As regular readers of this site and my other writings know, I believe that the U.S. presence in Iraq served its purpose—the removal of the presumed threat to American lives within our borders (however plausible that threat may have been)—some time ago, with the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

Given that all individuals and all peoples have the right of self-defense, anything that happened thereafter, according to classical liberal principles, was neither our responsibility nor any business of ours, unless it should come to pose a plausible threat to American citizens within our borders once again.

As I have argued in the past, I am hopeful that the U.S. military surge in Iraq will put an end to our involvement there, and soon. Nonetheless, I sympathize with the plight of the Iraqi population under attack by brutally violent Muslim fanatics under the aegis of al Qaeda.

Thus I agree fully with Rich Lowry, a strong supporter of the Iraq War, in his assessment of the situation facing the Iraqi people, in today’s National Review Online:

At this village level, the war on terror is less a grand ideological struggle than an elemental fight to replace men with guns who want to prey on the local population (al-Qaeda) with men with guns who want to help it (us). It doesn’t take a romanticism about human nature to realize most people will prefer the latter.

This is a quite profound statement, and one which applies to nearly all such struggles. In addition, it succinctly identifies the laudable motive behind the continued U.S. presence in Iraq.

It doesn’t justify intrusion in other nations’ sovereign affairs, but it is a reality which we all should acknowledge.

Lowry’s conclusion:

It is hard to imagine what the military is for if not to capture or kill al-Qaeda (through “lead poisoning,” as an officer puts it colorfully). Before he lets his American visitors leave his front yard, Hassen Nssaif Jasim insists that they take home a message: “We are very serious, and we are going to go all the way to the end of the path. We don’t want you to leave.” And we shouldn’t.

Here I strongly disagree. It’s in fact quite easy to imagine what the U.S. military is for: to protect the lives of U.S. citizens within our borders and on official public business elsewhere. That is all, and it is quite enough.

The situation in Iraq today is tragic and appalling, but we have neither the responsibility nor the right to interfere with it.

Sympathy is a fine thing and essential to humanity, but we must never let it override reason.