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As talking heads and political elites manufacture support for yet another war, this time in Syria, they are employing the standard interventionist justification for military aggression. “It’s in our national interest,” we are emphatically and persistently told.
Almost every single supporter of the intervention has robotically repeated this refrain. While it has been sufficiently convincing over the years, embedding itself into the American psyche as a reference point upon which wars are now justified, it is fundamentally illegitimate.
To explain why, imagine applying the same standard to police work. What if, rather than requiring probable cause, law enforcement officers could detain and arrest people if it was in their “law enforcement interest”? What if judges and juries could determine guilt not as something being beyond a reasonable doubt, but based on the “interests” of the justice system?
It’s almost pathetic to even make the comparison, because of the disparity in severity between the examples. In law enforcement and justice work, with the “interest” standard, innocent people will likely become detained, arrested, and incarcerated. Occasionally, due to the militarization of police, the alleged suspects may be harmed or killed. But in cases of foreign policy, we’re talking about drones, bunker busters, and boots on the ground. Soldiers and their tools exist specifically to kill people—often large numbers of innocent people.
While the “interest” standard is clearly shown to be problematic in police work, it is horrendously immoral and unjust when applied to war.
How are these “interests” defined, anyway? What limits are imposed upon them, either naturally or arbitrarily? Because the worldwide network of allies and enemies is a convoluted mess, is there any example of a foreign nation’s turmoil that could somehow not be considered, indirectly and in the long run, in America’s “national security interest”?
Gone are the days when military might was employed as a defensive measure to ward off an imminent attack. Enabled by the NSA, and facilitated by the CIA, the federal government in our day intervenes around the globe on the mere basis of “interest”—a subjective and limitless standard to which almost any geopolitical event might, with a little propaganda and twisting of the facts, find application. With how easy it has become to wage war, we should expect much more of it in the near future.