13 February 2011

Egypt, Ends and Means

Congratulations to the Egyptian people on a wonderful, courageous revolution. I hope it spreads!

In light of recent events, I'd like to revisit a theme I have addressed many times: ends and means, and why Realpolitik isn't just immoral, but fundamentally irrational and counter-productive.

In 2005, I wrote, "[Successfully redefining our foreign policy] also means being honest with ourselves about the nature of the regimes in our so-called allied countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Egypt, regimes that are little better than that of Saddam [Hussein's former regime in Iraq] and, for our own interests, perhaps even worse."

And in 2003, "At least since the moment the morally depraved philosophy of foreign policy espoused by Henry Kissinger became our guidebook for dealing with the world, we have marched from one blunder to another. Why is it so hard for us to learn our lessons? We supported the repressive South Vietnamese regime simply because they weren't the communist North Vietnamese. We put the brutal dictator Pinochet into power just because he wasn't the socialist Allende. We supported the right-wing forces of dos Santos just because they weren't the left-leaning UNITA. We helped create the monster Saddam because he wasn't the Ayatollah. We supported the fundamentalist Mujahideen, the precursors of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, simply because they were fighting our communist enemies. And on and on and on, right down to our current tolerance of brutal Afghan warlords. This is the legacy of Kissinger's...[American brand of] Realpolitik: we consistently abandon moral principles in favor of short-term expediency."

In short, I suppose I could live with Henry Kissinger and his ilk, with their smug, self-satisfied contempt for decency in foreign policy and their ends-justify-the-means philosophy, if their policies EVER actually worked EVEN ONE SINGLE SOLITARY TIME. But these guys just never seem to get tired of being wrong. And for reasons I will never understand, every foreign policy 'expert' in every American administration (and from both parties) seems to agree with them, despite no one EVER seeing evidence to suggest they are justified in their confidence. This month, with the collapse of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, they have been proven wrong (and hypocritical) yet again, and Obama was left standing red-faced next to (but supportive of!) a dictator one moment, asking him to leave the next! So just how many more examples do we need to burn through before we accept that there is nothing realistic or practical about Realpolitik? It turns out that letting decency and morality guide your foreign policy is also actually the logical, rational, reasonable thing to do. Why is that so hard to accept? Is it because people are afraid of being thought naive, gullible or foolish? But if the old way of doing things fails repeatedly and consistently, isn't sticking to Realpolitik the naive, gullible and foolish thing to do?

So here's a wild idea. Let's adopt a foreign policy that is consistent with the best ideals of democracy and decency. Let's stop propping up the bad guys, even when it's convenient for us in the short term. Let's stop selling weapons to thugs and sadists. Let's stop funding one terrorist to fight another. I'm not saying we ride in and play hero: as we saw in Egypt, revolutions work best when the heroes are homegrown. But if we behave in a manner consistent with our own values, at least we won't look so hypocritical when we try to stand next to those heroes once they've beaten beaten the villains; and at least those defeated villains won't have been our friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment