Sunday, March 21, 2004

Unilateralism in Historical Context

A lot of the criticism of the war in Iraq has focused on Bush's "unilateralism", the assumption being that "unilateralism" in foreign policy is so obviously a grievous shortcoming as to be a condemnation in itself. To those who agree with such a notion, I pose a simple question: what would they have made of Britain's genuinely unilateral decision in the 19th century to militarily interfere in the affairs of many other nations across the globe, in order to bring about the end of slavery? Was this an evil too? If not, why not? And if American intervention in Iraq is inexcusable because of the cost to the American taxpayer, why should British policy in the 19th century have been any more forgivable? After all, the average Briton then was a lot poorer than the average American is today, and the "needless" expenditure of British funds abroad in pursuit of a moral crusade would therefore have been felt far more keenly.

I personally am more than grateful that Britain unilaterally decided upon the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, even taking into account all the other evils of which the British Empire was guilty; as such, I cannot bring myself to adopt the position of those who argue that it was somehow more "immoral" to invade Saddam's Iraq without French and Russian acquiescence than it was to leave the Iraqis under the rule of the Hussein family. It's a strange sort of morality that accords more weight to the concerns of European politicians than to the sufferings of 23 million people.