Something I saw on television, flipping through the channels recently, sparked me to thinking again about something that has been long on my mind about the history of American foreign policy (and for that manner, a great many nations).
The person being interviewed was a conservationist who helped protect endangered species in various parts of the world. The interviewer (might have been Steven Colbert??) was questioning him about dealing with warlords and dictators with human rights records that were far from good.
The conservationist responded that he felt that he had a moral imperative to deal with these people to save the animals … that if he needed help from the government, and that government was a dictatorship, etc, then he may not like it, but he would wheel and deal to get the protection for the animals.
I am a pretty apolitical person, but that sounded pretty leftist: no matter how many humans are being butchered: save he elephants (or tigers or lemurs, etc, etc).
Then I started to think back to an internal debate I had been having.
For the better part of 40 years, while human rights inside the United States has been improving, we have a tainted record in dealing with nations whose records are not so good …. we’ve sided with dictators, and we have toppled unfriendly, yet democratically elected governments. The American government sends half the American military into Iraq to topple a dictator, yet let the ones in Africa go about their business. The left in America (and the world) have attacked this, and with good reason. It is, on the surface, an inherently inconsistent policy.
Yet, I think back to our conservation expert. He likely hates dealing with these dictators and warlords ….. despises it …. yet to look out for interests he considers important (and I support saving endangered species), he will deal with dictators … essentially granting them a form of legitimacy (seriously, can a man who saves pronghorns and cute li’l lemurs be so bad?). But he does it with one hand shaking the bastage’s hand while the other pinches his nose shut.
Has the American government been any different? Certainly, in the wake of WWII, a bulk of the attention was paid to containing and dealing with Communism. Hardly anyone thinks it was a bad idea to get involved in Korea …. which was pretty darn close to a civil war vs. an all out external attack (until the Chinese got involved). Yet, involving ourselves to stabilize Central and South America was bad. I keep trying to put myself in the eyes of people in the 50s and 60s: Stalin was the poster child. He had slaughtered millions of his own people. A little later, the Cultural Revolution in China gave a lot of impetus to the thinking that “stopping communism at any cost” was a good thing. So, the U.S. finds itself snuggling up to a few junior Hitlers. I wonder if the thought was: stop the communists, then turn on the dictators, because we handled one of those once upon a time. If this was the thinking, then maybe that brand of American foreign policy wasn’t so bad …. at least looking at it with the eyes of that time period. Perhaps only with hindsight is it possible to realize that we could have been more selective.
So here we are in 2008 ….. communism (Nepal not withstanding) is in check (not eliminated by any means …. just in check for the moment). The new problem is terrorism, rooted in the poorer areas of the Middle East and north/east Africa. The United States once again sees this as an “us vs them”. So, warm bedfellows are made of the Saudi monarchy, and a (former) coup in Pakistan. On the one hand, they are good moves. On the other, one wonders if all we have done is to make more enemies. We supported the Shah of Iran to keep communism in check, and it has created an enmity which spans decades with the Iranian people …..
Lets examine another nation: Iran
I have often found it odd: when you think about it: Iran today has a conservative government, deeply rooted in their common religion. The United States may be the one nation (aside from not being a theocracy and a majority Muslim) that has a population that shares its most root views.
Instead, Iran fosters cooperation and trade with nations like: North Korea? Cuba? Two nations with official policies of atheism ….. I can imagine the Irananian leaders shaking hands with these people with one hand, and pinching their noses closed with the other as they deal with, not infidels, but out-and-out apostates that would be executed if they started talking too loudly on Iranian soil.
I think Buckaroo Bonzai was right: no matter where you go, there you are.