Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HEINTZ: Left’s foreign policy must be morally consistent

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 4/28/2014

The idea of an organized American left has always been more fancy than fact, a useful talking point for the cable news circuit but not something that exists in reality.

The left has been, and perhaps always will be, an archipelago of groups with widely differing ideologies that occasionally coalesce around a particular issue. The relationship between these groups is less a group of independent melodies sounding together than a cacophony of discordant tones scattered in opposite directions.

The idea of an organized American left has always been more fancy than fact, a useful talking point for the cable news circuit but not something that exists in reality.

The left has been, and perhaps always will be, an archipelago of groups with widely differing ideologies that occasionally coalesce around a particular issue. The relationship between these groups is less a group of independent melodies sounding together than a cacophony of discordant tones scattered in opposite directions.

On foreign policy, the relationship between these different segments of the left is especially tempestuous.

There exists an admirable group of elected and non-elected liberals who excoriate the U.S. for its double standards on foreign policy, while also embracing the idea of using the U.S. military to stop mass atrocities and genocide being committing in other countries. These people generally supported U.S. intervention in Kosovo and pressed for U.S. intervention to stop the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. A minority of this group even backed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond this group exists a left that is extremely suspicious of military intervention of any type. Some of the people who fall into this category are rational and nuanced critics of America foreign policy, while others are non-thinking ideologues who are willing to minimize the crimes of others to further their case against the U.S. intervening anywhere. Perpetually denouncing the U.S. is their reason for existence, even if they have to distort and mangle the truth to reach their predetermined narrative.

Of these groups, it is the liberal humanitarian interventionists that offer the most hope for a bright future. Still, even this group’s position contains gaps that can’t simply be filled in by ideology. The biggest question for this group is: Are they willing to apply the same standards to America as they do to other countries?

For example, if liberal humanitarian interventionists are going to support the U.S. bombing Serbia to protect the Kosovars, then would they also support the East Timorese people bombing Washington for providing military hardware to Indonesia while it was committing genocide in their country or would the Kurds in Turkey be justified in bombing U.S. weapons manufacturers when Turkey’s government was killing thousands of Kurds with U.S. weapons in the 1990s?

In a more modern example, if the U.S. is going to target Russian officials with sanctions for their illegal annexation of Crimea, should U.S. officials be sanctioned for what many people see as an illegal invasion of Iraq? Should U.S.-backed regimes be hit with the same sanctions for similar lawless or provocative actions such as Israel’s illegal annexation of parts of Palestine, Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara, and the United Arab Emirates and Saudia Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain?

If these liberal interventionists were loyal to their principles, the answer to all these questions would be yes. So, to remain morally consistent they must either admit that other countries have the right to defend themselves against U.S.-backed atrocities or accept the fact that U.S. intervention to stop mass atrocities in countries like Syria and Sudan will understandably be perceived as hypocritical in the eyes of many people, especially those who have been victims of U.S. violence.

This doesn’t mean U.S. intervention to stop genocide isn’t morally justified — just because the U.S. backed-regimes committed genocide in Indonesia and Guatemala doesn’t mean America should have allowed genocide to occur in Rwanda — it just means that humanitarian interventions would carry more weight if our foreign policy wasn’t tainted by double standards. So one solution to legitimizing U.S. military intervention to stop mass atrocities or genocide in other countries would be to stop participating in atrocities ourselves.

The U.S. should play a role in preventing genocide and mass murder, but for our intentions to be perceived as altruistic in the eyes of much of the world, we must stop supporting dictatorships and participating in our own human rights abuses for self-centered economic and geopolitical reasons.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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