Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interests and Values

Heard a pretty balanced story yesterday on NPR that got me to thinking.

The story’s focus was on those who praise and criticize Obama for his handling of the Libyan situation and on a broader scope our general foreign policy related to interventions.

They included this quote from a March 28 speech:

“For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake (emphasis mine), we have a responsibility to act.”

I’d like to focus on the words interests and values. And before I begin, how do we, how should we handle things when these two things conflict? Just think about that possibility as you (hopefully) read on. And does he mean the literal “and”? We should intervene when BOTH those things apply?

Interests. In the early 1800s it was in our interest to expand our borders from “sea to shining sea.” It later became in our interest to stop piracy on the northern Mediterranean coast (“to the shores of Tripoli” – are you sensing a trend toward something musical here? I didn’t intend to but if I can keep this up, it might be clever!)

More history – I’m a little too young to decide exactly what our interests were in 1898 when Teddy and his rough riders helped us win our war with Spain. Sugar maybe? Certainly in our interest.

It took years before we entered WWI and I can’t tell you now what interests we had at that time and as for values; well I can’t there either.

WWII – I doubt anyone could argue with this intervention even though some would say we were late to the party and were it not for Japanese aggression at Pearl Harbor, we might not have entered the war and Hawaii would not be our 50th State. Values – not sure anybody values Facism anymore and genocide was hopefully never valued by anyone (Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and others of their ilk excepted)

I could keep going with this history lesson but I really should get to my points.

Afghanistan. I guess our offended values were/are still, we don’t condone terrorism (or allowing you to be a home to those who do.) But if we are there to foster the value of democracy, well I guess I’d like to have the word “values” defined. If we are there for that and can’t stomach the idea of the Taliban telling people how to live – there are plenty of other places that are equal to or worse than this.

Why has it taken so long to decide what we need to do in Darfur? And even with their independence, South Sudan – I’m not aware of much intervention – I should clarify – we’ve had plenty of citizen, celebrity and NGO intervention in these and many, MANY other places but not much overt U.S. govt. action that I am aware of.

If we are really after world-wide acceptance of democracy – our core and most cherished value, then what’s up with China? We all know the answer. This is where our values conflict with our interest. We owe (heck sold!) them our financial and economic souls and we can’t survive anymore without them being our primary lender and buyer of our own exported goods. So we tolerate that they don’t share our values because it’s out-weighed by our economic interests.

Why didn’t we intervene or get involved in Libya before now? Ghaddafy (spell it however you want!) has been a well-known tyrant for years. Remember Lockerbie & Pan Am flight 103? But I guess it took world-wide pressure for us to get involved this year. He’s been offending our values for decades. But since Libya only provides maybe 3% of our oil, our interests weren’t high enough on that Richter scale to support our offended values. If we were to use this same logic – we’d have been in Iraq and gone well before 9-11!

As with history I could keep going. But if Obama is going to fashion his Foreign Policy around these key terms, I could use a semantics and vocabulary lesson to go along with history to help me understand where we’ve been and where we might go.
I close with no answers or solutions but with this excerpt from the transcript of the story (which can be found at npr.org)

“Ben Rhodes is the White House's deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. He says the administration is focused on how best to achieve American interests on a case by case basis.

BEN RHODES: I don't think you want to have a doctrine that is so broad that it would lead you to intervene in country after country, and send you down a slippery slope of military interventions that we don't want to pursue.

SHAPIRO (Ari – NPR reporter): He says the U.S. does apply universal principles to every country.

RHODES: We oppose violence by governments against their citizens. We support the universal rights of people around the world - the right to choose their own leaders and have basic fundamental freedoms. And we are supporting across the Middle East and North Africa a process of political and economic change that's responsive to the people of the region.

SHAPIRO: That support sometimes comes in the form of sanctions or simply words. But that wasn't enough in Libya, where military power came into play. And it may not be enough for people seeking revolution in other countries, either.

Michele Dunne directs the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

Dr. MICHELE DUNNE: Certainly the question of U.S. involvement is going to be raised increasingly now in places like Syria, Yemen, and, who knows, perhaps Iran in the future, because of Libya. Libya has now created a different model. “


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