Tonight former Bush speechwriter and special assistant David Frum, one of the key authors of President Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, will keynote a debate on the topic “Resolved: Good and Evil are Necessary Terms in Foreign Policy.” This debate cuts to the heart of the ongoing national debate about the correctness and direction of American foreign policy in a world filled with danger and uncertainty. Whatever you may think about the politics of Frum, or that of his former boss, the argument he will make appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike.
Although most Yalies would be unwilling to admit that terms like “good” and “evil” have a place in foreign policy, they are more than willing to show up in droves to demand intervention in Darfur. Besides regular events on campus to raise awareness and money for Darfur, dozens of Yalies participated this summer in the Global Hold Your Breath for Darfur campaign, and the News has published numerous opinion pieces calling for responsible action in Darfur. Beyond Yale, there are more than 300 Facebook.com groups dedicated to the cause of Darfur.
I agree that the situation in Darfur places a burden on the United States to act, but not because Darfur puts our security at risk. In fact, intervention in Darfur would probably result in a net decrease in our security since it would require us to invade yet another predominantly Muslim nation. Concern for our own security cannot justify intervention in Darfur. That kind of justification requires a language of good and evil.
There is an entire school of thought that wants us to believe foreign policy can be created without a moral compass, but these same thinkers rely on moral language when they talk about Darfur. If the U.S. is wrong not to intervene, it must be because failing to intervene is bad, and intervention is right or good. The genocide in Darfur cannot be a concern of the U.S. without a moral language. It does not threaten our security, and it does not affect our citizens. Genocide does not by itself warrant international attention unless it is a moral problem. If genocide is not itself evil and the international community is not interested in promoting the good, then there can be no reason for the international community to involve itself in what otherwise amounts to merely a domestic affair.
Even justifying intervention using a language of rights relies subtly on the ideas of good and evil. Rights, by their mere existence, do not merit protection. Rather, because rights are good and violating them is evil, we who care about the good of the world feel compelled to act in situations where rights are under attack.
Our country does care about the good of the world. When George W. Bush ’68 stood up in January 2002 and ominously declared the existence of an “Axis of Evil,” the American people were caught off-guard. But though the phraseology may have been irregular, there really is something evil uniting those nations: an abhorrent pattern of brutality, oppression and violation of the most basic human rights. So set aside your opinion of the Iraq War; consider the declaration of good and evil without historical bias. The American people, despite what you may have heard, do in fact care about right and wrong. The three defining moments of our history — the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the New Deal — all centered around trying to do justice for all.
Many people worry America has no moral high ground left to stand on or that our past actions and inactions demonstrate our inability to confront evil in the world effectively or be an agent for good. But our country still has the strongest military in the world and the best record of supporting freedom and justice in history.
Many people today claim we have no right to interfere in other countries just because we have different values. Unfortunately, problems don’t go away if they’re ignored. We all know things like the genocide in Darfur are evil; the question is just how much we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of what is right. Recently, our national leaders, concerned with rhetoric and winning elections, have lost sight of America’s simple moral principles. They have asked, “What is in America’s interest?” But that question fails to take the rest of the world seriously. The right foreign policy uses terms like “good” and “evil” because it focuses on the good of humanity at large. When monstrous deeds are being committed across the globe, America cannot in good conscience claim to lack the courage, power or determination to take a stand.
Andrew Olson is a junior in Branford College. He is the senior sometime chairman of the Party of the Right and director of development for the Yale Political Union.