A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy

A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy

This Christian declaration on American foreign policy first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the print edition that was released in August. On September 27, Providence will host a discussion on the declaration at 6:30pm at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. To RSVP for the event, click here. To read the original version of the Declaration in a PDF format, click here. To subscribe and receive future issues of the print edition before everyone else, click here.

Preamble

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has struggled to define its role in the world. Americans’ ambivalence about their place in the world in the 1990s was punctuated by the deadliest terrorist attack in history and succeeded by troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. More recently, the United States has moved away from its historic post-World War II role as the guarantor of international peace and security, even as the world and its dangers continue to press in. In reaction to all this, some Americans have embraced a reactive, populist approach to world affairs that emphasizes a peculiar, paradoxical combination of American toughness towards her enemies and withdrawal from world leadership.

Thoughtful Christians who take seriously the roles assigned by God to the church and the state, and who value the equal importance of justice and ordered liberty, should not be silent in the face of this shift. While we are advocates of American leadership, we are also in favor of American prudence and virtue in the exercise of power abroad.

We are Christians who have studied, practiced, or carefully observed American foreign policy. We believe it is our responsibility to speak out at this time in order to provide a much-needed corrective to the current foreign policy debate. We offer this joint declaration that articulates a simple yet serious framework for thinking about American power and world order. While this declaration is about American foreign policy, we believe these are principles Christians around the world—Americans and others—can affirm.

This declaration has been titled “A Christian Declaration” and not “The Christian Declaration” because we do not presume to speak for all Christians. Our purpose here is to attempt to apply biblical principles to American foreign policy, an exercise that necessarily involves calculations of wisdom and reasoned judgment. We hope that our arguments are both clear and persuasive to fellow Christians as well as to non-Christians.

This declaration comes at a needful time. The 2016 presidential election has presented a clarion moment for a statement of principles. We invite those who agree with us to endorse our vision, and those who disagree, whether Christians or non-Christians, to engage in a thoughtful and sustained dialogue with us.

World Order

When Christians think about foreign policy, they often gravitate to specific moral issues: advocating for religious freedom, alleviating the plight of refugees, fighting human trafficking, and more. While these causes are individually worthy and we affirm each of them, we are concerned that single-issue activism is easily manipulated by policymakers. Worse, limiting our engagement to single-issue causes risks devolving into moralism, with all the attendant problems of self-righteousness and utopianism.

We urge our fellow citizens to embrace a broader framework for thinking about American power. Most of the daily craft of foreign and defense policy involves the regular management and implementation of policies to preserve order, maintain stable borders, manage alliances, and protect the international flow of trade and communications. This is the kind of work, often unseen, that enables the vast majority of American citizens to go about their daily lives rarely worrying or even thinking about foreign policy.

In this sense the routine work of foreign policy and maintenance of the international system might be considered a contemporary version of the creation mandate to cultivate the Garden (Genesis 2:15). The “garden” in question is the international social system—or, more concisely, world order. Cultivating the garden of world order means tending to the tasks that uphold public safety, execute justice, and promote human flourishing.  This is a mandate shared by all peoples, but those of us who live in a powerful country have special stewardship responsibilities. Put another way, we believe in the prudent use of American power to encourage, grow, and defend the institutions and culture of ordered liberty among the community of responsible sovereign nations.

There is no perfect human political system, but we believe the liberal order is the least flawed of all presently available options and constitutes the best means for accomplishing the ends for which government was ordained. Politically, liberal order comprises accountable self-government, the rule of law, civil liberties, and religious freedom. Economically, liberal order means relatively open markets, freedom of the seas, the sanctity of contract, and peaceful rule-based dispute adjudication. Internationally, liberal order means nonaggression, mutual security, territorial inviolability—with limited exceptions for humanitarian intervention—and favors intergovernmental cooperation on issues of global concern. Liberal order is especially powerful where these overlap—as it does among the community of economically open liberal democracies that participate in mutual defense and cooperative security arrangements. Other goals at which governments aim—including providing for the poor and disadvantaged, and promoting the flourishing of all citizens—are most effectively pursued within the framework of liberal order.

America’s Role

We believe the United States should continue to lead the world towards these goals—as it has done since the end of World War II—for two reasons. First, it is in America’s own best interest because liberal order is the outer perimeter of American security. The American government is morally responsible for the safety of the American people, rightly prioritizes their security, and rightly maintains an effective military to deter and defeat those who would attack the United States. But the United States’ safety and prosperity is most strongly assured in a world shaped by liberal norms of accountable governance, open economies, and cooperative security—a world in which military force is less likely to be called upon in the first place.

Second, the United States is still the leading power in the world, especially in partnership with its democratic partners and allies: No other nation or alliance has the economic, military, or political resources required to provide the organization, administration, and coordination required for global leadership. Without American and allied leadership, much of the garden of world order would go untended—evidence of which we have seen in recent years as actors with scant regard for the responsible use of power have stepped into the vacuum created by American passivity. While America’s leadership is imperfect, we do not see a plausible alternative and are concerned about what kind of world would grow under different leadership. American leadership should not be taken as an excuse for other states to abdicate their own responsibilities. But the past century has amply demonstrated that if the United States does not do its part, other states will not do theirs. When the United States does step up, that increases the likelihood that others will do the same.

To accomplish this, the United States must use its power responsibly. This has been a source of considerable confusion. Americans have often erred in applying ethical principles to their national life. Some Christians tend to equate the United States with ancient Israel and argue the former shares the latter’s unique providential tasks, a tendency which blurs the special status of Old Testament Israel and blinds Americans to the sins and errors in their own history and their own government’s policies. Other Christians have erred by holding the state to the same standard as the church or the individual, resulting in pacifism and, we believe, an abdication of government’s rightful responsibilities.

Yet others excuse the state from ethical considerations altogether in the belief that morality does not apply to politics. No nation is excused from the obligation to act justly. We do not believe that raison d’état is a self-justifying principle or that the pursuit of power at other’s expense is the sole guiding principle in statecraft. The Old Testament prophets regularly held the pagan nations to account for their acts of oppression and violence. The book of Proverbs clearly expects rulers to govern justly: “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness,” (16:12), and “Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days,” (28:15-16). The United States, like every nation, should pursue justice and order.

Uniquely among nations, Americans have been given unprecedented power, wealth, and political rights—and thus have an unprecedented responsibility to use them well. Reinhold Niebuhr rightly warned against exercising power without consideration “of the interests and views of those upon whom it impinges.” As the most powerful nation in history, American power impinges on the interests and views of peoples and nations around the world. American statesmen should be sensitive to the effects of American power on those outside American borders—both to avoid unintended harm and to recognize opportunities to serve others. Like the man who hid his talent in the ground, refusing to invest it for fear of failure, the United States would be irresponsible if it stood idly by, abdicated its global responsibilities, and refused to put our power in the service of the common good.

We leave open the question as to how, when, and where the United States should most prudently exercise its leadership and advocate for a culture of ordered liberty abroad. Such decisions involve difficult trade-offs under considerable time pressure with imperfect information and are best evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A world of ordered liberty is an aspiration: policymakers are often compelled to compromise such aspirations because of the limitations imposed on them. Pursuing ideals heedless of limitations is foolish and, often, dangerous.

We recognize the United States’ inescapable leadership role presents a temptation to hubris and selfishness—a temptation to which it has sometimes succumbed. American policymakers can guard against these temptations in four ways. They should heed the counsel of voices outside government, especially in America’s religious communities. They should cultivate an awareness of history, replete with the folly of self-aggrandizing power. They should respect the checks and balances of our system of government, explicitly designed to make “ambition counteract ambition.” Finally, when possible, they should expose American policy to the iron-sharpening-iron accountability of multilateralism, especially with allies that share our aspirations for liberal order. We do not believe unilateralism is wrong in principle, but we believe that acting in concert with others is a powerful check on the temptation to strategic and moral myopia.

Our approach to American foreign policy rests on a biblical understanding of human nature, the purposes of government, and the use of force. And here we stand in the tradition of centuries of Christian reflection on the role of the state and the just use of force, from Augustine to Aquinas, from Luther and Calvin to Niebuhr and Elshtain.

Human Nature

Human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). As God uses his moral agency for creativity and human flourishing, so we are to wield the authority and influence he has entrusted to us in the same way. Using authority as God intended is necessary and productive. Teachers have power over students, and help them become educated adults. Parents have power over children, and help them become disciplined and mature human beings. Governments have power over their citizens, and create the possibility of justice and ordered liberty. The ability of human beings to wield power in creative and beautiful ways accounts for all the accomplishments of human civilization—the arts and sciences, the works of literature, the great cities, and the acts of saints and statesmen.

But we also hold to the doctrine of original sin—which Reinhold Niebuhr famously described as “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” The biblical authors understood that we who are made in God’s image have defaced that image. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:8). As the prophet Jeremiah wailed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The human race is the race of Saint Theresa and Adolf Hitler alike. Human beings produced Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—and built the gas chambers of the Holocaust. The biblical view of human nature is that we are made in God’s image but fallen, marked by dignity and depravity, capable of beauty and cruelty. This is the cornerstone of Christian political thought.

The State and the Church

Government reflects both aspects of human nature. Oftentimes, government is the greatest product of human sin—wickedness amassed and expressed collectively on an epic scale, among the greatest curses to afflict this fallen world. Some of the fiercest denunciations in the Old Testament are political, directed towards cities, kingdoms, empires, and their rulers. The prophets thundered against the rulers of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria for their violence, oppression, and barbarism.

Simultaneously, government is a divine ordinance, created by God to be a blessing to all people, a check against the worst abuses of human sin and evil. Jesus commanded his followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” (Matthew 22:21). Jeremiah pled with Israel to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,” (Jeremiah 29:7). Peter ordered the early church to obey the governing authorities and to “fear God, honor the king,” (1 Peter 2:17). The apostle Paul described government as “God’s servant” who works “for your good” and acts as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” (Romans 13:1-7).

Government has a unique mandate separate and distinct from the church—another issue American Christians have sometimes confused. The church is the gathering of God’s people, an instrument for displaying his glory, the messenger of his Word, and the embassy of the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus gave his church the authority to preach, baptize, and make disciples in his name. Just as the church is not authorized to wield the sword or exercise coercion, the state is not authorized to proselytize or compel belief. In that sense, even though a majority of Americans profess Christianity, the United States Government is rightly “secular” in that it should not favor or propagate Christianity. A just government strives to uphold religious liberty and conscience rights for all. The United States has an historically unique role in modeling and advocating essential human rights.

The Use of Force

In some hands, government is a tool of immense and satanic power. But exercised rightly according to God’s creation design, the same power is a tool of blessing, justice, and order. Government can err by oppressing others; but it can also err by failing to uphold order or pursue justice. Policymakers must avoid both the sins of omission and commission. Today, we are concerned that some policymakers have openly advocated oppression; simultaneously, others have overcorrected from past mistakes and are now at risk of being derelict in their duties.

As Christians, we believe the United States must not oppress the innocent. We wish such obvious truths did not need to be stated. But in an age when some elected officials and candidates for office openly advocate torture and the deliberate killings of civilians, including women and children, we must plainly state that these things are wrong. The rightful authority of government is no license for murder or vengeance.

That does not mean the United States must refrain from the exercise of force; to do so would be an abdication of other rightful responsibilities of government. We believe in the tenets of the just war tradition—and, in fact, believe the just war framework can be applied broadly to the work of statecraft.

The United States possesses the rightful authority to use force to maintain and secure justice—including for self-defense, the defense of the innocent, and the defense of liberal order. In war, we must seek to preserve noncombatant immunity and use a degree of force proportionate to the goal we seek to achieve. Above all, policymakers must understand that the goal of war is the creation of a better peace, which must permeate the planning for war and its aftermath.

These imperatives flow from what should be the overarching motivation for the use of force: to uphold order and pursue justice when other means have failed. We pursue order and justice out of love for our neighbors and a desire to protect them from evil. But when we are compelled to fight, our efforts should be tempered with love for our enemies, fighting in such a way as to minimize unnecessary harm and to promote “a just and lasting peace among nations.”

Conclusion

The United States is the most powerful nation in the history of human civilization. Our Christian faith gives us a deep sense of responsibility to see such power used well and caution because of how such immensity of power can be misused. That is why we believe the United States should continue to encourage a culture of liberal order around the world.

Investing in liberal order is, partly, a justifiably selfish act of seeking security at the lowest cost. We are unembarrassed about the pursuit of American security because upholding order is the first function of government.

However, we believe much more than American security is at stake. Free nations are more secure in a world of ordered liberty. All nations can and should join in the collective effort to foster accountable governance, free entrepreneurship, and mutual security. The United States and its allies have, for much of the last century, helped foster these ideals around the world—and we believe they should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Signatories[1]

Mark Amstutz, Professor of Political Science, Wheaton College

Hunter Baker, University Fellow for Religious Liberty, Union University

Amy E. Black, Professor of Political Science, Wheaton College

Paul Bonicelli, Director of Programs and Education, The Acton Institute

Douglas Burton, War Correspondent

Ann Buwalda, Executive Director, Jubilee Campaign USA Inc.

J. Daryl Charles, Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Taylor University

Paul Coyer, Research Professor, Institute of World Politics

Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Dean Curry, Professor of Politics, Messiah College

Andrew Doran, Co-Founder and Senior Advisor, In Defense of Christians

Michael Doran, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

Alan W. Dowd, Senior Fellow, Sagamore Institute, Center for America’s Purpose

Colin Dueck, Associate Professor, George Mason University

Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science, Duke University

John Gallagher, President and CEO of Institute for Global Engagement (IGE)

Matthew N. Gobush, former Director for Communications, National Security Council; Chair, Episcopal Church Standing Commission for Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns

Mark L. Haas, Professor of Political Science, Duquesne University

Mary Habeck, CEO, Applied Grand Strategies

William Inboden, Executive Director, the Clements Center for National Security, The University of Texas at Austin

James Turner Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Religious Ethics, Rutgers University

Robert G. Kaufman; Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Marc LiVecche, Managing Editor, Providence; Scholar of Christian Ethics, War, & Peace at the Institute on Religion and Democracy

Joe Loconte, Professor of History, King’s College in New York

Thomas G. Mahnken, Senior Research Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute

Faith McDonnell, Director of Religious Liberty Programs, Institute for Religion and Democracy; Director, the Church Alliance for a New Sudan

Bryan T. McGraw, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations, Wheaton College

Paul D. Miller, Associate Director, Clements Center for National Security, The University of Texas at Austin

Craig Vincent Mitchell, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Criswell College

Wess Mitchell, President, Center for European Policy Analysis

Henry R. Nau, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

Robert Nicholson, President, The Philos Project

John M. Owen IV, Taylor Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

Mackubin Thomas Owens, Dean of Academics, Institute of World Politics; Editor, Orbis

Keith Pavlischek, Senior Editor, Providence

Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

Paul Rahe, Professor of History, Hillsdale College

John Scott Redd, Sr., First Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and founding Commander of the U.S. Navy’s FIFTH Fleet

Herbert Schlossberg, Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, Professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

David Shedd, former Acting Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and CEO, Faith Without Borders, LLC

Michael Singh, former Senior Director for the Near East and North Africa, National Security Council.

Owen Strachan, Associate Professor, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Director, Center for Theological and Cultural Engagement

Daniel Strand, Fellow, Center for Political Thought and Leadership, Arizona State University

Gideon Strauss, Providence contributing writer

Juliana Taimoorazy, President, Iraqi Christian Relief Council

Mark Tooley, President, Institute on Religion & Democracy

Joshua Walker, Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Adjunct Professor, George Mason University

Will Walldorf, Associate Professor, Wake Forest College Department of Politics and International Affairs

Sam Webb, Attorney; Research Fellow, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Image Credit: Saint George and the Dragon by Peter Paul Rubens, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Affiliations are listed for purposes of identification only and do not imply institutional endorsement of this declaration.

 

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  • The Rev. James R. Tony

    In a period when American power stagnates under vacuous leadership, declaration of the right and just use of power is very much needed. As the absence of force in Iraq after the surge had set up the peace produced unspeakable terror and calamity not only in Iraq but around the world (read ISIS), so the failure to apply force has enabled Syria and Russia to commit atrocities against the people of Aleppo. And here we have the utter futility of a candidate for President who does not even know the name “Aleppo!” AAARGH.

    • Maria Mitchell

      Nonsense. Iraq was no threat to the US and never should have been invaded in the first place – THAT was the cause. There was no “peace” under the surge.

  • Gregory Alan of Johnson

    These “signatories” should consider quit listening to men and study their Bibles much more. I have and I’ve got no use for this “Declaration”. I’ve studied US Code on some the stuff listed in this article. This whole thing is clueless.
    The best I could suggest is going to a Torah run system, which is perfect. We were in the neighborhood with the Mayflower Compact.

  • Just think if not just Christians but every person from every nation pushed their nation to take the lead in the world to guarantee the safety every nation’s own people, where would we be?

    I don’t think Christians are called to use nations to dominate the world. Rather, this declaration is a siren call to Christians to embrace a naationalism at the expense of following the Scriptures.

    • Marc LiVecche

      Curt–sorry for the delay on responding, I thought the com-box had gone silent on this essay. Just a few quick responses. To your first point, it needs to be remembered that this declaration is grounded in a certain context–the world as it is. If other nations did begin to step up and shoulder a portion of the responsibility for the conditions of the world–or even just their little patch of the garden–then it’s entirely possible this declaration begins to shift in detail. Christians recognize that we are called to concern for not just our neighbors but the neighborhoods in which our neighbors find themselves. At present, America is without peer in having both the power and the will to be a force for good in the world. Until the conditions on the ground change, the declaration aims to fill a lacuna that needs filling.

      Second point: if you reread the declaration you’ll see we agree with you–Christians are not called to use nations to dominate the world. Dominion is not domination.

      Third point: quite naturally I don’t see anything in the document that sets scripture aside for the pursuit of nationalism–which I take you mean here to be a pejorative term (though it need not be). If you point to specific examples of how we’ve chucked the one in favor of the other, I might be able to respond more directly.

      • Marc,
        First, there is no need to apologize when writing a respectful response.

        Second, I don’t use nationalism in a pejorative sense.

        Third, I will provide specific examples here. These example can be found on a list here (see http://www.globalresearch.ca/overthrowing-other-peoples-governments-the-master-list-of-u-s-regime-changes/5400829 ).

        If you note in that list that some of the first nations we have intervened in are no in the Western hemisphere. IN addition, many of our intervention replaced a liberal order with an autocratic one. The first prominent example involves Iran (’53) which, btw, is not in the Western hemisphere. The intervention in Iran was about the British losing a source of income with the nationalization of oil resources by a democratically elected government. THe British first responded by trying to destabilize nation’s economy and thus the government. And when that failed, the British talked the US in to overthrowing the government on the suspicion that Iran’s government had too many ties to Communism. Of course, there was no due process nor was there anyone we were accountable to. We simply assumed the right to overthrow a nation’s democratically elected government and we installed a business friendly dictator who was the Shah. He used brutality to suppress dissidents while both providing oil to the US and buying US arms. THe reason why Iran is the way it is today is because of the eventual response of the Iranian people to the dictator we installed with the British. Of course, their revolution was hijacked but that was made initially acceptable to the Iranian people because of the Shah’s rule.

        Of course, the US assumes to have veto power over any government a nation might choose in the Western hemisphere and the the first prominent example of that occurred is Guatemala (’54). There, promises of agrarian land reforms by a democratically elected government threatened some of the holdings United Fruit. So we did this coup ourselves and installed a dictator. There have been other actions there following that which caused Guatemala to be one of the leading nations in terms of nations from which illegal come. It has had a very violent history since that coup.

        Now compare that with how you described America’s role:


        We believe the United States should continue to lead the world towards
        these goals—as it has done since the end of World War II—for two
        reasons. First, it is in America’s own best interest because liberal
        order is the outer perimeter of American security. The American
        government is morally responsible for the safety of the American people,
        rightly prioritizes their security, and rightly maintains an effective
        military to deter and defeat those who would attack the United States.
        But the United States’ safety and prosperity is most strongly assured in
        a world shaped by liberal norms of accountable governance, open
        economies, and cooperative security—a world in which military force is
        less likely to be called upon in the first place.

        The above statement assumes the following:
        1. What is good for the US is good for the hemisphere and the world
        2. The US has the right to be judge, jury, and executioner on any policy and government it finds to be offensive.
        3. That while our hemisphere, and the world to, is answerable to us, we are not answerable to the world. There is no due process where we have to make our case before a neutral judge even though there is a mechanism for that in the UN. And what is odd here is that the UN Charter, by virtue of its ratification, is the law of our land.
        4. Only the US has the right ot intervene in other nations for the sake of its own security. Note how other nations don’t have the right to intervene in the US for the same reasons.

        And those assumptions are made despite the fact that history, history that both precedes and follows WW II, has shown that our interventions are based on business and strategic interests and not based on any moral issues. And because of our power, there is no one to hold us accountable.

        The assumptions made in the article are self-aggrandizing and have been made by every powerful empire in the past. But those assumption enable us to give ourselves permission to assume ownership over any part of the world. We are the Capitol and the world makes up the districts to use verbiage from the Hunger Games movie series.

        As a result, we have embraced a moral relativity that such self-aggrandizing assumptions and nationalism provide. Nationalism is merely another form of tribalism. And it is in tribalism that group loyal trumps loyalty to principles and moral values so that what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. And that is where your declaration leads us. What we have the right to do to others is not what others have the right to do to us.

        • Marc LiVecche

          Thanks Curt,

          I think responding to your four numbered points will take care of the majority of what needs to be said. I’ll do it in the order the points appear:

          1) Yes, we do think that those goods that are good for the United States are also goods that are good for the world. But we’re reasonably imprecise as to what we say those goods are. We say the good that is good for the world is the good of “liberal order”, which we defined in reasonably broad terms: “accountable self-government, the rule of law, civil liberties,…religious freedom…relatively open markets, freedom of the seas, the sanctity of contract,…peaceful rule-based dispute adjudication…non-aggression, mutual security, territorial inviolability [w/ exceptions for humanitarian intervention]…”. We are careful not to insist on not to say democracy, per se, or a very specific view of capitalism, etc. So, yes, those are indeed our assumptions but its imperative to recognize that we are trying to be as non-prescriptive as possible. The conditions above can exist happily in a number of political systems. A part of the theological grounding for non-prescriptive terms is the fact that moral rules, like goods, are also general and not specific. The Christian rule is, of course, to love. The bible gives some general examples of what this will look like (and what it won’t ever look like) but leaves to prudence (which draws on natural law, reason, authority, and experience) to determine what love looks like in a particular situation.

          2) Well, yes and no. Do note that elsewhere in the Declaration we at several points laud (and prefer) coalition, alliances, and multilateralism. Also, there’s nothing in the Declaration that suggests the standard is what we “find offensive.” You’ll note that our description of the “liberal order” serves as a criterion for behavior as does our insistence at several points the obligation of every nation is to “act justly.” Of course, there will be quibbling as to precisely what “justly” means. Hence, a preference for coalition. But, yes, at the end of the day, when we are at an impasse with other nations and cannot find consensus we may, indeed, render a judgment on our own. That’s the duty of every government, in the final analysis.

          3) Much of my response to this is covered in point two, save for two points. First, the UN charter is not the law of our land. The Constitution of the United States is the law of the land. Where our allegiance to the UN Charter, or any other Charter, conflicts with our allegiance (and, yes, our perception of that allegiance) we go with the Constitution, of course. Second, the UN is hardly a neutral judge. Whenever and whereever a given UN judgment is a farce we are right, we are obligated, to ignore it–correct it if we can but ignore it if not. But, to summarize, our Declaration calls the United States to the same accountability that we call every nation–to the judgment of justice.

          4) Again, like the error of thinking the criteria for US intervention is anything we find “offensive” it is equally wrong to say that we have a right to intervene anywhere for the sake of our “security.” Security is not the final criterion for when we intervene–justice is. We say precisely this three paragraphs after the one you quote. To “act justly” is the lead governing principle of every state. Like the Christian just war tradition, security–or self-defense–is not necessarily grounds for fighting. Nazis Germany had no moral right to defend itself from just allied attack. So, no, we do not have a right to intervene when our security is threatened–only when our security is threatened unjustly. So too do we have the right–really, the obligation–to intervene when an innocent neighbor’s security is unjustly threatened.

          I think you give in to the temptation to read our Declaration as a statement of how the United States does, in fact, behave rather than as our call for it to behave in a particular way. We note at several locations that the US is a state made up of fallible and selfish human beings, like any other. It is not perfect. We know this. But we can’t judge the Declaration by the behavior. We judge the behavior by the Declaration.

          I also think it’s insufficient to suggest that the historic behavior proves the Declaration is naive b/c the actual behavior of the US proves the Declaration is some kind of impossible ideal. We may well disagree but I do believe that, on balance, the United States has been a force for good in the world, is the only State with the power (and, most often the will) to use that power, and (most often) to use that power toward moral and mutually beneficial ends. There are numerous examples of the United States intervening when we didn’t necessarily have raw interests at stake: Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, are all examples. Our behavior toward allies and, stunningly, Germany and Japan following the end of WWII prove that the United States has sometimes turned away from the self-aggrandizing hoarding of power to, instead, distribute power and the tools for prosperity to others as well. History is full of powers and empires that would have done quite the opposite.

          Anyway, this surely does not end all the differences between you and me but might clarify more specifically where we disagree. Enough for now.

          • Marc,
            Let’s get to your first point. There are two problems. First, there is no representation from the rest of the world in US decision making. This makes the US a dictator. Second, to decide what is good for the world by determining what is good for the US is rather difficult because such involves a conflict of interest.

            But the above involves logical problems with your first point. An inductive approach looks at the actions taken that were suppose to be good for both. And when looks at history, we see that what was deemed good for the US was not good for the world. The support of the overthrow of Mosadegh led to the US supporting a dictator and that led to the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian Revolution bolstered the support for Saddam Hussein despite the fact that he committed most of his worst crimes while receiving US support. The kind of support given to Israel has not just fostered injustices against the Palestinians, it has become a reason for terrorists attacks. The support for those who fought against the soviet supported government in Afghanistan has led to decades of war in Afghanistan as well as the formation of terrorist groups there and the arresting of some of what you claim to want in a liberal order in which women were given more rights and freedoms. Please note that such is a partial history of the US in Asia and does not include American actions in South and Central America in which it was guilty of overthrowing gov’ts to install dictators and acts of terrorism against civilian targets.

            BTW, some of those interventions you mentioned, such as Haiti, involved business interests.

            BTW, please note that The Constitution has made the UN Charter the law of the land because it was ratified. Treaties that are signed by the President and approval for ratification is voted on by Congress. And such treaties become the law of the land.

            With the disagreements we have, I very much appreciate the respect you have shown in how you have written your comment. Thank you.

  • Maria Mitchell

    Hogwash! This is a bunch of blasphemous rubbish! Taking a bunch of verses (out of context) and misapplying them to foreign policy is mishandling the Scripture – a very serious offense.

  • Maria Mitchell

    Taking verses out of context is never okay, and this article is rife with them. The Creation story has zero to do with any mandate for foreign policy. You should be ashamed.

  • Maria Mitchell