Holding up Morality

It seems rather ironic that one of the perceived strengths of a possible Bush administration during last fall’s presidential campaign would be a strong and capable foreign policy team made up of veteran players such as Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. If world opinion on American foreign policy is anything to go by, this administration has done nothing short of failing miserably on the world stage.

Kenrick Leung
Guardian

The reason is simple. When it comes to international politics, only two opinions about the way you exercise foreign policy matter in the end: the rest of the world’s and that of your citizens. One will get you re-elected, but appealing to the former will actually earn you the merit abroad that will acheive concessions from other countries.

The essential problem is that the Bush camp, along with its conservative advocates, is applying domestic rhetoric in the contextually separate realm of international diplomacy. There has been plunging approval for American policies in recent months from peoples abroad — even within the past week the administration was still needlessly antagonizing foreign friends and foes alike with its absurd, domestically inspired pro-gun stance at a United Nations convention on small arms control.

Perhaps the most visible topic of American obstinacy abroad is the question of human rights. While the Bush administration managed to watch U.S. membership in the U.N. Human Rights Commission slip away, it has yet to regain any sort of confidence in world opinion in recent months that it actually belongs on the commission.

The Western European view on U.S. human rights currently goes something like this: The federal execution of Timothy McVeigh last month brought not applause from foreign leaders, but denouncement that the United States would exercise such an inhuman punishment on its own citizens.

The Bush administration hypocritically dismissed those concerns with a People’s Republic of China-like answer: It’s internal business — you have no right to dictate what we do to keep a stable society.

Yet the Bush administration still dares to tell China to stop executing its criminals and withheld funds for Serbian reconstruction until Slobodan Milosevic was brought to trial. The former president of Serbia and the former governor of Texas have both stated that many members of their respective societies have no right to live, yet one sits in our White House in Washington and the other in a prison cell at The Hague.

The problem with the White House’s posturing on this matter is that it is applying the rhetoric of domestic policy in a world forum. In the United States, the death penalty is a viable option for punishment, while in Western Europe, the death penalty is an archaic, inhumane punishment. In Europeann minds, our arguments for the death penalty make no sense at all.

The Bush administration tells the world, “”We killed Timothy McVeigh because he was a horrible person and deserved to die, but prisoners in China do not deserve to die because the death penalty is in the hands of a questionable government.””

Western Europe finds this argument as sensible as, “”I shot the dog because he was misbehaving inside instead of outside.”” Regardless of where the dog is or what it is doing, there is almost no valid reason to shoot.

America’s stubbornness with the fundamental nature of our arguments is leaving our allies breathless — not out of admiration for our ideals, but at our incomprehensible blindness and stupidity. By taking for granted a world view that shares the same values as American conservative politics, the Bush administration is alienating our allies and driving them into the political arms of our rapidly growing list of foes, which China notably heads.

A more galling example of alack of accommodation for other viewpoints comes from the United States’ stance at last week’s conference on small arms control. Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General, maintains, “”These arms are doing incredible damage in cities and war-torn areas.”” The United Nations points out that 80 percent of the 4 million small arms deaths since 1990 are of women and children.

In spite of this fact, the ironically named U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control had the audacity to say, “”The vast majority of arms transfers in the world are routine and not problematic. Each member state of the United Nations has the right to manufacture and export arms for purposes of national defense.””

Why would the Bush administration take such a stance when arms smuggling is a lucrative business used to fund violent conflicts around the world and kill so many people? If there were a “”human rights”” issue that were black and white, this would be it — after all, we’re talking about the lives of millions of people, not a few thousand political prisoners rotting in Chinese jails.

Perhaps Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., who warned that the conference should not try to “”dictate domestic policy,”” can point out to us why conservatives would not support such measures.

At the core of a worldwide implementation of domestic gun-happy rhetoric are the same forces behind the National Rifle Association, of which Barr is a member. That organization fears “”international meddling”” in the domestic affairs of the United States – precisely because the United States dictates human rights values, along with environmental values, as evidenced by the Bush administration’s rejection of the Kyoto protocol.

When the conservatives who back the White House say there are fundamental principles and values that cannot be ignored or bent in international politics, that makes their own behavior susceptible to open judgment by the rest of the world community, unless they can manage through delusion and force to make their own values the popularly held ones.

In such a view of the world, where universal truths are the only things that dictate behavior, there is no room for accommodation – invariably, criticism about the foreign policy judgments of the Bush administration is misguided, and the conservative rhetoric that appeals to U.S. Republicans holds the values the entire world should hold.

What this amounts to is a new brand of moral imperialism powered by a hegemony controlling global economic resources. What is scary, however, is that invariably hard-line, unaccommodating decisions in international politics only diminish a country’s influence and economic control in other countries, as alienated leaders seek more amicable markets (take a look at Moscow).

When a country loses economic influence, the only other way to dictate its morals to the world is through big guns.

Why are we spending so much on a missile defense system, disobeying an arms control treaty and beefing up our incredibly strong military even more? In reality, are we going to have to invade North Korea or Libya to stop either from invading our shores?

If the Bush administration thinks that by reinforcing America’s global military power, European and Asian leaders will again put up with American rhetoric and unilateral decisions as they did during the Cold War, it is sorely mistaken. Last time, those countries had to run to us for defense from the Soviets – this time, there’s only one bully left who thinks he’s always right on the world stage.

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