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McCain's Foreign Policy: Disingenous and More of the Same

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Message Larry Toenjes

David S. Broder, in an April 3 opinion piece appearing in the Houston Chronicle titled “McCain’s ‘war’ speech sure sharpens the Iraq debate,” likened McCains’s address on foreign policy to Barack Obama’s speech on race relations. In at least one important element the comparison of the two speeches could not be less apt.


In his speech, McCain seemed to admit that past US Middle East policies had been counterproductive: “For decades in the greater Middle East, we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability.  We relied on the Shah of Iran, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family, and even, for a time, on Saddam Hussein.  In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel.”


This is quite an admission.  The US relied on Saddam, and other autocratic rulers? Such honesty is refreshing.


However, with respect to Iran, at least, the statement is highly disingenuous!  The US did not just “rely” on the Shah of Iran; we actually put him in power in 1953 and then supported him with immense amounts of military aid and trained his secret police in techniques of torture and intimidation that allowed him to stay in power for many years.


The reason the US overthrew Iran’s constitutional government was because Iran wanted to change the terms under which British and American oil companies extracted and marketed its oil. Those companies were represented by a Boston law firm whose partners had included John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, and his brother, Allen Dulles, who was at the time the director of the CIA.


After 26 years of harsh rule the Shah was finally overthrown, in 1979.  Afterwards, when the US refused to return the Shah to Iran, students there occupied the American embassy, in protest, and held 52 US diplomats hostage for 444 days. US-Iranian relations have never recovered. 


Barrack Obama , in his speech on race in America, reminded us that there are real reasons for past fears and resentment by African Americans. Ignoring that history makes it impossible to understand the events and emotions of today, he argued.  The same is true in the international sphere.  The US overthrew the legitimate government of Iran, and then labeled as terrorists those Iranians who objected, and who still object.  (Do we still remember Pearl Harbor?) Without knowing the relevant history, the President’s mantra that “they hate us because we’re free” cannot be easily recognized as the crass propaganda that it is.


By saying merely that the US “relied” on the Shah of Iran, McCain thereby misleads and obscures one of the reasons why there is so much anti-American resentment in the Middle East.  Barrack Obama, in calling for a frank recognition of the past, opens the way for dealing with and resolving old acrimony, and getting beyond it. The result is called “change.”


In his foreign policy speech, McCain used the term “terrorist” or “terrorists” 10 times, and also referred to “Islamic Terrorism,” “radical Islamic extremism,”  “radical Islamic revolution,” and “Islamic radicalism.” Smacking of war-mongering, the term “terrorist” is never defined.  If a foreign power should ever succeed in overthrowing the United States, how many “radical Christian terrorists” would there be here as a result? For starters, how many members are there in the National Rifle Association?


McCain’s foreign policy speech proposes a new institution—a League of Democracies—through which the US would work for international cooperation, thereby ignoring and diminishing the United Nations. Iran would not be included in McCain’s new League because in 1953 we overthrew their legitimate government, they unsurprisingly resented it, and we have now labeled them as part of the “Axis of Evil.” But a McCain continuation of the Bush approach of negotiating only with our “democratic” friends while refusing to engage in discussions with other nations would result in extending current failed policies. How different, in essence,  is McCain’s “League of Democracies” from President Bush’s “coalition of the willing”?


In contrast, Senator Obama takes the position that we should negotiate with friend and foe alike. This is an important difference. In the long run Obama’s approach will lead to a reduction in tensions that will be mutually beneficial to all nations involved. Isn’t that the purpose of diplomacy? Of course, a reduction in international tensions may not be looked upon as desirable by US arms exporters, Halliburton, Blackwell International, or even the Israel Lobby, which promotes and depends upon US tensions with Iran to get their way in Congress.  But the vast majority of US citizens ultimately will be better off with the Obama approach to diplomacy.

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Laurence A.Toenjes is retired from the University of Houston ?s Department of Sociology where he was a researcher with The Sociology of Education Research Group. Toenjes received his doctorate in economics from Southern Illinois University.
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