Defending an interventionist foreign policy is not
the most obvious route to popularity in the post-Iraq
climate. Sure enough, a dose of vitriol and incomprehension
from several quarters has been the lot of the Henry
Jackson Society since its foundation last year.
A 'neoconservative cabal funded by Washington' runs
a common refrain, a clique of latter-day imperialists
who would thrust democracy forward 'at the barrel
of the gun', according to one broadsheet critic.
month, these arguments found their way into The
Blanket in trenchant form, with Mick
Hall's attack on those who would export and impose
'US Capital' across the planet, 'with bayonet
in one hand and the mighty dollar in the other'.
Beneath the rhetorical mask of freedom and democracy,
it is claimed, lies a project that would bring 'death
and destruction to millions of the world's most
economically poor and most oppressed people'. A
poisonous blend from a toxic source, indeed.
is fair to say that debates over the resonance of
liberal democracy beyond Western frontiers have
some distance yet to run. However, the Henry Jackson
Society would be better engaged with, if it can
be detached from the ugly myths that have disfigured
contemporary discourse; if it is understood how
and why we have reached our position - what we are
and what we are not.
the charge of evangelising for an identikit model
of democracy, complete with Hollywood, Walmart and
Coca Cola, we plead not guilty. As we are not the
long arm of the American 'military-industrial' complex,
no more are we Jacobins pushing a violent utopianism
upon an unsuspecting world. But we do believe that
principles of personal liberty, religious pluralism
and representative government remain demonstrably
superior to the soul-numbing visions sanctioning
tyranny and terror.
a few years ago, this belief barely needed restating.
Now, the times are more fragile. Since 2003, a spate
of grim news from Iraq, the continuing Arab-Israeli
crisis and the vilification of the Bush White House
has brought alarming signs of retreat among many
opinion-formers from principles once deemed unalterable
in the Western worldview.
tendency can be found in the current vogue for peering
only into the social and political shortcomings
of the West, while suspending judgement on states
outside the democratic tradition. This is not to
deny the importance of Western self-criticism, nor
to suggest that representative structures alone
guarantee a flourishing society - education, environmental
responsibility and social justice stand out among
other crucial ingredients in the kernel of modern
liberalism. But to believe that democratic governments
are somehow debarred by their own faults from challenging
terror, suppression and ethnic cleansing abroad
allows introspection to drift towards moral relativism.
The accompanying notion that dictatorships should
be judged by lesser standards than democracies comes
close to asserting that life for people within them
is somehow worth less than our own.
calling for Western nations to place liberal ideals
at the heart of their foreign policy, the Henry
Jackson Society argues that the 'war on terror'
is, at heart, a conflict of ideas, to be won by
the victory of democracy and hope over tyranny and
despair. The democratic way, of course, will appear
globally in many different shapes and hues, responsive
to historic development and cultural tradition.
But too often, the reasonable maxim that representative
government takes time to evolve has been used as
cover for the prejudice that some cultures are simply
destined for tyranny and terror.
notion festered beneath some of the most disturbing
incidents of recent international history, including
the failure of the UN to halt the massacres in Rwanda
and - most notoriously - the massacre of the Bosnian
Muslims in Srebrenica. Today, the same assumption
underlies excuses still made for assaults on human
rights in Burma, the Middle East and sub-Saharan
Africa, where the political process, far from moving
towards democracy, is 'evolving' in quite the opposite
on the Left are late arrivals to the critique of
liberal intervention. In 2000, this was quintessentially
the position of George W. Bush, running on a ticket
of opposition to 'nation building' and 'social work'
abroad. Today, the old school of diplomatic realpolitik
can be challenged as much for lack of realism
as for alleged moral failure. Now, globalisation
exports political, social and environmental tensions
boiling over in different regions into the very
heart of the West, and isolation offers not so much
shelter as dangerous self-delusion.
it is folly to think that available resources allow
the West to confront every instance of oppression
and abuse. But, as the moral philosopher Michael
Ignatieff has argued, just because we cannot be
everywhere does not mean that we should not be anywhere.
Moreover, intervention need not always take military
form - it can be expressed by ending once-expedient
arms deals, offering political and economic incentives
and opening up our embassies to embattled democrats
and reformers. Ultimately, it is about withdrawing
from rogue states the right to stand as equals with
liberal and democratic nations, stripping them of
the delusion that they are free to cleanse, suppress
and abuse while the world turns a blind eye.
for a foreign policy with a conscience does not
mean giving a blank cheque to the US; rather it
is about encouraging the world's supreme power to
flex its muscles in a particular way. Certainly,
this entails denouncing Washington's periodic moral
lapses - Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, accommodation
with unsavoury regimes. In a war of ideas, the means
become as crucial as the ends. But, from the successes
of intervention in Kosovo to the tragedy of appeasement
in Bosnia and Rwanda, the lesson of recent decades
show it is far better to have an America engaged
with the world than a fortress republic locked behind
a wall of indifference.
Henry Jackson Society was founded, therefore, on
the belief that demands for intervention are likely
to grow, not recede over the coming decade, making
redundant the old dismissal of 'a far away country
and a people of whom we know nothing'. In this light,
liberal intervention is not about propping up 'US
Capital' but about championing human lives once
oppressed and forgotten, and moving beyond the comfort
zone of our own domestic vision. Now, rather than
ruminating over our past wrongs, the time is surely
apt to ask: 'What can we do right?'