Template:Politics The lesser evil or lesser of two evils principle is the idea in politics and political science that of two bad choices, one isn't as bad as the other, and should be chosen over the one that is a greater threat.
Originally, "lesser evil" was a Cold War-era pragmatic foreign policy principle used by the United States and, to a lesser extent, several other countries. The principle dealt with the United States's attitude regarding how third-world dictators should be handled, and was closely related to the Kirkpatrick Doctrine of Jeane Kirkpatrick. By contrast, the lesser of two evils principle is today most commonly used in reference to electoral politics, particularly in Western nations, and perhaps in the United States more than anywhere else. When popular opinion in the United States is confronted with what is often seen as two main candidates — normally Democratic and Republican in the modern era — that are substantially similar ideologically, politically, and/or in their economic programmes, a voter is often advised to choose the "lesser of two evils" to avoid having the supposedly "greater evil" get into office and wreak havoc on society.
Original uses: Warfare and Conflict
The Government of the United States had long stated that democracy was one of the cornerstones of U.S. society, and therefore also that support for democracy should be reflected in U.S foreign policy. But following the Second World War, dictatorships of various types continued to hold power over many of the world's most strategically and economically important regions. Many of these dictatorships were pro-capitalist, consistent with at least some US ideological goals; thus the United States would form alliances with certain dictators, believing them to be the closest thing their respective nations had to a legitimate government—and in any case much better than the alternative of a communist revolution in those nations. This struggle posed a question: if the end result was, in any realistic case, destined to be a dictatorship, should the US not try to align itself with the dictator who will best serve American interests and oppose the Soviets? This is what became known as the "lesser of two evils" principle.
Earlier, during World War II, the Western Allies justified their support for Stalin under a lesser-of-two-evils principle. Justifying the act, Winston Churchill said: "If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." Meanwhile, self-declared socialist movements had their own versions of "lesser of two evils" policies such as justifying their Popular Front Against Fascism by arguing that allying with capitalist powers to overthrow fascism would be better than having the latter successfully occupy the world and permanently consolidate power. From the communist view, the primary scourge of the planet at that point was fascism, and that under the circumstances, fascism had to be defeated first and communist revolution could come after that.
Some time later, the decision of the leadership of the People's Republic of China to seek rapprochement with the United States in the 1970s was an especially interesting application of the "lesser of two evils doctrine," since the United States ended up being deemed a lesser threat by the Maoists than was the Soviet Union. Mao Zedong argued at that time that it would be impossible to continue to deal with the tumult of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the after-effects of the Sino-Soviet Split, and a hostile stance towards the United States and its "imperialist aggression" all at the same time. These measures of rapprochement later expanded into full-blown cooperation between the United States and China, and the introduction of Chinese economic reform and Socialism with Chinese characteristics that decisively introduced many elements of capitalism into the Chinese political system. But at its origin, the act was meant as an ostensibly temporary tactic by which Mao's China hoped to gain a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, with the United States thus being viewed as the "lesser of two evils."
Conflicts over the nature of various dictatorial regimes began to intensify when the Soviet Union, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China began to support communist revolutions and populist guerrilla warfare against established regimes in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In many cases these movements succeeded (see Vietnam War for one of the more major examples) and replaced an American-allied right-wing dictator with a leftist communist leader; to counter the trend, particularly in Latin and South America, the United States would often use its intelligence services to help orchestrate coups that would overthrow those regimes and reverse the leftist and/or communist trend (see Operation Condor and 1973 Chilean coup d'état).
In Iraq, the United States supervised Saddam Hussein's rise to power to counter the threatening growth and influence of the Iraqi Communist Party, which by the late 1950s was on the verge of taking state power. In 1963, the Kennedy administration backed a coup against Abdul-Karim Qassem who had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy, and then the Central Intelligence Agency both covertly and overtly helped the new Baath Party government of Abdul Salam Arif in ridding the country of suspected leftists and communists. Though many in the US Government at that time recognized Saddam as a dictator or a potential dictator, they viewed him as the "lesser evil" when compared with the damage the Iraqi Communist Party might do with its planned nationalization measures and other reform programs that would probably have run counter to U.S. interests. Similarly, in 1991, when Shi'a across Iraq revolted against Hussein's regime (ironically, partially in response to the televised rallying call to do so by George H.W. Bush), the U.S. justification for ultimately staying out of the revolt and allowing Hussein's security forces to suppress the rebels was that the U.S. had strategically decided Hussein's rule was better than the risk of a jihadist or Iranian Revolution-style takeover.
Probably the best example of this principle in action, however, was the political struggle behind the Vietnam War. Ngo Dinh Diem was the ruler of South Vietnam during the initial stages of the war, and though his regime was brutal and he was dictatorial, he was also an anti-communist who was determined to fight the expansions of the North — something that the US Government found sufficiently attractive to end up supporting him. Ho Chi Minh was meanwhile the ruler of North Vietnam, backed by the Soviets, and was a Marxist who wanted to see a united, communist Vietnam. The United States thus supported the regime of Diem and his successors during the war, believing that he was the "lesser of two evils." (However, they later assassinated him and oversaw a new South Vietnamese administration that was comparatively less repressive.)
Modern usage: Elections
Opponents of the thinking behind the modern usage of the term in reference to electoral politics include revolutionaries who oppose the existing system as a whole, and also by political moderates advocating that third parties be given greater exposure in that system. For a particular voter in an election with more than two candidates, if the voter believes the most preferred candidate cannot win, the voter may be tempted to vote for the most favored viable candidate as the lesser of two evils.
Supporters of lesser-evil tactics in the United States of America often cite United States politician Ralph Nader's presidential campaign as an example of what can happen when the third-party candidate is voted for; they claim that the mere existence of the third party candidate essentially steals votes from (or "tilts" or "tips") the more progressive of the two main election candidates and puts the election in favor of the "worse" candidate — because the small percentage that goes towards the third party candidate is a part "wasted" that could have instead gone to the lesser-evil candidate. In 2000 as the United States Green Party candidate, Nader garnered 2.7% of the popular vote and, as a result, is considered by many U.S. Democrats to have tipped the election to George W. Bush. One counterargument is that Nader's candidacy likely increased turnout among liberals and that Al Gore took four of the five states - and thirty of the fifty-five electoral college votes - in which the outcome was decided by less than one percent of the vote.
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