The British Guardian Newspaper (19 February) advocated a liberal moral stance with regard to the revolutions sweeping the Arab world in its leading article titled: "Middle East: Ten days that shook the world". However, it presented a false dichotomy in saying: "It is time to substitute a new era of shared values for the old one of national interest". This formulation suggests that national interest needs to be sacrificed in order to do the moral and the right thing. It all depends on what is meant by the national interest.
Rosemary Bennett in The British Times newspaper (27 January 2010) quotes a government report concluding that "the gap between rich and poor in the UK is greater now than at any time since the second world war. It describes Britain as "riven by class from cradle to grave".
The gap between rich and poor in the "classless" US has also widened at an alarming rate. Hope Yen of the Huffington Post presents the data published by the Census Bureau in 2010, giving the figures for 2009 thus:
" The top-earning 20 percent of Americans -- those making more than $100,000 each year -- received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968."
"Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more. More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy"
So whose interest are we talking about when the words "national interest" are used? The above figures show that the oil wealth of the Arab world has benefited the elite in powerful corporations that have always perched above politics, with their profits and influence advanced regardless of which president or political party is in power. Those voracious corporations represented by the financial-military-industrial complex and their agents, aka the tyrannical rulers of the Arab world, who treat the countries they rule as their own private fiefdoms, have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor and the powerless in the Arab world, the US and Britain. In the words of a Bahraini pro-democracy demonstrator "our rulers believe that they are farmers running a farm and we are the sheep. We are not sheep and we want to be treated as human beings".
The late Robin Cook as Britain's Foreign Secretary in his speech (Guardian 12 May 1997) advocated an "ethical foreign policy" with the words:
"The Labour Government does not accept that political values can be left behind when we check in our passports to travel on diplomatic business. Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and will publish an annual report on our work in promoting human rights abroad"
His "ethical foreign policy" speech was ahead of its time and he was attacked by those on the right and some on the left as being naive. In fact he was a visionary who had the imagination to see that putting the universality of human rights as central to your foreign policy is not only the moral and right thing to do, but it also serves the interests of ordinary citizens in the Middle East, elsewhere, and in the US and Britain too.
His untimely death on 6 August 2005 has been a great loss to the Labour party and to Britain.
Who would have thought the Labour party would sink from such high ideals to the deception and lies of Tony Blair and his ministers to drag Britain into the illegal war on Iraq. Of course Robin Cook opposed the Iraq war and resigned from the government, making a principled and powerful speech in the House of Commons prior to the start of the war in 2003 in which he comprehensively demolished the flimsy lies on which the case for war was based.
We in the US and the west should enthusiastically support the struggle of people for democracy and freedom against despotism and tyranny. It is in our genuine "national interest" and those of the Arab people so to do.