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Through the moral and political smoke of our incoherent policy in
Yugoslavia, the cost of the incompetence demonstrated by the Clinton
Administration can be discerned.
There were other means than war available to Clinton and NATO.
Instead the Western leaders have chosen to wage an aggressive war that
violates the fragile yet fundamental principle that we have put in place
to limit international conflict since the Second World War. This
fundamental principle says, basically, that international aggression is
We have simply violated that principle in attacking Yugoslavia. We
have set in its place the example of aggression based on the pretext of
human rights violations. The problem with this is that the issue of
human rights will provide many pretexts for countries to go to war with
each other. Shouldn’t we have been very, very hesitant to enshrine the
claim of human rights abuses as a legitimate reason for aggression,
provided that those abuses are taking place within the boundaries of a
national state and do not involve international aggression?
The great powers of the world have resisted the understandable
inclination to intervene when there were real killing fields in other
nations in the past. Such restraint frequently was the painful result of
our understanding that the principle of non-aggression was so important
to the peace of the world that we could not violate it except under the
most extraordinary and morally compelling circumstances. These are not
easy decisions, but they are sometimes the necessary verdicts of truly
mature moral reasoning.
Our immoderate response to the limited oppression that was occurring
in Kosovo before the NATO assault sets a new and highly visible
criterion for military intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state.
The threshold of atrocity which the Clinton Administration’s
intervention in Yugoslavia sets as the new trigger for aggression is, in
my opinion, so low that human rights violations are now going to be
considered a justifiable pretext for aggression in pretty much every
region of the world. Countries that are concerned for ethnic or
religious compatriots in neighboring countries will seize this
precedent, reasonably enough, as justification to attack those neighbor
states. Based on the NATO precedent, we won’t be able to say that such
actions are wrong, because the level of atrocity in Kosovo is lower, in
fact, than the levels of atrocity that exist in several other areas of
the world where human rights abuses are taking place. NATO’s action has
lowered the threshold of aggression in the world to a dangerous degree.
When the video footage of crowds of Kosovo refugees are a dim memory,
the predictable permanent result of the NATO action will be a world in
which the overall level of conflict and death and killing rises,
producing more harm overall than any good we may have hoped to achieve
in the Kosovo intervention.
This is especially true because the NATO use of force is not, in
fact, leading to less suffering for the innocent. All the reports we
have been getting are that the people of Kosovo are suffering more than
they were before the bombing began.
The whole effort presented by Clinton and his incompetent team is
illogical. And illogical thinking by the commander in chief leads to
immoral judgments about the use of force.
Many supporters of the current Clinton action found every reason to
oppose everything we did when we were dealing with a Communist power
that was seeking to promote its ambitions globally. When we were facing
such danger, and there was an orchestrated policy against us, such folk
did not want to defend American freedom at all. Now, suddenly, when
there is no such danger posed to us, they are ready to draw the sword
I think it is basically because liberals are bullies. When it is a
matter of real danger, and we are facing a power that we really have to
fear, they don’t want to fight. When we possess such superior power that
we can go in and stomp on people, they are ready to go and stomp. They
The false principle that might makes right, that superior power
justifies its own use, is the logic of this Clinton/NATO action. It is a
logic that is characteristic of the evil that is now at the heart of
much of the liberal agenda, including abortion.
In truth, superior power carries with it superior responsibility.
Great power imposes an obligation to great discipline, care, maturity,
and restraint, in the use of that power. When I was an Assistant
Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration, one of the things that
impressed me most about my colleagues was the profound seriousness with
which this principle of force was respected. We tried to be as careful
as possible when thinking about the ways in which we should or should
not use force. And in those instances where I supported it, it was
because we were faced with a large threat that had global implications,
where if we did not act we were going to see overall results that would
be deeply tragic for people everywhere.
It cannot be argued on any reasonable ground that that is the
situation we are facing in Yugoslavia. As a matter of fact, the action
taken by NATO produces a more dangerous situation for the world at large
than if we had withheld armed intervention.
The illogic of the situation is clear. We have started a war for
humanitarian reasons — “we’re going in to save people’s lives” — and
have proceeded as though we don’t care how many people we need to kill
to get it done. When you go to war for strategic reasons or geopolitical
reasons, in order to blunt the wholesale assault of an enemy against you
on a global basis, then the sacrifice of life makes sense — because of
your objective. But when you are going to war to save lives, having the
mentality that you don’t care how many lives are lost in the process is
an insane contradiction.
Already, it seems, the language and the logic that intensify these
conflicts is starting to take over the thoughts and passions of our
leaders, and perhaps of our people. When we are dealing with these
issues, keeping a clear moral perspective is a requirement and a duty
because of the enormous consequences that are involved. This is true
both in terms of the physical loss of life and in terms of the moral
implications that are involved any time the sword is drawn and people
are being killed. In such cases, the statesman in particular must be
weighed down by a deep sense of moral responsibility.
Our leaders appear to have succumbed to the belief that because they
feel emotionally that their cause is righteous, it is. But things don’t
work that way. The discipline that is required in order to bring moral
judgment to bear is precisely a discipline that doesn’t easily fall prey
to self-righteous emotions. The mature statesman must think carefully
about exactly how his means are related to the ends that he wishes to
achieve, whether those ends are themselves justified, and also whether
there is a proportion between the means and the ends.
This is sometimes easy to forget. It is easy to think that once we
have recognized the goodness of a purpose, such as saving lives, this is
sufficient to justify any action. It is not. The means must be in
proportion to the end. And the means must be such as not to contradict
the end we supposedly wish to achieve. If we are not careful about that,
then we can fall into the mentality of letting the ends justify the
means, which can lead to declaring wonderful, righteous goals and using
awful, unrighteous means to achieve them. Such means can ultimately
produce more evil at a moral level than the evil we claimed to oppose.
So we must back off and think clearly, carefully, and with a sense of
discipline and responsibility, about what we are doing. This ought to be
the environment in which any statesman contemplates waging war. It is
painfully clear that Bill Clinton and his advisors did not carefully
reason their way through the relation of means and ends before
initiating the current action in Yugoslavia. This is proved by the
statements that have come out over the past week that admit that they
understood all along that air power wouldn’t end the ethnic cleansing
and dislocations, and that they went ahead and used it anyway in order
to make a point, and to show NATO resolve. This is not moral reasoning.
The Clinton Administration appears to have initiated the use of air
power while knowing that what would be unleashed in response would
actually increase loss of life among the very people they claim they are
intervening to protect. This means that they knew that their means were
not in proportion to the end they declared, and they used those means
anyway. This is simply not justifiable, and is an immoral use of force.
To this verdict of disproportion between means and ends should be
added the fact that our action violates the basic injunction against
using pretexts to aggress against other countries, and that by violating
this principle we have undermined one pillar of the peace and stability
of every region of the world. This important limit on the pretexts for
aggression has been a modest step taken in the course of the years since
the Second World War to help make the world a little safer. Instead of
respecting this limit, the Clinton Administration has violated it, and
they have done so in an instance where there is not a proportion between
the means they are using in violation of that basic principle and the
end they seek or claim to seek.
All of this is wrong, and it shows to me once again the cost of
having someone sitting in the White House who is not morally capable of
being President. His unfitness has been clear for several years, and we
are now paying the price.
America must be strong enough to oppose those in the world who are
determined to pursue the ways of wickedness, and wise enough to oppose
them by means that are proportional to the ends we hope to achieve. Good
intentions are not enough, whether they are Bill Clinton’s supposed good
intentions or the good intentions whipped up in our people by images of
suffering people. The statesmanship of war and peace requires care, and
sober, responsible reasoning which we then apply to these affairs in
order to achieve the best that we can in any given situation.
I don’t see such care in this case. I don’t think Bill Clinton has
exercised it, and I believe that this is at least in part because he is
not capable of exercising it. He is a man so blinded by his sense of
what is good for himself, what will serve his ambition, what will make
him look like a real leader, that he is incapable of the kind of
reasoning that is required for dealing with circumstances of great moral
weight. In such circumstances the statesman must put himself completely
aside. All that matters is that he consider what is presented to him in
the situation from the point of view of those great principles of right
and wrong that he is called upon to apply. The statesman must weigh
things in a balance in which his personal desires and ambitions play no
I think that Bill Clinton is incapable of such reasoning. He is a man
so corrupted by allegiance to his own passions and desires that he is
incapable of the kind of reasoning required to make these weighty
judgments of peace and war. As a result, he has led us into an unjust
war, and to the squandering of a great piece of the moral capital
accumulated by the wise and decent American statesmanship of the 20th
century. The human cost of moral incompetence in high places grows
clearer by the day.