Flip Wilson had a comedy routine “The Devil Made Me Do It”. Nikki Haley is far from funny when she uses the same kind of excuse, telling us that the U.S. is prepared to attack Syria again. Why? Compulsion, or the devil made me do it. In her words: “…there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”
Is the U.S. also compelled to ally with Saudi Arabia in its brutal bombings and embargo/blockade in Yemen? Is the U.S. compelled to aid Israel when it brutally invades Gaza? Was the U.S. compelled to attack and destroy Libya? Was the U.S. compelled to attack and destroy Iraq? Was the U.S. compelled to destroy the Taliban government in Afghanistan?
If the U.S. claims the moral high ground to justify attacks on Syria, is this the same moral ground and compulsion that justified its attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen? But such compulsions are no justifications at all. “The devil made me do it” is no different from “The angel made me do it” or “God made me do it”. All are non-justifications, just empty childish excuses. We human beings cannot blame devils, angels or Gods for what we do. Freedom to choose and act is an essential part of our makeup, and no devil, angel or God can be held responsible for this freedom or its consequences when we use it. If they can be held responsible, not each of us, and we lack such primary freedom that’s beyond any devil or any God, then what? Are we machines ruled by predetermined causes in some sort of choreographed and senseless lives? In that case, the result is nihilism. Our freedom to act may be an illusion, but if it is, it’s an illusion we can be sure of, a very convincing one.
If compulsion is a justification for bombing another nation, why condemn and sanction Russia over Ukraine? Couldn’t the Russians argue that they felt compelled to interfere to save Russian-speaking people from being oppressed by neo-Nazi battalions? Couldn’t environmentalist wackos justify their bombings by their compulsion to act against climate-change deniers? Couldn’t FBI officials justify their coup against Trump by being “compelled to take their own action” against the prospective great disaster of his presidency and its irreparable harm?
Couldn’t Nikki Haley have found a better excuse than compulsion? If compulsion is a ruling principle in international relations, then what nation may not have the excuse to flout international law and interfere with another nation?
There is a body of international law that governs international relations. It is not perfect and its enforcement is a delicate matter, admittedly, but it is better than jungle law or “law” generated by compulsion, strong feelings, red lines and feelings of moral obligation, all of which lead to chaos and mass destruction. In 1758, Emer de Vattel’s “Law of Nations” has a section on p. 265 labeled “§7. But not by force.” It begins
“But though a nation be obliged to promote, as far as lies in its power, the perfection of others, it is not entitled forcibly to obtrude these good offices on them. Such an attempt would be a violation of their natural liberty. In order to compel any one to receive a kindness, we must have an authority over him; but nations are absolutely free and independent (Prelim. §4). Those ambitious Europeans who attacked the American nations, and subjected them to their greedy dominion, in order, as they pretended, to civilise them, and cause them to be instructed in the true religion, — those usurpers, I say, grounded themselves on a pretext equally unjust and ridiculous.”
Vattel argues for a moral obligation for one nation to help another nation under some circumstances, but it may not do so “forcibly“. Nikki Haley’s compulsion to bomb Syria for the good of Syrian rebels and some Syrians factually speaking will not be “a kindness”. Besides taking many lives and wounding others, wrecking families and economies, destroying order as in Iraq and Libya, and opening the way to extremist bombings, the U.S. destroys whole cities and ruins infrastructure that took decades to construct. Even overlooking all the evils the U.S. does in the name of good, the U.S. has no authority over Syria or Syrians of any stripe and authority is essential if such attacks are not to violate the natural liberty of Syrians, which means their existence as a free and independent nation.
What does Nikki Haley acknowledge or respect of the law of nations? Apparently nothing, or she wouldn’t have said that the U.S. could be “compelled” to bomb Syria. Compulsion is no more than the law of savage beasts, and not even up to that standard; and she shares this lack of regard for the law of nations with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom have smashed international law under false and phony pretenses, in its name, or in the name of an oppressed people, or in the name of enforcing law, or of doing something good like removing a dictator, or of stopping weapons of destruction, or even of defending America, which wasn’t even remotely the case.
Americans acting through the U.S. government have no right to inflict so-called “good”, which is far more frequently evil anyway, on any people or portion of a people of another nation. For the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. to argue that “states are compelled to take their own [interfering] action” is an insult to international law and relations, and yet it perpetuates the thinking and tragically the very bloody action at the highest levels of the U.S. government that have gone on for far too many years. Is it not time to see and say clearly that no nation is above the law of nations, and that no nation may rightly enforce its perverted version of that law in the name of a compulsion or even a strong feeling of moral obligation?10:02 am on March 13, 2018 Email Michael S. Rozeff