American involvement in N. Ireland is complex

    “”I’ll have you know that Bill Clinton was one of the best presidents your country ever had!”” Emily said emphatically. “”You have no idea how much he helped us and the problems in Northern Ireland.””

    Despite my disagreement, Emily is very passionate about this subject, as are most of the Irish. I cannot blame them. Certainly, the vast influence of the United States, under command of one of America’s most infamous figures, brought a shaky but relative peace to the province of Ulster in Ireland.

    “”You have to understand that many Americans strongly disagreed with his domestic policy and what he accomplished on American soil, despite the good he did for Ulster,”” I reply, wondering if she knows something about American politics that I don’t. Apparently not, and she continues on about the great foreign policy that Clinton had. Clearly, according to Emily and the many Irish citizens who agree with her, Clinton did the right thing by involving the American government in another country’s affairs to obtain peace in Northern Ireland.

    As understandable as this is, many places were not so enthusiastic about Clinton’s foreign policy. Many inhabitants of Bosnia were not as pleased. Neither were many residents of Somalia.

    Regardless of Clinton’s specific decisions, this brings up an important matter that has been tested in Ireland again in the last few days. The question of how much America should use its influence on the world is always under debate. There is no universal answer because sometimes there will be an obligation of the United States to get involved and other times, we should leave the world alone. However, in the most recent crisis in Ulster, the Bush Administration made the right decision.

    In the last of couple weeks, after the police raided Sinn Fein offices in Belfast, there have been political storms in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein has been accused of having sensitive letters that document the movements of prominent Unionists amongst other illegal and dangerous documents that could aid paramilitary groups. Everyone knew Sinn Fein had it coming; the ultra-Republican party has been in trouble for ties to the IRA before. It was just a matter of time before it got in trouble again. Many of the Irish, at least in the Republic, are rather resigned to Sinn Fein wrongdoings.

    But the issues have made ripples large enough to get a reaction from the U.S. government, especially with talk of throwing out the Good Friday agreements with respect to punishing Sinn Fein. The Bush administration has now said that while action needs to be taken against Sinn Fein by the British government, aides of the Bush administration made clear that it would not become closely involved in this situation. Belfast would have to figure this one out on its own.

    Listening to the Irish talk about the amazing things Clinton did, one has to wonder if Bush could have improved his reputation in Europe by helping Belfast — and Great Britain — with this untimely scandal.

    In this case, though, distancing himself from the issue brought many positive responses from Ulster political parties. Even Sinn Fein approved of the decision to watch from afar.

    The reasons the Bush administration kept its hands off now seem clear, as the resolution to this conflict begins to come into view. Had the United States involved itself, there would certainly be a tendency to help Tony Blair and Great Britain, given the unconditional support that England has been giving the United States. Any decision would probably have been slanted toward dealing harsh punishment to Sinn Fein politicians in office, giving Unionists an enormous upper hand in the Northern Ireland government. This, of course, would have, in turn, sparked outrage in Sinn Fein and most likely the IRA. With the United States at England’s back, Republicans in Ireland would have had their backs against the wall and would have undoubtedly reacted, possibly with violence, if the situation grew more severe.

    By staying away from the issues, Bush has allowed the Irish to solve their problems themselves. The only outside influence is Great Britain, and unless you’re a Unionist, Great Britain is already unpopular, so any help from Blair will be automatically regarded with suspicion anyway. This is nothing new in Ireland.

    Furthermore, some of the issues at hand are so embedded in the landscape that it seems unfair for the United States to try to get involved when it’s very hard to understand all the issues at work in Belfast. Despite the vast number of American tourists who have “”Irish roots,”” very few Americans really understand the different issues that cloud Derry, Belfast and most of the north. Certainly, with so much going on in the Middle East, it would be a hefty task for the Bush administration to turn around and try to understand everything in Northern Ireland as well.

    So then, if Bush’s decision to refrain is so widely accepted, why was Clinton’s help so appreciated? Many argue that Clinton stepped in when there was more violence at stake and the sense of urgency required a quicker outcome than political debates could provide. With the heavy sway of the United States, an answer was reached much more quickly. With this peace that has lasted as long as it has, however shaky, many feel that the danger of paramilitary groups on both sides have slightly subsided. This issue with Sinn Fein may be worked out without the urgency that the United States would bring with it, were it to get involved.

    This comparison of the Bush and Clinton administrations choices leads to the larger question of whether or not the United States should get involved in foreign politics. In Ireland, it seems as if the answer is yes and no.

    This ambiguous answer is exacerbated by the attitude of many activists within the United States. Many humanitarian groups and activists believe it is our responsibility to get involved in the misdeeds of the world and try to fix them. Some even lobby in D.C. to get the government involved in countries that are clearly not harming or helping the United States. At the exact same time, however, activists are always complaining that the United States needs to leave the rest of the world alone. We should not be using our power to influence the outcome of political decisions worldwide.

    The only answer, then, is the easy one, unfortunately. There can be no universal ethical answer to whether or not the United States should use its weight in the outcome of the world developments. Rather, each individual situation will have to be weighed on how much we will help or hurt the foreign country, how much our help and support will help or hurt ourselves, and whether or not we have any understanding of the issues at all.

    Emily finishes with her defense of Clinton and I smile, knowing how vain it is to pursue every aspect of contention in the Clinton administration. For that matter, arguably every matter of contention in foreign policy is vain without several more pints of Guinness to ponder over.

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