Calls for intervention in Syria are becoming more urgent, and the drumbeat for airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities is growing louder. Predictably, anti-war activists have frantically taken to the airwaves and print media to explain why [insert potential conflict here] is bad for America and for the world.
Don’t worry. This is not another call for action. Rather, it is an indictment of those who reflexively urge inaction, no matter what the case. The Noam Chomskys of the world are busy as ever peddling the threadbare premise that wars are worse than the injustices that impel them to be launched in the first place and, therefore, we should know better than to ever use force. Doing so would be contrary to the goal of world peace!
However, everyday Americans would be wise to give more scrutiny to the seemingly redundant question, “Is world peace a good thing?”
The customary answer is nothing short of gospel to every third grader and Miss America contestant. But this overly simplistic maxim that we teach children and preach at beauty pageants is a terrible foundation for American foreign policy, at least in the way it is framed today.
Make no mistake. War is a grave undertaking and should in every instance be reserved — painstakingly, deliberately, stubbornly — as a last resort.
However, as Teddy Roosevelt once declared, wars are “as a rule to be avoided [but] they are far better than certain kinds of peace.”
In other words, a “peace” in which some states are allowed to perpetuate abhorrent, mass crimes with impunity is not a very good peace at all.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment, though, and assume that peace for peace’s sake is desirable.
In today’s world, if states were somehow prohibited from ever again engaging in hostilities with one another, would we achieve that ever-elusive goal of global harmony? You tell me.
What do you call the slaughter of thousands of civilians in the streets of Syria by a despotic regime — is that “world peace”?
What do you call it when soldiers go home by home, systematically raping and killing women and children in the villages of Sudan — is that “world peace”?
Or how about the hundreds of thousands of Mauritanians who, in the twenty-first century, are forced into slavery by their own countrymen — is that “world peace”?
To the peaceniks, it is, as long as no one intervenes to stop these injustices from happening.
World leaders have often invoked this perverse paradigm of “peace” to justify simple appeasement, a statesman’s cowardly antidote to the burdens of taking action. That’s what happened in 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain inked a peace deal with Hitler and, upon returning from Berlin, declared that the agreement would bring “peace in our time.”
The cold truth is that world peace, as it is understood through today’s populist lens, would be both patently immoral and manifestly dangerous. We are still witness to crimes that so “shock the conscience” of mankind that they rightly justify military intervention if left unresolvable by other means.
This is not to say that real and permanent peace is impossible. That would be too bleak an assessment. But state-to-state conflict will only become obsolete when governments in all corners of the globe are controlled by their people and individual liberty is universal.
Indeed, one of the great phenomena of international relations is that no two democracies have ever gone to war with one another. A wholly democratic world is, thus, the last best hope for abolishing warfare.
Until that distant future, however, wholesale anti-war activists should be made plainly aware of the consequences of appeasement wherever they prescribe it.
Whether we intervene in Syria or assist Israel in striking Iranian nuclear facilities remains to be seen. Those should be very solemn considerations.
But one fact is clear: Ending conflict everywhere and for all time would allow injustice to persist anywhere and all the time.
Miles Taylor served as a White House appointee in the George W. Bush administration and is co-founder and senior editor at the political opinion website Partisans.org.