What to do about the war in Afghanistan?

RIPON COLLEGE POLITICAL science professor Marty Farrell suggests that U.S. foreign policy since the Vietnam War may be viewed as a struggle between “realists” and “moral absolutists.” Tim Lyke photo

by Tim Lyke


President Obama was huddled for three hours last week Wednesday with national security advisers in the White House situation room considering future military options for the war in Afghanistan.

That same day, Marty Farrell was discussing how America got to the point that it now is deciding what U.S. goals and troop levels should be in that war-torn country.

The Ripon College political science professor discussed “My Life and Times in International Relations, Vietnam to Present” to about 15 faculty and students in East Hall. His talk was sponsored by the college’s newly formed International Relations Club.

Farrell, who has taught at Ripon since 1976, explained his view of international relations was informed and inspired by the writings of Hans J. Morgenthau, a founder of the “realist” school of international relations.

Realists believe a country’s moral principles must be filtered through the circumstances of time and place, which help guide a country’s decision whether to intervene in the affairs of another. ...

After getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, President George. H.W. Bush decided not to invade Baghdad, Farrell explained, because that move wasn’t part of the international mandate; no consideration had been given as to how to set up a new government; and geo-political stability would be upset by removing Iraq’s role as a counterbalance to Iran.

“[Bush] was guided by foreign policy realists” such as national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretaries of state Lawrence Eagleburger and George Schultz, Farrell said.

neo-cons on the rise

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 came the rise of neo-conservatives in the United States, who believed that because America had become the unchallenged world superpower, it should use its military might to assert its view of morality around the world.

Such moral absolutism unnerved the more pragmatic realists, Farrell said.

Neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, a major architect of President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, believed that by liberating Iraq from Hussein, America could send a message to the entire Middle East, Farrell said.

“Their motives were basically good,” he said: improve a bad situation, allow “bandwaggonning” to take effect and turn the Middle East into a “sea of democracies.”

But the moral absolutists made the mistake of overestimating the military’s ability to affect change in a country that doesn’t share U.S. values, Farrell said.

To read this story in its entirety, turn to page 10 of the Oct. 8 Ripon Commonwealth Press

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for taking part in our commenting section. We want this platform to be a safe and inclusive community where you can freely share ideas and opinions. Comments that are racist, hateful, sexist or attack others won’t be allowed. Just keep it clean. Do these things or you could be banned:

• Don’t name-call and attack other commenters. If you’d be in hot water for saying it in public, then don’t say it here.

• Don’t spam us.

• Don’t attack our journalists.

Let’s make this a platform that is educational, enjoyable and insightful.

Email questions to darkin@orourkemediagroup.com.