As I write, the United States has all but entered into full-scale war in Yugoslavia. Almost forgotten in the current preoccupation with the Balkans is the endemic, smoldering combat being waged by America and its allies with Iraq. Ordinary Americans should be forgiven for their bewilderment as to how their country came to be engaged in these conflicts. We are accustomed to being reminded of U.S. “commitments” in the most diverse and distant corners of the world—from Iraq to Haiti to Korea to Panama. But it’s hard to make systematic sense of when and why particular ones of these “commitments” will be cashed out in the violent application of American arms.
For the left, these “commitments,” and their unpredictable transformations into warfare, pose a special problem. On the one hand, most of us find it natural to embrace the high principles invoked by policy makers to justify U.S.-led military interventions—the protection of Albanian Yugoslavs from the tender mercies of Serbian ethnic supremacy, for example; or the defense of a small country like Kuwait from military aggression; or the prevention of humanitarian disaster in Somalia or Haiti. There are grave evils abroad in the world, and the desire to see them redressed is no more than decent....
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