In a commentary in today’s Guardian US law professor Philip Bobbitt — whilst ultimately defending the American government’s politically expedient approach to the defense of human rights — makes some valid observations about the humanitarian justification for military action, and highlights how most (and predominantly leftist) critics miss the point when they attack Dubya and company over their bullishness.
In essence, he asserts that such political decision-making is inherently pragmatic, rather than dictated by the altruistic behaviour we would like governments to exhibit. In Bobbitt’s own terms, it boils down to a simple question of “strategic interest”, and it is this concept, argues Bobbitt, that the majority of critics fail to take into question.
When you get off the high horse and actually think about it, he does make sense. If altruism were to determine America’s foreign policy, for example, would the world not be in a state of constant conflict? American troops would be everywhere from North Korea to Northern Ireland, sorting out our troubles, most likely to little avail. And even if diplomacic rather than military measures were taken, would anything really be accomplished? Of course not. Governments have to pick and choose their battles, and the defense of human rights is never their prime directive.
But many people’s consternation with the Bush administration’s attitude has not so much to do with the fact that they went to war for the wrong reasons, but rather the way they actually presented themselves as the world’s sole champions of humanitarianism, as if human rights (or to be more specific, the rights of Americans) _were_ their only concern. In so far as this, we — both the American public and the rest of the world — were _all_ lied to. It is this, more than anything, that elicits such a strong reaction from elements on the left, since it is painfully obvious — from the controversy surrounding Camp X-Ray to the general air of suspicion regarding anyone of Arab appearance and/or Islamic faith — that mainstream, white America cares for nothing and for no one other than itself.