Sunday, July 20, 2014

Isolationists, interventionists, liberal apostles of nationalism -- can't we do better?


On Friday, the New York Times reported:

Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations.

The same day, I attended a session at Netroots Nation titled "Iran: Diplomacy or War?" Heather Hurlburt of Human Rights First opened the session by pointing out that much as any of us might have hoped that the Iran talks would be extended rather than have them collapse, none of us could have guessed that this potentially momentous affirmation of the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to what the powers consider Iran's nuclear threat would fall below the threshold for major news. She opined this might be a good thing, muting some resistance in both the US and Iran.

In general, the panel -- which included Ilya Sheyman from MoveOn.org, Ali Gharib from the Nation and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut in addition to Hurlburt -- applauded President Obama's combination of sanctions with diplomacy in our dealings with Iran. They take for granted that the United States must take the potential Iranian bomb as a vital threat, though they don't say just why. They were all concerned that the Democratic national security policy establishment needs to develop some approach to the rest of the world that is neither isolationist nor interventionist.

On the one hand, that sounds sensible. Certainly talking is better than shooting our adversaries. And a war-weary United States has zero appetite for military adventures.

But the discussion struck me as essentially surreal. Don't any of these people understand that the United States has next to zero legitimacy with many of the peoples of the world? In the Middle East, we are both perpetrators and enablers of horror. In Latin America, we're the cruel mega-state to the north which ratifies authoritarian coups (as in Honduras in 2009) and spreads our drug war, spawned by our appetite for narcotics, across the continent. Even in Europe, we're the arrogant superpower which affirms our right to spy on all and sundry. A United States which imprisons children fleeing violence and locks Muslims convicted of no crime up for over a decade in Guantanamo simply has no claim to be a beacon of freedom, democracy, or rule of law.

Obama has -- on his better days -- has dragged the country away from its xenophobic crusading mode. But after decades of support for "anti-communist" dictators and schools of torture, it's no surprise that in the eyes of most of the world, we're more a rogue elephant than a model nation. Democratic foreign policy wonks seem as unable to acknowledge this simple truth as are Republicans.

Fortunately, in another NN14 session, Sara Haghdoosti suggested an alternative frame within which progressives can think about national security and foreign policy. Try this on mentally:

Foreign policy is how we allow our government to treat people in other countries.

That seems a far preferable way to look at the world. Simple, democratic (small "d") and to the point. The point has to be how to live on this planet together, peacefully, for the good of all. Anything else is simply stupid.

You can learn about BERIM, Haghdoosti's project on Iran, and sign a petition supporting diplomatic solutions to conflict at this link. The graphic is from the BERIM site.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

and he is accused of being weak when he does not talk warlike. It is horrifying that war is the first answer for so many peoples in our country as well as otherwise :( And if someone is against war, they are regarded as a wimp. Well, I don't mind being called weak and find it totally revolting how quickly some of our leaders would rush us into yet another war :( We know it profits some corporations but it sure does not the rest of us :(

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