Conservative Principles??

by Don Boudreaux on September 27, 2004

in Current Affairs

Last week on the radio I heard a snippet of one of President Bush’s recent campaign talks in which he accused John Kerry of believing that the world is not a safer place with Saddam Hussein behind bars.

No one doubts, I trust, that Saddam Hussein is a beast. Having this beast out of power is surely a plus. But Bush’s comment was disingenuous. The question is not – or ought not be – “is it good, bad, or indifferent that Saddam Hussein is now behind bars?” The question is – or should be – “are the benefits of having Saddam Hussein behind bars greater than the costs of putting him there?”

The bulk of these costs, of course, are not the relatively piddling budgetary ones. Nor are they just the lost lives of soldiers and civilians. These costs include also the impossible-to-gauge repercussions likely to follow on any such nation-(re)building attempt – repercussions not only for Americans but also for countless innocent people in the region of Iraq; repercussions not only today and tomorrow, but next year and next decade.

Conservatives are proud of their wise proclivity to focus on long-term results that emerge from following rules. They understand that breaking a rule is seldom justified by immediate or highly visible positive results. Conservatives rightly are critical of those who justify a policy by pointing to specific beneficial results of that policy and saying “See, this policy is good!”

For example, just as a good conservative would not approve of welfare-state expenditures simply because he is shown a picture of a young mother and her children who now have a roof over their head because of welfare-state expenditures, a good conservative ought not justify a war simply by pointing to one or a few happy effects, such as having Saddam Hussein stripped of his power. What about the costs – which, again, include the substantial costs of playing world policeman?

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