Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy’

Helping Haiti

January 15, 2010

The world is abuzz with the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. It’s hard for someone like me to really comprehend the scope of the tragedy of many of the stories coming from devastation. Most of us are not in a position to ourselves go and help out, but there are a number of worthy organizations participating in the rescue and recovery to which you can donate. They include:

(this list is hardly comprehensive; there are plenty of other legitimate options. You can find others, and research their reputation and integrity through CharityNavigator or NetworkForGood.)

But as important as this disaster relief work is, hopefully we will do more. I hope we can take this opportunity to consider what allows this sort of catastrophe to occur—not the earthquake, of course, but the social conditions which allow the natural disaster to wreak such devastation. We as individuals can engage long term with the non-profit organizations which are working to foster long-term and sustainable changes to those conditions. And we can participate as citizens to encourage our government to adopt a foreign policy agenda more conducive to such change. Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, has suggested ten suggestions.

One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.

Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.

Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.

Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.

Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti – they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.

Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.

Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.

Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated (Bill Quigley, “Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti,” CommonDreams.org, 01-14-2010).

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Then Again…

March 29, 2008

…when I am reminded of McCain’s foreign policy, and the general attitude of the vast majority of the Republicans in that regard, the prospects of voting for McCain dim considerably. While I’m not certain either of the Democratic candidates are as willing to stand for an ethical foreign policy as I’d like, and Clinton seems very willing to take a belligerent stance when it suits her purposes, neither seem to relish the imperator role like their presumptive opponent.

Jeff Huber, retired Navy Commander, is a rather witty commentator on the military and politics in his blog Pen and Sword. He had some rather scathing thoughts on McCain’s recent faux-pas in Iraq.

It must be a kick in the head to base your claim to the presidency on your savvy in foreign affairs only to have it get out that Joe Lieberman knows more about them than you do. I bet it’s a lot like how I feel when my dog corrects my grammar in front of people.

One would like to think that Senator John McCain misspoke when he said in Jordan during his tour of the Middle East that the Iranians have been “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” He is, after all, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the GOP’s designated crown prince, so you’d think he’d be aware that the official rant is that Iran is training Shiite Iraqi militants, not the Sunni al Qaeda guys. But no, McCain made the Iran-al Qaeda accusation four times in just over three weeks, and it wasn’t until Lieberman cooed something in his ear that he said, “I’m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

The question is, of course, whether McCain is really that dumb and/or senile or if he’s just being a diligent echo chamberlain of the neoconservative agenda. It may be that he lives in a bubble even more opaque than the one Mr. Bush occupies. Then again, he may be a Cheney class Machiavellian. As historian and journalist Gareth Porter noted on March 22, “Sen. John McCain’s confusion in recent allegations of Iranian training of al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq is the result of a drumbeat of official propaganda about close Iran-al-Qaeda ties that the George W. Bush administration and neoconservatives have promoted ever since early 2002.”

Whatever the case, McCain is a key component of the disinformation campaign designed to revive the world order we thought we’d put out of its misery at the end of the 20th century (Pen and Sword, “McQaeda” ).

He also tackles Cheney’s duplicity regarding Al Qaeda and the administration’s simian chest-beating over Iran in the same post. Biting, but very shrewd.

Moral Responsibility is not Anti-Americanism

February 26, 2008

(Shortly after I first posted this essay, I found that I had inadvertently uploaded an earlier draft of the post. I’ve now uploaded the intended final version, with some slight revisions. Sorry for the error.)

“Anti-American.” “You hate America.” “Blame America first.” These are some of the epithets repeatedly slung in the face of liberals when defending their political beliefs. “We’re essentially a good nation; why can’t you give America a break?” Strangely, few accuse conservative critics of hating the U.S. when they condemn the nation’s moral decay. These labels lack merit; they only stifle meaningful debate, and reflect an immature and simplistic notion of national moral responsibility.

Not infrequently, the term moral equivalence is thrown into the discussion to further muddy the waters. What a silly concept! As if we could add up the quantity and quality of sins committed by nations and then gloss over U.S. actions because our total in blood, pain, and suffering is calculated as lower than that of others. The equation is always rigged, of course. Those who rely on the concept insist that the crimes of the U.S. are somehow justified, and by some feat of calculus ameliorate our tally. John Adams keenly observed:

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws (letter to Thomas Jefferson, 02.02.1816; courtesy of WP).

(Adams knew whereof he spoke, having rationalized the egregious breach of civil rights in signing the Alien and Sedition Acts; but in contrast to our conservative friends, he had the integrity to keep the nation out of an unnecessary war with France for which much of the nation was clamoring.)

No, we must seek a more honorable and morally sound perspective than one constructed on a subjective, comparative foundation—a perspective like the one I’ve found that in the paradigm of liberalism. I came to appreciate this perspective largely as a result of my religious instruction and, ironically, the parenting of my politically and socially conservative parents.

I was rather a handful as a child. Overheated disputes with my brothers and sisters were not uncommon. Invariably, my parents would be alerted by the commotion and swoop in to break up the fracas and dispense judgment. And almost as invariably, I would be held most responsible, no matter how irritating, obnoxious, or otherwise culpable (in my entirely objective opinion) the brats had been.

“You are the oldest,” my parents would inform me “You should know better.” Or perhaps “you’re bigger than they are.” And for good measure, “I expect you to be an example.”

By this method, repeated more times than I care to remember, my parents stressed an important principle, one taught by the Savior.

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Luke 12:48).

Morally, those who have much are more accountable than those who have little. Much can refer to wisdom (being older than my sibings, I was expected to be more emotionally mature). It can also refer to temporal power (being older and larger, I was perceived as more capable of causing physical harm through carelessness or spite than the younger children).

Our nation was founded not ostensibly on conquest, or ethnicity, or the personality of some charismatic ruler; but instead on the loftiest of ideals, collected from the accumulated wisdom of at least a couple thousand years. We cannot condone the betrayal of those ideals simply because it may be strategically expedient at a given time. From the outset, the leaders of our nation saw our nation as an example which would hopefully inspire enlightened change throughout the world. That hope has been echoed in our nation over it’s two-hundred plus year existence. Those ideals and the words of hope will come back to condemn us if we continue to capriciously abandon those principles whenever it suits our interests.

No less have we been given much in regards to worldly wealth and power. We are the world’s sole superpower, with wealth beyond anything the world has ever before dreamt—and destructive power unparalleled in the world’s history. As the saying goes “when America coughs, the whole world catches a cold.” Wrongdoings on our part are far more likely to have far reaching consequences than those of smaller states. Our very preeminence and power requires us to maintain the utmost circumspection.

Another question my parents frequently asked when I would grouse about the transgressions of my siblings is “what did you do to them?” Likely as not, an inspection of the events revealed that some thoughtless or intentionally spiteful action on my part had instigated the misbehavior of my siblings.

This is no less true in the realm of U.S. international relations. The U.S. has often used its might around the globe both thoughtlessly and at times in a deliberately self-serving manner. It is disingenuous for us to then act surprised or offended that we’ve engendered a great deal of hostility in the Middle-East, South America, or Asia. Some few brave souls not typically associated with left-wing politics, such as the late Harry Browne (former Libertarian Party presidential candidate) and Ron Paul have had the intellectual and moral integrity to recognize this reality. Unfortunately, they’ve been rebuffed by most conservative voices for their rationality.

By no means does this mean that all hatred for and violence perpetrated against the U.S. by outside (or internal) forces is a result of U.S. wrongdoings. But I am confident that we will be far more successful in curbing such hatred and violence by reforming our own actions than by force or retaliation.

As seriously as I take all these considerations, I consider them secondary causes for my perception. The most important reason was expressed somewhat cryptically by Noam Chomsky in verbal exchange about U.S. involvement in the corrupt and brutal government of Suharto in Indonesia (I believe it was with William Buckley). When his adversary defended U.S. actions by citing the crimes of the other side, Chomsky was unwavering. “That was them,” He insisted. “I’m talking about us.”

I could relate instantly to Chomsky’s rather laconic rebuttal. It was completely consistent with the lessons I’d learned from my parents. I recalled an occasion from my childhood in which I was in a spat with Dan, another child in the neighborhood. My father noticed the scuffle, and was quick to take me aside for a reprimand, and cut off my defense. “I don’t care who was wrong,” He declared sharply. “Dan is somebody else’s business. I’m responsible for you.”

As the years have passed and I’ve (mostly) outgrown the pugnacity and excitability of my childhood, I’ve come to realize that the principle about which Chomsky was speaking and upon which my father was acting was an extension of the admonition of Jesus to his disciples.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Matt. 7: 3-5).

We should concern ourselves first and foremost with our own morality. If we believe in protecting the environment, we should first and foremost take responsibility as individuals to reduce our ecological footprint. If we believe in the importance of lifting up the downtrodden, we must first and foremost seek to find ways as individuals to aid the disadvantaged.

Yet our responsibility does not end with ourselves. There are hierarchies of responsibilities in our lives. My father was concerned with my actions because I was his child. Though my sins were not his, he had a legal and ethical concern and even responsibility for my actions. As a member of his family, they reflect upon him.

The actions of the U.S. federal government are likewise within the hierarchy of responsibility of me and every citizen. Because the government is ultimately accountable to us, because it derives its legitimacy solely from our consent, we can and should hold it to account. The actions of our nation reflect upon us, and should be of concern.

Yes, other nations or extra-national entities act foolish, unethically, criminally, and barbarically. I recognize that France has shown a callous disregard to freedom of expression, and has amorally sold weapons to repressive tyrannts; that Turkey is dishonest in denying their genocidal history regarding the Armenians and their repression of their ethnic Kurds; that China has viciously abused its populace and continues to neglect their welfare; that South American leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have been repressive, power-hungry, and corrupt; that many nations in the Middle-East are barbaric in their treatment of minorities and dissenters; and so on and so forth.

So what?

I’m variously saddened, outraged, and horrified by these and many other tragic facts abroad. But I am not responsible for the actions of France, Turkey, China, or the rest. They do not represent me. The U.S. does represent me, and I am responsible—if only in some small way—for it.

We as a nation need to be more mature in our perspective. We must stop rationalizing the transgressions and crimes of our land by pointing to the sins of other nations. It is our duty to focus on the civil rights abuses, warmongering, power grabbing, disregard for the welfare of our citizens and our environment, economic pillaging of other lands, and all other manner of sins of our own nation regardless of what other entities have or have not done. Contrary to the vitriol of the Right, this isn’t about pessimism, negativism, anti-Americanism, hating America, or blaming America first, any more than my parent’s efforts to hold me accountable was about negativism, anti-Derekism or hating Derek. It is about growing up. Are we ready as a nation to do this?