A point from this morning’s Public Discourse:
When John Quincy Adams insisted that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” he was not defining an American pacifism—for war will come, and the lower purposes of self-defense and self-interest may require military force. He was describing instead authority for a high reason to go to war, which he believed the United States lacked.
Some conservatives were extremely uncomfortable with the invasion of Iraq under President Bush and the air support for the Libyan revolution under President Obama, and they expressed some of their discomfort in terms of authority: Whatever the prudential judgments about such wars (with which they often also disagreed), the United States is not a crusader state; it lacks, they said, logical or theological authority to undertake war for ideals or general redress of evil.
Perhaps those conservatives were right, or perhaps not. That’s an argument for another day. But, by way of analogy, consider this: If you had doubts about the high authority of the United States to engage in those military actions, are you not required—for precisely the same reasons—to have doubts about the high authority of the nation to execute its convicted murderers in the name of retributive justice? To apply the death penalty because its killers deserve to die?