The recent military action in Libya (and the unbridled contempt with which many conservatives have viewed the Obama administration for waiting for UN Sanction and NATO support) has given me an opportunity to once again consider the role of America as Moral Policeman to the world.
As I see it, there are essentially two sets of justifications for such a role: those advanced by idealists of a Just War persuasion (defending the helpless and deposing the wicked) and the pragmatists' somewhat more complicated arguments of force and counter-force in the political judo of balancing threats to the United States against one another. The former sees little or no problem with the invasion of Iraq as an action in ensuring the freedom and self-determination of its citizens whereas the latter saw Vietnam as a the latest and most overt in a string of international actions by the United States Government in an attempt to prevent the spread of the hostile ideology of Communism.
That said, it isn't as though these two justifications offer different approaches: each side is advocating the use of lethal force in the name of the American good. The Just War Cause is almost advanced as a form of zealotry: do what is necessary, however unpalatable, in the name of the moral ideals to which every right-thinking person should agree. Pragmatism will rarely have their arguments on the subject matter heard by the masses because they're necessarily Machiavellian and don't play well in sound-bites. In thinking of the pragmatic argument, consider the forces at work in using the CIA to start covert wars in Latin America in order to prevent duly-elected Communist presidents from keeping power.
The problem is that foreign military action is, by definition, international politics and politics is always messy and rarely the domain of the high-minded ideals that are regularly advanced as justifications for such lethal military action. As such, one finds oneself contending with America's history of turning a blind eye to friendly (and absolutely corrupt) regimes while deposing unfriendly regimes, corrupt or not. To whit, the State Department's deafening silence with regards to Bahrain and contrast that with the clamor raised with regard to Libya.
In a partial return to pragmatism, let's examine the moral dilemma as presented by the seemingly-hypocritical American Foreign Policy and its impact on an ideologue: either one must accept the current state of things with some hand-waving and prostituting oneself to the system, or one becomes a pariah from the system. In the former case, one becomes a pragmatist while loudly espousing the Just War ideals that we examined earlier and in the latter case, the best that one can hope to become is Ron Paul - allowed to walk the halls of power but perpetually disregarded by anyone with actual clout. Lesser luck will result in becoming some sort of laughingstock: writing for conspiracy journals and appearing on 2 am talk-shows or at conferences on the Bilderbergs and their unholy alliance with the Pope.
On a less abstract level, the tension between the more pragmatic conservatives and the more idealistic is played out between the more hawkish members of the Religious Right and their more fiscally conservative (and pragmatic) brethren in the Tea Party. On one side, we have moral absolutists who believe (with some variety of justifications) hat the United States is a Moral Authority whose responsibilities cause it to intervene in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and Somalia in order to impose order and save the lives and liberties of the downtrodden. On the other side, the Tea Party Conservatives may not be coming out and saying it loudly, but many realize that the Iraq War costs more than most discretionary spending programs combined. Ron Paul would be the most extreme observer of this case, but many realize that the US cannot afford to act as Moral Policeman to the world, much less unilaterally so.
So where does this leave us? I really am not interested in having an argument on the purely theoretical bases for Just War because in the end, that's not where we find ourselves. As a conservative, I find myself at a loss for a cogent and consistent foreign policy. Unlike most of my conservative brethren, I find myself at a loss for the notions of American Exceptionalism and absolute certainty in the moral rectitude of our foreign policies, which almost necessitates ending a policy of military intervention and certainly unilateral intervention. As for ideology, the fact that the US continues to prop up regimes such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (to name my two current favorites) is deeply problematic. I'm no foreign policy wonk, so my notions on pragmatism in foreign policy are extremely limited but I will say this: Congressional Republicans as a whole have done very well to take the good parts of the Obama Administration's foreign policy and appropriate it as their own and the conservative movement as a whole would do well do continue in that vein.