Values vs. Interests: How Should America Deal with Bad Guys?

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

The United States needs flexibility and discretion in foreign policy, not a straitjacket of moral or ethical principles.

In the face of mass killing and slaughter, the U.S. record on humanitarian intervention and putting moral and human-rights issues at the top of our agenda has been pretty poor—from the Armenian genocide to the Nazi Holocaust, to Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and the Congo. Bosnia and Kosovo are the exceptions. Indeed, what President Obama didn’t do in Syria, and what Trump is still reluctant to do now—massive intervention—has been the norm, not the exception, throughout decades of U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s promote our values. Illuminate them to the rest of the world when we can. But as we formulate our foreign policy, let’s at least be honest with ourselves about how much we really care about them.

Aaron David Miller is a vice president and Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. Miller was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations.

Image: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.