At Far Less Cost, We Can Enhance Our Own Security, Stop Needless Suffering, and Reach Out to Our Fellow Man in the Joy of a Shared Humanity.
With the thousands of blogs on the Internet, you would think you could find expressions of every conceivable point of view on how America should conduct its foreign relations. You can, in fact, find a multitude of opinions, many of them highly critical of current government policies. Many are credibly substantiated, both by the evidence of history and the commentator's own insights and reasoning.
Yet, one view is as difficult to find as a needle in a haystack -- even though it is rooted in the most fundamental of all moral issues. Put simply, this view would express moral outrage that the American government has felt free throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first to undertake wars of choice on weak adversaries whenever it perceives they pose a challenge to America's "interests." Such outrage seems especially justified, when it is considered that these wars, which take countless innocent civilian lives and effectively destroy existing societies, are launched in good conscience and with the broad compliance of the American people.
Perhaps we can understand and pardon the unprovoked attacks launched in man's early history by predatory armies on weaker populations. These can no doubt be explained by the impulse of growing societies, in times of material scarcity, to agglomerate from others the wealth needed to create a true human civilization. But today, when poverty, want, and unrelieved misery continue to plague human life in many parts of the world, America's spendthrift resort to wars of choice as the definitive strategy for advancing its own "national interests" can only be fairly appraised as morally repugnant.
Given the present state of global economic development, even a modest sharing of wealth by affluent nations with the Third World could make it possible to feed, clothe, house, and educate most impoverished humans on the globe. Yet, America, the most powerful and still the richest nation, fails abjectly to set an example. Instead of acting from the sense of a common humanity to reach out a helping hand, it wages wars and lethal interventions that inevitably kill and maim thousands -- even, as in Iraq, hundreds of thousands -- of innocent civilians. American bombing in such wars also inflicts widespread destruction of physical and civil infrastructure, and displaces countless people from their homes and livelihoods. Sadly, too, in waging this aggression, America morally cripples many of its own fighting men and women, who must suffer the debasements and dehumanization of killing, torturing, and wrecking the lives of others.
What possible "interests" can justify such wars? Is it to secure or expand access to cheap oil that continues to fuel global warming? Is it to pre-empt attacks from nations that would have to destroy themselves in order to punish us? Is it to further expand the sway of American corporations, whose top executives already siphon off a wildly disproportionate part of the American income? Is it to preclude additional attacks by terrorists, who are only further motivated by our implacable hostility? Is it to bring democracy and freedom to oppressed nations by killing thousands of their people, displacing them from their homes, and destroying the infrastructure on which they base their lives?
Surely, it is also foolish to think that war -- or, for that matter, military intimidation or economic domination -- can reliably secure America's safety. Given that all human populations share an irrepressible instinct to throw out the invaders; and given, also, that in our own time the natural resentment of foreign domination has spawned international terrorist organizations with possible access to weapons of mass destruction, it seems clear that continued efforts by America to control others in its own self-interest are likely to end in greatly diminished, not greater, security.
Despite these realities, our American government continues to wage wars to "protect our interests." In general, it pursues a foreign policy based largely on militarism. With a defense budget greater than that of all other countries of the world combined, and in close alliance with powerful weapons manufacturers, the U.S. government operates as the world's arms-dealer-in-chief. A recent weapons sale to the Saudis offers an instructive example. The sale comprised a package of no less than $30 billion worth of fighter jets intended to put added pressure on Iran, a nation already exposed to suffocation by a heavy burden of U.S.--sponsored international economic sanctions. The U.S. also maintains large armies in Europe and Korea, and military bases in more than a hundred countries around the world. It apprehends suspected international terrorists, and subjects them to indefinite detention without the right to due process of law. And, as a sideshow to its declared wars, systematically launches coldly robotic drone attacks throughout the world that inadvertently kill many innocent civilians as well as terrorists.
America performs these functions, moreover, with machine-like predictability. Just as many business corporations single-mindedly seek added profits and greater market share, so, in international affairs, our federal government continually pursues broader and greater capacity to control the independence and foreign policy of other nations -- often to the benefit of U.S.-owned corporations. Movement to these ends is constant, because, in pursuing its interests in the world, the government operates as a system of interlocked and mutually reinforcing departments and industrial alliances that are effectively impervious to changes of direction based on ethical considerations. Any attempts at such changes are inherently moot, in any case, since they are necessarily overridden by the system's dedication to prescribed goals.
Of course, in seeking to dominate other nations to advance American "interests," the government first attempts to do so without a resort to war. It may seek compliance with its goals through the "carrot" of critically-needed foreign aid, or by wielding the "stick" of military or economic intimidation. However, neither carrots nor sticks are always successful in overcoming the resistance of weaker nations that are intent on protecting their rights of self-determination. In such cases, history shows, America does not hesitate to bring them to heel by force of arms. The machine-like bureaucratic process designed to advance perceived national interests leaves little human space in which to consider the consequences of the domination it entails. Because compassion for the "other" is simply not a part of the equation, the resort to war and the inevitable deaths of thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are rarely contemplated as a restraining issue.
The Inhuman Disregard of Civilian Deaths.
Both the American government and most of its citizens seem inured to the suffering our high-tech assaults inflict on other societies -- even though the victims are people just like themselves. Naturally, the nation overwhelmingly accords due respect to the "brave Americans" who are killed or injured in these wars -- the tens of thousands in Vietnam, and the thousands more in Iraq and Afghanistan. How often, however, do we find letters to the editor or call-ins to our ubiquitous radio talk shows that express any kind of concern about the innocent civilians killed in America's wars of choice? How often, as well, do we hear authoritative government reports of civilian death tolls? It's as if the human beings killed and reduced to misery by the American drive to advance its "interests" are a complete non-factor.
Even when civilian deaths in American wars are given the respect of an official estimated count, they beg the question of how they can be morally justified. Regrettably, America's "Us-First" brand of foreign policy, seemingly imbued in the national DNA, is accepted as a given and very rarely challenged by anyone in -- or running for -- national political office. Thus, in the current race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney tells us in a campaign ad that, as President, his foreign policy would serve no other purpose than to STRENGTHEN America. The nature of that "strengthening" is not defined, but from the arrogant tone of the candidate in the ad, we can reasonably infer its meaning: namely, that, under a Romney presidency (as under Obama), America will stop at nothing to secure its perceived national interests. This is clearly a predatory posture, a declaration that, for America in the world, "might makes right." Such policy hardly seems consistent with a nominally democratic system of government whose founding document asserts that "all men are created equal," and whose written constitution includes a bill of rights that stresses the value of personal freedom. Yet, elsewhere, too, Rick Santorum declares that, unlike his apparently pusillanimous rivals for the nomination, he will say outright that he will bomb suspected nuclear facilities in Iran.
In a recent debate, Newt Gingrich called the Palestinians an "invented people." That comment is surely pleasing to the hawkish Israel lobby in America, since it by implication elevates the land claims of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.
"I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community," Gingrich remarked. "And they had a chance to go many places." In response, The New York Times noted in an editorial that denying that Palestinians are a people or nation is an argument sometimes used by the far right in Israel, but that it is not the mainstream view. And David Harris, chief executive of the National Jewish Democratic Council, commented that what Gingrich said "is far to the right of [even] the democratically elected Likud leadership of the State of Israel, not to mention established U.S. policy for decades." In another statement, Gingrich also accused Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, of denying Israel's right to exist and seeking to destroy Israel -- a claim hardly consistent with the known support of the Palestinian leader for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Just how far any foreign policy -- not just America's -- can
diverge from a concern for human beings who stand in the way of its "interests"
is made clear in a recent report by Inter Press Service of a new posture
assumed by the Israeli government. It
states that Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, threatened in
November of 2011 to cut Israeli electricity, water, and infrastructure ties that
serve the 1.6 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. The report includes this
response from Jaber Wishah, deputy director for branches affairs at the Palestinian
Centre for Human Rights: "This is
the true meaning of collective punishment". Children, women, elderly, patients,
students, all are subject to this threat.... Israel has been steadily cutting electricity
and destroying infrastructure over the years, but this is the first time they
have explicitly threatened to fully cut everything."