Friday, October 14, 2005

Values Judgment

Should America impose our values on other countries?

The natural response is no (from liberals and conservatives alike I submit): we should not impose values and certainly not impose them with the business end of an M-16. One of the underlying precepts of American values is toleration of other people's beliefs. Shouldn't we let our values promote themselves? By imposing values, you'’re inhibiting people's freedom!

I think most of us would concede that it might be ok to suggest values and lead by example (Adams'’ shining city on a hill?). Yes, that is where people seem comfortable.

But what if another countries values are allowing human atrocities or genocide to occur? Or if the values are promoting death to Americans? Perhaps then most of us would say it is appropriate to impose our values, even through force (with a diplomatic approach at first, sanctions, and military as last resort). Isn'’t that what Wilson and later Kennedy espoused as an American ideal? Yes, that seems reasonable.

What about cultures that essentially enslave their women through polygamy, abuse, or patriarchal dominance? What if the culture allows women to be tortured, raped, killed, and children suffering? Would that qualify as an atrocity? I'’m quite sure many Americans would say yes to that. After all, you are treating half the population as a lower form of human. So perhaps it is ok to impose our values in that case, even through force if economic and political measures fail.

But then again, would any strict Muslim nation qualify then? (and parts of Utah!) Hmm...that sounds not so popular again. And what if international law did not sanction use of military force against the abusing country? What if the UN Security Council did not authorize the use of force? Eek, don'’t make me sound like Dubya!

There are tensions between values and law and politics. How should America act when faced with two choices and one might be legal or politically acceptable and the other is more true to our values? Europeans prefer to act more based on law and political consensus. That at least demonstrates a respect for other nations sovereignty and cultures even if they sometimes end up in bed with bad people.

The issue is not divisible along party lines. There are plenty of Democrats who believe in export of American values and putting human rights and democratic values above political necessity. Similarly there are plenty of internationalist and pragmatic Republicans who believe that political consensus, pragmatism, and respect for other nations is preferred.

Democrats agree that Dubya botched the Iraq policy but disagree on whether regime change was a good idea. I, for one, believe that we could have secured regime change in Iraq with international support and much less violence and cost (in lives, dollars, opportunity, secondary effects). It is a question of method and diplomatic sincerity.