience such methods first hand. The difference between Israel, the PLO and the above countries is that Israeli investigative journalists can and do publish stories of such abuses and of the corruption of government. Ariel Sharon has faced numerous allegations of bribery and corruption in both the domestic and international press, none of his neighbouring rulers have faced such domestic criticism and even coverage within the international media has been spotty and frequently permitted apologists to have the last word.
If you believe that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or such similar sentiments) then is it better to seek a 5% improvement in a state that is 75% compliant or a 5% improvement in one that is 25% compliant? It seems to me that it makes sense to go for the lower performers before trying to improve those who do better.
Again, is it better to attempt to accommodate the intolerance in a particular religion or culture or is it better to speak out against it and be accused of intolerance oneself? I believe that those who are themselves intolerant should forfeit the right to our toleration. I don't care whether they are orthodox Jews, puritan Christians, Wahhabi Muslims or whatever, if they believe that they should use force on others to make them comply then we need not bother to respect their sensibilities. That doesn't mean gratuitously insulting an entire culture or religion because of a few extremists, but it also doesn't mean permitting them to do things we do not permit others to do. No matter whether your ancestors were oppressed by others or not, you do not have the right to oppress others and your oppressors should not feel that it is necessary to atone by casting a blind eye upon your oppression. Equality of opportunity is a universal right, equality of outcome is a pipe dream destined to condemn many in order to attempt to produce a "fair" result.
If you truly believe that liberal democracy, free markets and the rule of secular law are universal rights then you should be prepared to try and spread the concept by force if necessary and not rely on someone else to do it for you. It may well be true that democracy is rarely instilled through conquest, but the number of brutal regimes that have reformed themselves without losing a war with an external nation is about as rare. Even more rare is a regime that reforms itself because the UN asks it too. If you want a regime to reform you have to give it a push, anemic sanctions and condemnation in the UN are not enough.
The answer to why the numerous tyrannies in the world do not have their governments toppled is not that the USA lacks the will it is that the rest of the first world lacks the will to have a large armed force capable of intervention. There is a limit to the military spending that US citizens are willing to pay for and that limit affects the number of commitments the US can make in the world. There are just two Western European nations with any realistic independent military capability - the UK and France - all the rest are unable to field a significant military force without help. All of Western Europe (including the UK and France) as well as Canada (and Japan in different ways) seem to prefer to pay generous social security to the un(der)employed rather than spend the money building a credible military force which might employ, directly or indirectly, the aforementioned unemployed. For the politicians of such nations to carp that the US is a loose cannon is disingenuous to say the least. All of them have signed up for resolutions condemning various regimes for their abuses, many of them have held press-conferences discussing sanctions and other acts they are taking. And most of them have then gone on doing deals with the very regimes they condemn -- President Chirac's welcoming of Mugabe a year or two back is a great example. If they and indeed anyone else opposed to US "adventurism" wish to criticise then they must come up with credible alternatives. Condemnation of tyranny or terrorism without any further action is not a credible alternative unless you are willing to state out right that you see no reason why a load of foreigners should not suffer whatever their leadership wishes. It is interesting that support for the US position seems stronger in countries who have recently had their own tyranny and who have then moved to democracy.
We in the developed world have an alternative to the US approach in fighting terror, it is to close our borders and kick out all the immigrants. The fact that this is the philosophy of the Neo Nazi extremists should indicate the likely success of this choice. Other than this the alternative is to leave anti-terrorism to "police work". The 1990s is not kind to this as response and as I stated at the top not doing "those things which we ought have done" is as bad as doing "those things which we ought not to have done". The Middle East is a pesthole of repression and tyranny with some of the worst statistics for education and literacy despite its mineral wealth. When you look at it this way "seeking stability" is just another way of saying that you condone repression, torture etc. I find the idea of such stability to be utterly repugnant.
The Bush presidency seems to agree with me and to believe that destabilizing the autocrats of the Middle East will allow the inhabitants to hope for a life that doesn't involve corruption and/or religious fundamentalism. This will they hope reduce Islamic terrorism both directly – because of fewer recruits and indirectly in that a democratic Middle East will not support the funding of terrorism. The Bush belief has at least one data point sustaining it. Communist terrorism did indeed wane with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite governments. One difference between the Middle Eastern autocracies and the Communists is that the latter were militarily strong and economically weak while the position is reversed for the former. The logical conclusion is that while economic pressure worked on the communists, military pressure is likely to work in the Middle East. I think this argument is plausible and I have yet to see any alternative plan of action proposed. I do not think the strategy has been implemented perfectly – far from it – but I do not see it as completely failed either. I also believe that it must be a long term strategy. There is no way that we should expect a nation as repressed as Saddam Hussein's Iraq to suddenly flower with democracy and the rule of law within a year. A democratic Iraq requires a multi-year presence and if Bush is reelected it will get it. If he is not reelected then the likelihood of a Lebanese or Vietnamese style chaotic withdrawal seems likely.
If you think of the number of Vietnamese boat people in the decades after US withdrawal from Vietnam as a proxy for the misery within the country then you should have a problem contemplating a unilateral pullout no matter how much of a UN face saver is present. If you look at the UN's generally poor record in overseeing transitions to democracy and even peacekeeping then involving the UN without a significant UK/US presence will result in utter anarchy. The coalition may have grabbed a tiger by the tail in its invasion of Iraq, but letting go is not the answer, rather it just invites the tiger to bite its tormentor. To mix metaphors, if you want to break the bucking bronco you have to stay on it no matter how hard it bucks and how much it kicks. And to those who say the Bush approach is wrong then formulate a series of actions (not words) that will do something better.