Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Moral Strength vs Material Strength

Normally I don’t agree with people who poison their political opponents, but I may have to make a temporary exception for Vladimir Putin.

He blasted the US over the weekend for, well, acting the way we have over the last six years. Some quotes include:

"The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way. Nobody feels secure anymore, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law. This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons”

“Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not managed to resolve any problems, but made them worse. The wars, local and regional conflicts, have only grown in number. We are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of military force in international relations,"

“Until we get rid of unilateralism in international affairs, until we exclude the possibility of imposing one country's views on others, we will not have stability”

I also remember Bush criticizing Putin awhile back for lack of democractic reforms in Russia. Putin shot back that they didn’t want the kind of democracy that we’ve brought to Iraq. Ouch.

I have no illusions about Putin. He would be an old Soviet-style dictator if they let him and seems to be doing everything he can to drag Russia back to pre-democratic autocracy. He’s probably just mad that Russia lacks the power to create unholy, biblically-sized messes like we can. But that doesn’t make his criticism invalid.

It just shows how far we’ve fallen that someone like Putin can criticize our actions, and be so justified in doing so. It also demonstrates why attacking Iraq (and our subsequent behavior there) was not merely a tactical error in the war on terrorism. It was a generational mistake, one that will cost us moral leadership for decades to come. Suffering through lectures on how to behave responsibly from the likes of Putins will be our penance for not having the stomach, strength or willingness to stand up to the Bush administration when it mattered.

Peter Dauo’s The Ethics of Iraq: Moral Strength vs. Material Strength is one of the best essays I’ve read about the moral implications of the Iraq war, and it is as relevant today as it was when it was written a year and a half ago. He compares the left’s focus on moral strength to the right’s focus on material strength, and it goes a long way towards explaining why we so often talk past each other and are so angry with each other. I think of it whenever something happens that is an inevitable consequence of squandering our moral leadership. The first three paragraphs are below:

The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

The antiwar critique of Iraq is that it is an immoral war and every resulting death is a wrongful one. Opponents of the war view the invasion and occupation as a dangerous and shameful violation of international law. Iraq saps our moral strength and the sooner we leave the better. Opposing the invasion on the grounds that the administration lied its way into it, they see every subsequent death, American or foreign, as an ethical travesty and a stain on America's good name.

Read the rest here.


Amy said...

Dan, you missed one important part of VP's speech--the ending(and I'm paraphrasing here...)--"That being said, business between Russia and US has been good, and I'm looking forward to continuing our business relationship."

Like you, I was stunned to hear VP's blasting of Bush. Finally, someone with the guts to do it. But, I was back to being mad at him, when after all that venom, he was back to business as usual.

Fingtree said...

I call to mind the comment GW made of Putin awhile back that; "he knew Putin's soul by looking into his eye's" or something rediculous like that. Rediculous is nothing new of course with GW, but it looks like he may need to take another look into his eye's.

Dan S said...

I looked for a long time for the full text to the speech, but wasn't able to find it. You'd think something like that would be easily available these days. I was concerned about taking the quotes out of context. It is interesting when you read 30 news stories of the same event from different news sources and they all have the same quotes and often the same exact text, because they just copy the wire story. Quite frustrating...

Brownie said...

I don't think this or any country, or any politician at home or abroad has any "true" moral authority. What the heck is that anyway? A badge and a uniform handed out by God? It's so intangible as to be utterly vaporous when more than one cultural view is taken into account as to who actually has it...hence my idea that it doesn't exist at all...except in the eyes of those who think alike.

Many muslims believe OBLaden has loads of moral authority. Does this make it so? Or for that matter, not so, because others disagreee vehemently?

To quote OBWan "You're going to find Luke, that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our on points of view."

(Is a Star Wars quote completly out of context in this arena? Hmmm....)

I think you'll see that basing REAL political decisions in the REAL world on moral authority rather than material authority is, at this point in history at least, a pie in the sky, utopian fantasy. A nice fantasy fer sure, I'd love nothing better than if we all could just get along and love one another, but I'm afraid other folks ideas of who has the moral authority will always clash with someone else's ideas, and they'd side with their own leaders often enough to make the whole issue irrelevent and it will come down to the MATERIAL thing after all.

I don't want it that way, but as I am trying be a realist, I think that's just how it's going to be.


Dan S said...

Brownie, I'll have to remember this thought the next time you argue for or against a moral position, or use ethics in any way to argue for a position you do have. :)