Explaining US Foreign Policy
By Micah Halpern
Thursday March 31, 2011
Freedom is always preferred to slavery. And yet, diplomacy cannot be exclusively motivated by ideals. The real life expression of diplomatic ideals is what we call realpolitik.
In the perfect world allies share values and enemies are clearly defined. But we do not live in a perfect world, we live in a world in which our friends have their own priorities and our enemies sometimes have resources and information that we are in crucial need of.
And that, my friends, is a thumbnail history of United States foreign relations in South America, Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Libya is no exception. Libya may, in fact, become the text book example of modern day US foreign policy relations.
Through example and through influence, the United States - the greatest democratic power in the world today - has a responsibility to nudge the world towards freedom. The US has that responsibility even with the clear cut knowledge that freedom, without prosperity, wealth and power - the ideals of freedom, will have almost no impact. Norway, Denmark and Sweden may be democracies, but they hardly have an impact on world events or influence freedom movements.
When it was diplomatically convenient the US exploited dictators like Muammar Ghadaffi and Hosni Mubarak with one hand and with the other hand, urged the dictators to reform their oppressive regimes. In the end, the urging had almost no impact and the all too important dollar, profitable trade and oil revenue, triumphed.
That would explain our frustration with China, too. China is one of the worst human rights abusers in today's world and yet, the United States needs the Chinese so badly because they hold the US debt in their proverbial hands that our great democracy is willing to look the other way when it comes to the atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese on the Chinese. If the Chinese were to call in the debt, the United States would go belly up, go bankrupt, immediately.
How then does the United States handle these seemingly contradictory needs? How does the United States balance the business-side need to maintain prosperity and power versus the ethical and moral needs of freedom?
The dilemma is resolved by living a diplomatic contradiction. The United States does what it must to remain prosperous, i.e., the US talks the talk of freedom while doing business with despots.
The world is a complicated place. Americans feel bad about atrocities and try to prevent them. Interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are the perfect examples of US involvement, perfect examples of how the US walks the extra mile and tries to improve the situation on the ground. The reality, however, is that the United States is better at throwing money at problems than at intervening and trying to solve those problems.
Armed intervention is part of the resolution of the ethos of the US contradiction between values and prosperity.
At times the seething debate within the US boils over. That's when actions are taken, even without total knowledge of the situation and with only scant background about what is happening on the ground. Sometimes action is essential, not simply to save lives but because the cost of inaction is so high - because risks aside, the cost of actually saving lives can be so small and the reward so great.
The people of Darfur are livid at the speed with which the US acted to intervene in Libya relative to the inaction and speechifying that they were treated to. But Darfur is not Libya. It is very important that the United States intervened in Libya in principle alone. It is important because the United States sets the tone for the rest of the free world - not just for the dictators.
For too long the thugs have felt that they can get away with it all.
They knew that the cost would be nothing more than a diplomatic tongue lashing or slap on the wrist. No one would have ever believed that the UN Security Council would okay international intervention in an internal dispute in order to save human lives.
It was Ghadaffi who changed the equation - not the United States and not the United Nations. Atrocities are being perpetrated throughout the Middle East and atrocities are the norm in many parts of Africa.
But not like in Libya. Ghadaffi upped the stakes - his access to fire power was far greater than the access of the opposition fighters and the numbers of people he intended to murder was staggering.
The United States did what the United States had to do - albeit too little and too late, but what had to be done.
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