Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Ethics of Exit

One of the great parts of living in NYC is the opportunity to often check out interesting speakers.

Monday evening, we headed over to the Barnes & Noble at Union Square (exterior pictured at left) to hear remarks by Alan Greenspan.

I say "hear" because the store's 4th Floor event space was so packed we weren't able to see the former Federal Reserve Board Chairman. I was disappointed that the session turned out to be more book-signing than speech. But, it was interesting to hear him speak about his youthful interest in baseball and his time as a musician. He also did some Nixon-bashing.

Yesterday evening, we went to a forum at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus called "Exit or No Exit? Morality and Withdrawal from Iraq." It was sponsored by the university's Center on Religion and Culture.

Nearly every seat in the auditorium was filled for this session featuring four prominent ethicists -- two who favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sooner rather than later, and two who maintain the United States has a moral duty to keep troops in Iraq until the country is reasonably secure (since the U.S. caused the instability).

To my mind, the most compelling of the speakers was Jean Bethke Elshtain (pictured at right). She was in the later category. Professor Elshtain spoke about her work on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (which I did not know exists).

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the forum came when the moderator posed this question from an audience member:

"Does the U.S. have a moral obligation to stay in Iraq until the democracy there is stable -- or would it be permissible for U.S. troops to exit with a dictator in place who brings stability?"

The crowd sighed with resignation. The speakers were uncertain.

1 comment:

cjjb said...

I always find it an interesting question and point to be made when people say things like, ". . . the United States has a moral duty to keep troops in Iraq until the country is reasonably secure (since the U.S. caused the instability)."

While I agree that the U.S. had a large part in it, and shouldn't back down from that responsibility (just look at the consequences of Gulf War) I also think we are seriously kidding ourselves and thinking ourselves perhaps a bit too "almighty" when we assume that at some point, if we just stay long enough, there will be even a reasonable amount of lasting security because of the things we do or do not do.

This is an area that has been unstable since anyone can remember! Do we have the resources to set ourselves up for that kind of task and that kind of failure? As Americans we often think we are unbeatable -- and this is just not the case. When is it okay, and politically correct even, to say that this might possibly be a failure? (Not the war as a whole, but the goal of sustaining reasonable security.) When are we permitted to back out and say, "Okay, we did our best. We made things a little bit better. "? When are we permitted to give up, and have it be okay? Will it ever be okay?

By setting ourselves up in this "we will do 'this and that' and accomplish 'this and that' before we leave," are we not setting ourselves up for imminent failure, in a sense?