Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2013
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 119A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Andreas Teuber


Should the United States
Intervene in Amazonia?

Imagine that you are on a visit to Washington, D. C.

Imagine you decide to go to the Holocaust Museum.

You need coffee, and you head for the Museum Cafe.


Just as you enter you notice someone who looks a lot like President Obama. You inch a little closer and realize it is Obama and you say to yourself: "Wow, President Obama!"

Imagine, too, that he is sitting with three others, two men and a woman. You do not immediately recognize them but before you can figure out who the other three are, you notice President Obama is waving in your direction. You think to yourself, "surely he must be waving to someone else." You look over your shoulder. There is no one behind you.

You turn back, you notice that Obama is pointing directly at you as if to say "you, yes, you" and you find yourself pointing to yourself as if to say "me, you mean me?" and Obama waves again and gestures in a way that suggests he wants you to come over and join him at his table.

Again you say to yourself, "wow, Obama." And you think, "who is going to believe this?" and wish you had not left your camera back at the hotel.

You approach in a deferential manner and Obama says your name, pronounces it correctly, indeed he gets it exactly right, and says "I'd like to introduce you to Samantha Power, our Representative at the UN and John Kerry, my new Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel, whom you probably know, my new Secretary of Defense."

You look at Kerry and think: "wow, he's tall."

You think, perhaps, you should pinch yourself because you believe you must be dreaming. But you decide not to. Pinching oneself in the Museum Cafe next to Obama would look ridiculous, absolutely, totally, completely ridiculous. So you decide not to.

Instead, you extend your hand and shake hands with Samantha Power, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, all of whom have stood up and think to yourself, looking up at Kerry, "he really is tall."

And you think: "my name, he knows my name. Obama knows my name."

You reach out to shake his hand, but Obama has already sat down again and continues to talk without missing a beat: "the FBI tells us you are taking a course at Brandeis on Human Rights."

"Well, um, ah, yes," you say, but think to yourself, "the FBI? The FBI knows about the Human Rights class?"

Obama continues, "we believe you have been doing some reading in this Human Rights class about just and unjust wars. We're told you have given some thought to the justice of war and justice in war."

"We have a question for you. We think you might be able to help."

There is a brief silence.

Obama continues, "that's right, no? I have that right, no? You're taking a course on Human Rights?"

"Well, yes," you say, "well, yes, I suppose. I'm a little behind. But I can catch up."

"Well, we," Obama says, gesturing in the direction of his colleagues around the table, "we have a problem."

"Should we intervene in Amazonia?"

"Amazonia?" you think to yourself.

Obama looks at Kerry and then at Power and then at Hagel and then back at you and pulls the chair next to him closer to the table and pats it, pats the seat, as if to say "sit down." You have been standing.

Once you're seated, Obama leans forward, looks quickly left, then right and asks - in a voice just above a whisper - "we'd like your advice; we'd like to know what you think, if you think we should go in, if we," gesturing to himself, Kerry, Power and Hagel, "if we should intervene, in Amazonia."

Your mind racing, you cannot think of anything to say.

Obama: "What do you think?"

"Well," you say.

"Yes," Obama says, pulling his chair even closer.

"Well," you say. Suddenly you wish you had not come to Washington for the weekend.

There is a brief silence.

"We would like to know." Obama continues," if we should intervene with or without UN approval, unilaterally or with a coalition of states. And if we did, would we be justified in doing so?"

You wish you had had a cup of coffee before you saw Obama. Then you might be a little more awake for this.

You take a deep breath and say, pointing to yourself, "me, you're asking me? You want to know, you want to know, you, the President of the United Sates, you and Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of State John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, you, all of you, want to know what I think? You want my advice?

You take another deep breath.

"Yes," Obama says, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, "yes, we'd like to know. If we intervene, would we be justified?"

"Yes," Samantha Power says, "would we?"

"Yes," Hagel says.

"We'd like to know," Kerry says.

You do your best to collect your thoughts.

"Might I have a little background?" you ask. "Do you or does anyone happen to have a White Paper or something on Amazonia?"

You have not been following the news.

"Amazonia?" you think to yourself. "is that even a country? What's going on there?"

"O.k., a little background, we can give you a little background. but we don't have all day," Obama says. He then turns to Samantha Power and asks "is Susan here?"

"Where's Susan? She said she'd be right back." And then spotting someone who has just come into the cafe, he calls out "Susan" and gestures for her to come over to the table.

"This is Susan Rice, my National Security Advisor."

He introduces you to her and her to you.

"Susan," the President says, "_________ [your name] (fill in the blank) needs some background.."

He then signals to the others to get up and they go to another table across the room.

"Five minutes," Obama says, as they depart, "five minutes, tops."





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