Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, August 2011
US Foreign Policy:
Absence of Morality and Ethics
By Sebastião Martins
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 9, 2011
How US Foreign Policy Is Anti-American
“Today we writhe in a pit of our own digging, despising ourselves and despised by the betrayed peoples of earth. Instead of unity a vast disintegration, instead of enthusiasm an intolerable irritation, instead of fixed purpose a strange and bewildering indecision.”
It is usually understood that whatever pertains to an interventionist US Foreign Policy and/or its economic interests builds up what most of us have come to take for granted as ‘American policy.’
Allies who facilitate or protect these interests are called ‘Founding Father material’, unpleasant people like Ngo Ding Diem in Vietnam, the Contras in Nicaragua, and Osama Bin Laden during the Cold War.
It is also taken for granted that whatever entities oppose those policies are naturally tagged as ‘anti-American’: Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and others.
It is clear enough that today the terms ‘American’ and ‘anti-American’ simply mean ‘pro US-interests’ and ‘anti-US interests’.
It seems we live in an Orwellian era without consistency or morals, where the allies of today are just as easily the enemies of tomorrow and vice-versa, be they monarchic, democratic, fascist, communist or theocratic, butchers or doves. It all seems to depend on the whim of the all sacred all commanding ‘US national security interests’ which must not be named.
Here is a striking example of the absence of morality and ethics in the US’ international conduct. How is it that one of the most strategic allies of a country which chose popular sovereignty over monarchy is the highly repressive kingdom of Saudi Arabia? And how is it – if nations are indeed driven by a moral impetus – that ‘democracy’ becomes the go to word for staying in Iraq and intervening in Libya and not in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two great allies of the US?
The above example shows the utter moral arbitrariness of the US in its dealings with the rest of the world. However, not so long ago ‘American policy’ had clear ethical and philosophical standards which governed its conduct in regard to foreign nations.
The America invented by the Founding Fathers was clearly against any interventionist foreign policy. Their imagined nation would have stayed away from the ‘entangling alliances with other nations’ (Jefferson) and would ‘not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy’ (Adams). It would be the ‘well wisher to freedom and independence of all’ (Adams), its ‘inalienable rights’ becoming a beacon of hope to the tired and poor of the earth ‘yearning to breathe free’ (Lazarus, The Golden Colossus). Why, they wondered, would America entangle its ‘peace and prosperity in the toils of [..] rivalship, interest, humor and caprice’ (Washington)?
Are these not what President Barack Obama called in his Inauguration Address the ‘ideals of our forbearers’? Are they not an outline of the original American sentiment towards other nations?
The answer can only be yes, and in that respect US foreign policy of at least the past century has been a systematic violation of the ‘ideals of our forbearers’ mentioned above, which I do not contest President Obama must hold very dearly in his heart.
Let us look for proof of this American sentiment and ideals in slightly more binding places, say for instance national documents. I am aware that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution seem to be strikingly inconvenient truths in Washington today, but bare with me.
Section 8 of Article 1 of the US Constitution clearly states that ‘Congress shall have power […] to declare war’ and ‘to raise and support armies’. Therefore, every President must ask congressional approval before going to war.
As has been repeatedly stated, this makes every conflict the US has engaged in since WWII unconstitutional, and therefore illegal. The US seldom recognize the authority of international courts which pass judgment on its actions, but surely they will not fail to grant authority to their own foundational documents.
Furthermore, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 which passed into federal law stated that not only must the President ask Congress for permission before submitting the country to war, but he must do so only in case of a ‘national emergency created by an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces.’
Taking that into account, not only were all conflicts since WWII illegal, but several of them were wars of aggression, illegal and criminal under any law – US law, international law and also according to the Nuremberg Principles which were set down after WWII. Incidentally, it was the enforcement of the Nuremberg Principles which led to the trial and execution of some very nasty people who wanted to dominate the world.
For some Americans, however, the times of today are different than those of their ancestors, and shredding the constitution tiny little bit after tiny little bit becomes a natural necessity in putting the security of the governed over liberty and rule of law. But one may counter such logic by suggesting: why not abolish democracy in America altogether and silence any criticism against the US establishment?
But the Declaration of Independence may help us further on the issue of foreign and interventionist policy.
Firstly, is it not a manifestation of national sovereignty seceding from the imperialistic yoke of a strangling monarchy? Is it not the will of the people overcoming that of what it called ‘tyranny’? I believe I got the story right, roughly.
‘When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them [‘the people’] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.’
The principle of popular sovereignty and self-governance is embedded here. And since a basic moral principle – applied by the founders themselves – is that we should treat others the way we treat ourselves, it is perfectly sound that we take into consideration the principles set down in the Declaration of Independence along with the ideals of the founders to evaluate the relationship between the US and other countries.
If it is the right of ‘the people[s]’ of the earth - not a right of the US establishment - to throw off their governments, and to institute new ones which shall best represent them and protect their inalienable right to freedom and liberty, then every US intervention in, for instance, Latin-America has been a rampage of policies which are the exact opposite of that American sentiment, and are therefore anti-American.
The same applies to the Middle East after WWII, where popularly elected governments – by ‘[they,] the people’, one might add – were toppled and replaced by tyrannous dictatorships which have been nourished by the US for the sake of what illustrious Henry Kissinger called the the country’s ‘credibility’ (i.e. power) in the region. The Declaration of Independence itself shows that these measures are anti-American.
Ho Chi Minh himself was inspired by the US’ foundational documents before the war in Vietnam and came to what some might call an odd conclusion – he thought that surely the US would at least cheer for the Vietnamese and their struggle for liberation against the colonial French. After all, it seemed as though the American Revolution told the exact same story of what ‘the people’ intended to do in Vietnam. For some unfathomable reason he was mistaken.
In principle, his thinking is unquestionable. In Vietnam, did ‘the people’ not try to expel the French from their lands, like the Americans did the British? Did ‘the people’ not attempt to overthrow a ruthless Nicaraguan US-backed dictator in 1979? Did ‘the people’ not chase a colonialist Uncle Sam and his henchman Batista out of Cuba? Did they not push to ‘institute [a] new government which’ would ‘most likely affect their safety and happiness’? And did the same not happen in Venezuela, Iran and a thousand other places always on the verge of becoming a target of America’s quest for domination and punished for subscribing to popular sovereignty rather than subordination to a neighbour state? What happened to the ‘well wisher of freedom and independence of all’?
It is perhaps ironic that the US should have – through a disfiguring metamorphosis – become the same imperialist force which they so desperately tried to expel from their shores in the 18th century.
To echo Daniel Elsberg’s comments on the war in Vietnam, the US have not been ‘on the wrong side’ for the past century, they have been ‘the wrong side’ and continue to be part of the problem in Libya, Haiti, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Israel/Palestine conflict and many other places across the globe. It must be left to ‘the people’ to decide the course of their nation, such is the original and true American principle of self-governance.
And it must be left to the American public to decide whether its government’s centuries-old policy abroad should continue or be brought to a halt.
For their founders and their Declaration of Independence left ‘the people’ with an ‘inalienable right’ to which, perhaps fortunately for the US establishment, scarcely anyone ever alludes to. It is a power which brands the people as the last element of system of checks and balances, and the ultimate regulator of its own governance:
‘Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’
Sebastião Martins and I have recently graduated in North-American Studies. In addition, I am an MPhil student at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, also working as a journalist for www.pulsamerica.co.uk, www.irlandeses.org and The Cambridge Student. I was wondering if you would be interested in this article.
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