Matter Meets Anti-Matter

Nicholas Kristoff has an intriguing piece this morning entitled, “When the Right Is Right.”

One of the most conservative, religious, fascinating – and, in many ways, admirable – politicians in America today is Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas who is a leader of the Christian right. Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue. But ’tis the season for brotherly love, so let me point to reasons for hope. Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad – thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about. So Democrats should clamber down from the window ledges, roll up their sleeves and get to work on some of these issues. Because I’m embarrassed to say that Democrats have been so suspicious of Republicans that they haven’t contributed much on those human rights issues where the Christian right has already staked out its ground.

Take sex trafficking. Paul Wellstone, the liberal from Minnesota, led an effort with Mr. Brownback and others to pass landmark legislation in 2000 to battle sex slavery around the world. But since Mr. Wellstone’s death in 2002, the leadership on the issue has passed to the Christian right and to the Bush administration.

Or Darfur. Conservative Christians have been jumping up and down about Sudan for years because of its repression of Christians. So when Sudan’s government launched its genocide in the Darfur region, Democrats were slow to speak out, perhaps perceiving it as a conservative issue.

Then there’s North Korea. Democrats have properly lambasted Mr. Bush for his disastrous approach toward North Korea, which has reacted to his policy by turning into a nuclear arms assembly line. But it has been Mr. Brownback and other conservative Christians who have turned the heat on North Korea’s human rights record and laid the groundwork for more radio broadcasts to undermine the regime there.

So, all in all, I find Mr. Brownback perhaps the most intriguing man in Washington – so wrong on so much, and yet such a leader on humanitarian issues. He is also working with liberals like Ted Kennedy to press for immigration reform, prison reform, increased funds for AIDS and malaria, construction of an African-American history museum and even an apology to American Indians.

I’ve long noted the irony that so many Democrats who supported Bill Clinton’s adventures in the 1990s are so hostile to the neo-conservative vision. Indeed, Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard crowd, along with a few prominent Republicans such as Bob Dole, supported Clinton in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, and other such interventions while exhorting him to do more in Rwanda and other places.

For the most part, I disagree with Brownback, Kristoff, Kristol and others on the wisdom of trying to use American power to solve all the problems of the Third World. While the motivations of all three are slightly different, it’s hard to fault any of them for their intention. Generally, though, these missions are doomed to fail and come at a very steep price in blood, treasure, and political capital.

I still maintain that humanitarian intervention only makes sense in cases where 1) there is no proximate military cause or 2) U.S. national security interests are also at stake. So, cases where a drought or other natural disaster–rather than a civil war–is the cause of the problem, quick U.S. intervention is both noble and worthwhile. So are situations such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 or, at least given the intelligence available at the time, the preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein in 2003.

As tragic as the current situation in the Sudan is, it is entirely unclear to me what we could do about it. I’m also not sure what Brownback intends to do about sex slaves in Asia.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue.

    I always find this to be a funny cliche. After all, Kristoff is praising someone who is to the right of a despotic ruler who killed, raped women, burned villages and plundered the east?

    Go figure.