Sunday, August 01, 2004

Wars of Choice and Wars of Necessity

Robert Kagan deconstructs the big applause line from Kerry's acceptence speech, "I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."

Kerry's "doctrine of necessity," if seriously intended, would entail a pacifism and an isolationism more thorough than any attempted by a U.S. government since the 1930s. It would rule out all wars fought for humanitarian ends, all interventions to prevent genocide, to defend democracy or even, as in the case of the Persian Gulf War, to uphold international law against aggression. For those are all wars of choice.

We would have never fought in World War One, in the Korean War, etc, etc. We would have fought the Japanese in World War Two but was the invasion of Italy an act of necessity? Did we defend Australia of necessity? Could one argue that the Civil War was a war of choice? After all, Lincoln could have choosen to let the Confederacy secede?

Which is of course the point. The distinction between necessity and choice is in itself a choice that the chief executive has to make. It is not self-evident. Thank God Lincoln saw that as a War Between the State as a war of necessity and no of choice.

Of course Lincoln wasn't a veteran, never "tested under fire," so what did he know.


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