Excellent column by George Jonas in today's National Post explaining America's foreign policy motivations. It echoes something I've extensively argued and written about, discussing why the US went into Iraq in 1990 and 2003. An excerpt:
Nations can pursue two types of policies. One is customarily identified as realpolitik, the cold, calculating, Machiavellian pursuit of what is perceived to be in the national interest. I’ll use the term moralpolitik for a committed pursuit of what a nation perceives to be right, and argue that in the past 16 years America’s policies in the Persian Gulf have been motivated by moralpolitik. The tenets of realpolitik would have called for the U.S. to twiddle its mighty thumbs when Saddam invaded Kuwait and started menacing Saudi
Jonas focuses a good deal on Bush Senior's decision-making in 1990, but he does make the error of ignoring Bush 41's own realism (Bush's admission of a shortcoming in "the vision thing" department highlights this). He had calculated that Saddam would have used Kuwait's oil as a tool of extortion against the West, raising the price drastically to put on the squeeze. So there was indeed some calculation of the national interest involved.
However, as is typical of "the nation with a soul of a church," realism only went so far in America's Iraq policy. Ultimately, when George W. Bush threw down the gauntlet at Saddam, he was doing so on the grounds of democracy promotion and changing America's Middle East policy to support the region's democrats and end the support for those who contribute to the region's worst pathologies. In the end, then, Jonas's awkward "moralpolitik" label for American foreign policy is simply a euphemism for democratic globalism, often erroneously called neoconservatism by those who subscribe to caricatures of international relations instead of actual international relations.