Ezra Klein wrote an interesting response to one of my earlier posts about attacking China. His contention (sorry for boiling it down, Ezra) is that the U.S. should do what it can, and there's no way it can attack China, so it shouldn't worry too much about not doing so. This is fair enough, and actually a point I acknowledge.
The point, however, was not to actually advocate doing something about China, it was to point out that the "Humanitarian angle" isn't really enough to justify the invasion of a functioning state by the United States. The humanitarian point is there, but due to a number of reasons, it needs to be accompanied by something else. That "something else" can be national security, it can be multilateral consensus (especially from collective agreements like the U.N. charter), it can be the need to create order in a failed or collapsed state, and, yes, it can even be oil. Humanitarianism is a factor, but barring extreme circumstances such as genocide (which are covered under the U.N. charter, and therefore fit into that "multilateral consensus" bit), it cannot be the only one.
One other thing. Ezra says "this is an unreasoning standard to hold a human being to". Ezra, we're not talking about human beings. We're talking about states. It is most emphatically not the same thing, and I truly dislike those sorts of analogies. Among other things, they were popular among South American "security states" as an excuse to liquidate dissidents. Considering the attitude towards dissent that still exists in the United States just now, I'd like to avoid bodily analogies wherever possible. Once that "dissent=cancer" meme starts flying around, really really bad things happen.
Jesse makes a good point in the comment section for Ezra's blog too- the Iraqi adventure has weakened American abilities to make a difference all around the globe, including areas like Western Africa which by and large make sanctions-era Iraq look like paradise. If the Liberians are driven further into chaos because of the "freeing of the Iraqis", then whose fault is that, exactly? Their own? Bush's? The American people's? The world's? Nobody's?
(For the record, though, I don't think Socrates should have drank the hemlock.)