“Pre-emptive Inaction?”

I enjoy reading Brendan O’Neill, because he manages to be thoughtful and provocative even when he’s wrong. His new article on Spiked-online.com is a good example. It’s called “Pre-emptive Inaction?,” and in it, O’Neill slams the pragmatic case against war:

[The] notion that war should be avoided because it increases the threat to the West has been a recurring argument of the anti-war movement for the past two years. From the Afghan war of October 2001 to the second Gulf War in March 2003, anti-war activists and commentators have argued that wars abroad will result in ‘Target Britain’, where increasingly irate terrorists will take their angst out on us. This is no way to oppose war. It is a cowardly position that calls for a safety-first approach to international affairs, where inaction is elevated over action ‘just in case’ – and it is deeply prejudiced, buying into the argument that the real problem is the terrorists ‘over there’ who might be stirred up if we take irresponsible, risky action. It is an anti-war argument concerned more with saving ourselves than anybody else. …

These arguments demonstrate the streak of moral cowardice running through the anti-war movement – an amorphous group that today includes, not only the protesters of old, but many in the media, opposition politicians and even, apparently, some military and intelligence officials. Their arguments are not about challenging Britain and America’s actions abroad on the grounds that they undermine state sovereignty, exacerbate local tensions, and make life a misery for people in the third world. Rather, they oppose such action because it is unpredictable, because it might unleash unknown quantities and risks, because it could provoke dark forces to take action against us in the comfortable West.

Actually, the practical, self-interest argument against intervention didn’t start two years ago. A few noted Americans talked about it in the 18th century, and they weren’t being original even then. Many of us deplore the fact that Anglo-American actions abroad “undermine state sovereignty, exacerbate local tensions, and make life a misery for people in the third world.” We also recognize that terrorism is one result of such actions. We’re against empire for what it does to foreigners as well as what it does to us. What’s wrong with that? O’Neill:

Whatever happened to opposing war by offering solidarity to people in the third world, rather than worrying about me, myself and I? When being anti-war is all about saving ourselves, everyone loses out.

O’Neill seems to be saying that self-interest itself is morally suspect, or at least that it must be tied to an active interest in saving the world. But why? Whatever happened to leaving others alone so long as they reciprocate?