A Meditation on the Larger Problem of US Intervention

John McAuliff  |  The Havana Note  |   July 5, 2014

The Foreign Policy blog ran a provocative essay on July 1st by Dr. Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, “Democracy, Freedam and Apple Pie Aren’t a Foreign Policy” which can be read here.  It has provoked a number of thoughtful as well as knee jerk comments.   My own follows, hopefully the former:

The article is a breath of fresh air and the comments are a fascinating array.

A core problem with US democracy promotion as foreign policy is that it is the secular modern version of the white man’s burden civilizing obligation used to justify colonialism.

It is also ahistorical about ourselves.  Fifty years ago I was in Mississippi working to end racial discrimination and vote denial.  Thanks to the current Supreme Court new ways are being found to restrict the vote and private and corporate money is disabling democratic control of our own government.  Civil liberties have been shredded by post-9/11 laws and regulations, c.f. NSA, Guantanamo.

We have dramatically improved the rights and liberties of gays, lesbians and transsexuals in the last decade, but condemn Russia for not being where we have barely arrived, not to mention that large sectors of US opinion are not yet  on board the new enlightenment.

We have the largest proportional prison population in the world, racially reflecting economic inequity, and disenfranchise its victims.  The best national health system we can come up with wastes billions on the self-serving insurance industry, to the cost of patients and practitioners.  Our comparative international standing in education, health and quality of life is declining in order to sustain a dramatically larger military budget than the whole world combined.

We barely acknowledge the reality that the comfortable society we live in was built not only on freedom, creativity, economic productivity and open immigration, but also on slavery, ethnic cleansing (the Indian wars) and military conquest of a neighbor (Mexico).  This should not immobilize us but should lead to some humility in lecturing others.

Basing foreign policy on democratic moralism would be more credible if it were consistent.  Other comments have noted our tendency to overthrow democratic governments if their policies displease us.  We bemoan the chaos in Libya without acknowledging that we brought it about.  NPR just ran a story about why so many children and youth are fleeing Honduras without mentioning the coup that we at best acquiesced in against a progressive government.

We return to our embrace of Egyptian authoritarian rule and continue to ignore the repressive character of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

We use international institutions when they serve our purpose but ignore them when they don’t.  We defy virtually unanimous international and regional condemnation of our embargo on Cuba, but aggressively punish foreign banks that do normal business with it, despite strong public support in the US for a more rational policy of engagement.

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