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Soft Hearts and Hard Minds: The Enduring Challenge of U.S. Foreign Policy

December 23, 2014 in Economics

By A. Trevor Thrall, Erik Goepner

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

The furor over the CIA Torture Report is only the most recent illustration of an enduring challenge facing U.S. foreign policy: maintaining a “soft heart” toward the problems of the world while bringing a “hard mind” to the debate about the solutions. The recent history of U.S. foreign policy abounds with examples of how difficult it has been to strike the proper balance.

For instance, conventional wisdom suggests America’s efforts in Rwanda surrounding their genocide were too hard-hearted. President Clinton referred to it as one of his greatest regrets. Others suggest that hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved had the U.S. acted earlier, arguing that just 5,000 peacekeepers would have prevented the genocide.

Such soft-hearted claims appeal to our humanity, yet they ignore critical considerations. How might 5,000 have kept the peace in Rwanda, when New York City has a police force seven times larger for a similar sized population? When would they have gone in? A few months before the genocide, when Rwanda’s violence levels placed it well behind those of India, Iraq, Bosnia, and Somalia? Once the genocide became publically known? The first reference in U.S. news came two weeks into the genocide and a U.N. resolution followed a month later, after a majority of the killings had already occurred. Most importantly, what would the peacekeepers have done? Neither side wanted them there. The Hutus wanted no prying eyes as they sought a final solution to their tensions with the Tutsis. The Tutsi-dominated insurgency did not want to be slowed down. They were well on their way to winning the civil war, ultimately ousting the Hutu government in just three months.

In the case of CIA torture, hard hearts mixed with soft minds to further a policy that was not only grotesque, but unwise.”

Even when the U.S. does balance a soft heart with a hard mind, it can be difficult to maintain this balance. President Obama has managed thus far not to send U.S. military forces to intervene directly on the ground in the Syrian civil war. Despite our concern for the tens of thousands who have died and the millions displaced by the conflict, there is simply no practical way for the U.S. to use military force to improve the situation. Obama has thus wisely held to indirect support only for those affected by the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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