Intermediate Form

The Left, Right, and the National Interest

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A few months ago, the TV show The West Wing began a plot about the sending of troops to Qumar, a fictional African country in which ethnic tensions had erupted into genocide. On the show, one of the characters seemed to make the point that the action would only be made moral because US interests are not at sake.

At the time, I merely noted it. The West Wing has always been a liberal show, but I didn't know if this particular position was representative of the left. I've been watching the show for a while now, and for the last year or so, it's been rapidly diverging from reality. During the fictional elections held last November, it portrayed a massive Democratic victory, just days after the Republicans picked up the senate and gained in the house in the actual midterm elections. Despite the evidence of bias, I like the show because Aaron Sorkin is a good writer (but he was better back when he was on drugs). I didn't know if the idea that war is only moral if it's not in the national interest was solely his idea, or a more general meme that has infected the Left.

→ http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/04102003

This idea resurfaced in the April 10th edition of the Brian Lehrer show, in the last segment, the last listen link on the above page, about a minute in. In a segment in which he asked Anti-War types to call in to discuss the fall of Baghdad and the subsequent celebration in its streets, a caller named Darius said:

The thing that I went through, I was against the war pretty vehemently at first, but then I started to realize that liberals aren't against war, they're against war when there's a national interest. And I realized that was at the heart of my dilemma. I knew that we had national interests in Iraq, and I know that we are not going into a lot of places that need our help because we don't have national interests there, and I had to come to terms with the fact that war is not inherently wrong just because we had national interests, and I'm still grappling with that.

(This is edited a little to make the transcription more readable, but I tried to keep the important quote and the meaning intact.)

This is the second place where I've seen these ideas, and while this caller finally came out somewhat in favor of the war (sorta, with qualifications and Bush-bashing), I think these two instances may reveal a hidden undercurrent in the left. They think that a war that is in the national interest is inherently wrong.

To someone like me, this is absurd. I see the crushing of a dictator such as Saddam Hussein to be inherently moral, and if it's in the national interest, more the better. At the end of this process, provided it is managed responsibly, we will be safer, and the Iraqis will be better off. It's possible that Iraqi oil will be pumped by ExxonMobil instead of TotalFinaElf or Lukoil, but if the proceeds of those sales are used to benefit the people of Iraqi instead of buying Saddam weapons and palaces, I don't see a problem.

This is not a zero-sum game. We can benefit, the Iraqi people can benefit, and the world can become a better place. It seems that there are factions of the left that simply do not believe that this is possible, or are so against the US benefiting from war that they're willing to doom innocent people to live under horrible regimes to prevent it. Either way, they wind up choosing not to do the right thing, and that's just wrong.

Update: The fictional African country was Kuhndu. Qumar is the fictional Arab state. I need to bone up on my fictional geography.

- Tom | permalink | changelog | Last updated: 2003-04-17 19:55

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