What responsibility do America and the rest of the Western powers bear for protecting the rights and lives of people whose oppressive governments we supported and empowered? Do we face a moral responsibility to intervene? What about the real practical financial limits we face as a nation swimming in immense debt and high unemployment?
Clearly we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, or the savior of all the world’s people. But are there long-term interests in terms of opening up these societies, in terms of securing a more righteous place in the emerging order, that it makes sense to invest in them at this time? And even if we agree that we bear some responsibility and interest, what should our response and action consist of?
The answers are not easy and the data are far from clear. Such is the nature of the fog of war, where actions stemming from good intentions often have bad consequences. In many respects, we are forced to make decisions on the fly. In this type of environment, the best decisions often require a degree of restraint.
We would not want to make a full commitment of resources to a situation that has so many dynamic and uncertain consequences. We should also support our allies in protecting their interests, as we would expect them to do in times when we are facing threats. Setting such an example might come in handy the next time America needs to take decisive action that may unsettle our allies. We should err, if at all, on the side of justice for the weak; ultimately, in the words of Martin Luther King, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.