Sunday, February 18, 2007

My Foreign Policy Revolution

I don’t believe in evil. I don’t believe in evil people. I believe in actions. People aren’t bad. People do bad things. That’s a pretty straight forward statement that should illicit a “well, duh” response from any reasonable person. This isn’t a controversial concept. Love the sinner, and all that.

But what about the implications? Like for Saddam? Wasn’t he evil? Hitler? Stalin? Cheney? No. They did evil things. They were in a bad environment that allowed them to do what they did. One of Saddam’s judges was dismissed for suggesting that Saddam wasn’t a dictator, but was treated as one. But that really is correct. Saddam didn’t create the situation he was in; nor did he do it on his own. He did lots of bad things that he would have been unlikely to have done had he been raised in Iowa.

And the same with the rest of those guys: They weren’t evil. They did what they thought was acceptable to do, and I don’t really see how they could be blamed for thinking that. That’s what we all do. If any of us were born in Saddam’s place with Saddam’s mental and physical resources and environment, we would have done the exact things that Saddam did. To suggest otherwise is sheer insanity and defies any sort of logic. We’d like to believe that we’d have done things differently, but that’s utterly impossible. Had we been in his exact place, we’d be him and would have done his actions.

That’s not to suggest that we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions. We have no other choice. They did what they thought they should do, and we must bring upon them the unnatural consequences of those actions. We all have an expectation of how life should be, and when people take actions that aren’t punished by natural consequences, it’s necessary for us to take things into our own hands to ensure that negative consequences are doled out. Even Christians think that. They believe they have the ultimate punisher on their side, but they still insist on seeing justice served in this life first.

Social Contracts

If anyone wants to argue these points, bring it on. But you’ll only make an ass of yourself and be proven wrong all the same. Because these statements are so self-evident, once the rhetorical baggage is discarded, that they merely serve as the base for where I’m really going with all this: A reality based foreign policy. One that’s based on the Social Contract.

I believe in the Social Contract. I recently saw an absurd discussion at Carpetbagger in which a few regulars suggested that the Social Contract was invalid, because they seemed to believe that it meant that the Establishment was supposed to take care of us or something. I don’t know. But that’s not how I use it. For me, the Social Contract is just the basic idea of society. And it applies any time you’ve got a leadership situation, even if the people don’t agree to be lead. The contract might not be fair, but it’s still the contract as long as it remains in force.

And there are no guarantees. If democracy works out, great. That’s what you have. But if you need a king for protection, you’ll get one. But that king has to be able to establish that he has control, and to do that, he’s got to be able to show that he can fight better than you. There are no guarantees in government. We don’t have to be a democracy. England didn’t need a king. Iraq doesn’t have to have a dictator. It’s all about establishing that you’ve got what it takes to keep control. And if you’ve got it, then the country is yours. And the more of a jerk you are to your people, the stronger you better be to fight them off.

Enforcing the Rules

That’s how the English monarchy got established in the first place. It wasn’t a guarantee and it took a long time and a lot of fighting before it became really established. This wasn’t Arthur pulling a sword out of a stone or having some watery tart hand it to him. It was a series of dudes who could establish that they could control the country, and it took a long time.

And it was never particularly secure. Right when one king thought he had it, he’d hand it to his kid and they’d go ahead and lose it. And then they got invaded, and then there were wars and intrigue and religious quarrels. And before they knew it, it became emasculated and now is little more than a form of slave-celebrity. But all that can change. Perhaps Charles or one of his sons can somehow work their way into making it a real power position, who knows. But the more powerful they make the position, the more in danger it is; both that people will reject them or that some usurper will want it for their own. That’s the way it always is. These things work themselves out naturally.

In our democracy, the contract means that you give the people enough of what they want that they’ll allow you to retain the reins. If people feel they can trust Bush enough to give him the dictatorial powers he thinks he already has, then he can have them. But if we don’t trust him, and we don’t, then we won’t give them to him. Rather than some ironclad pact, the Constitution is little more than preapproved set of rules for handling these things. But if a player decides to not obey the rules, then we’re stuck enforcing them the hard way.

And if worse comes to worst, we’ll be stuck taking back our government by force. It’s not Bush’s or Cheney’s. It’s ours. We agree to let them run things, and they agree to do so in our best interest. But there are no guarantees. The Constitution is not a death pact, and if Cheney’s correct about the power of the presidency, then I guess we’ll just have to change the presidency. But he’s surely wrong, and we can just hope he doesn’t really try to push things as much as he’d need to in order to make this stuff stick.

Third-Party Contracts

What does this have to do with foreign policy? Because dictators and other non-democracies have these contracts too. It might not be a fair contract. Society may have made it under duress. But it’s a contract all the same. And so Saddam and Castro and Stalin all had contracts. Ones that are no less valid than that of the early English kings. It doesn’t matter that mankind sees itself as more enlightened. It isn’t. Dictators retain power using force, just as those kings did; and if you didn’t like it, then they had ways of dealing with you.

And hell, just as we do. Just try not following our laws and see how far it gets you. Try committing a little treason against our country and see how quickly you’re executed. We may have a better system for picking leaders, but that doesn’t mean that the system allows complete dissent. We may have free speech, but our actions can still be just as costly as those in a dictatorship.

And so who are we to decide which countries we recognize or whether Chavez or Castro has the policies we want? Until we get a one-world government (an idea I conditionally support), it’s not our deal. It’s not our government. We’re third parties to those contracts and we should respect them. We don’t want some punkass Iranian mullah punishing us for our democracy, so who are we to disrupt their system?

That’s not to say that we should support all of their actions. On the contrary, it’s our duty to oppose bad actions. But in fact, we’ve supported the bad actions of many bad men as part of our current foreign policy. Even worse, we’ve given explicit permission to these torturing regimes by “outsourcing” our own torture to them. Far from us having any moral authority, we’re implicitly endorsing many regimes that should otherwise be considered “evil”.

And I’m asking for none of that. People aren’t bad, but their actions are, and we should strive to put an end to them. But not by forcing them out of the system and trying to overthrow them, but by doing so within the system. And punishing a dictator’s people using embargos is certainly not the way to go. I’ve never quite understood the logic of how that’s supposed to work, but not only is it immoral, but it’s totally stupid. It doesn’t work. It only gives them more power to control their people.

Selfish Rights

And besides, our typical foreign policy is almost never really about giving people a better deal on their Social Contracts, but on making things better for us. Even when we fight for human rights, it’s often ultimately just to use as a club to get something out of them, or as an excuse for treating them badly.

And sorry to be a bore on this, but that’s just immoral. This shouldn’t be about us. This shouldn’t be about helping our allies. This should be about us doing what’s right for the people in our contract, and leaving it at that. And seeing as how our typical punishment policies haven’t done us many favors and we’re already supporting regimes who do bad things to people; we might as well do the right thing. Which is nothing. Or at least nothing like what we do now.

And this is in contrast to what has been traditionally viewed as the “realist” position; which still involves coddling some dictators in order to help us fight against other leaders or groups we don’t like. Because even the “realist” policies are fairly unrealistic in terms of expecting other countries to bend to our will and helping us out. In fact, too often the “realist” position involves us bending over and allowing penny-ante dictators to screw us over and dictate their demands to us. And that’s just absurd and bad foreign policy.

I say we get out of that business all together and take the long view on everything. We don’t have to see nationwide revolutions in four years or a decade or our lifetime. I’m talking loooong view. Any student of history knows what I’m talking about. Rome wasn’t built in a lifetime.

My Foreign Policy

So what’s my foreign policy: To accept the fact that every country’s leader is whoever can reasonably claim authority over it. That doesn’t mean we accept the People’s Judean Front when the People’s Front of Judea might have a better claim, but at this point, Castro’s the damn leader of Cuba. I know that’s a pretty controversial statement for anyone trying to win Florida’s precious electoral votes, but it’s simply undeniable. And frankly, I fear for what will happen once Castro dies and these people start thinking they’ll get all their beachfront property back in Havana (I honestly don’t care if that’s geographically impossible, I just wanted a quickie joke that didn’t require research).

Castro got control of his country using his own countrymen and has been able to retain it. So we need to deal with that. He’s in control. Saddam was in control. The Mullah’s have Iran. The Saudi Monarchy has Saudi Arabia. And while the Windsors don’t exactly “control” England, they sure do get a helleva lot of perks out of the place. That’s just the way things are. It’s all a mad, mad game of King of the Hill, and as long as they’re the king, I say it’s none of our business if they keep the hill.

So let’s just go with it. Acknowledge that they’re the leader. Sell our shit to them. Try to woo them over with our blue jeans and rock & roll, rather than with threats and bullets. And tying this back into the beginning, that we treat them like people who do bad things but aren’t evil. If anything, we can do a better job of pressuring them as their buddies, than as their enemies. And if nothing else, too many people have been tortured by these evil f-ers, merely because we used them for our own purposes. Our foreign policy for the last six decades has gotten people tortured, raped, amputated, and killed; and those were the people we liked. It’s about time we really did something sensible for a change.

Real Realism

Most of our policies aren’t designed to stop torture or help other countries. They’re cynical policies designed to help ourselves. And by “ourselves”, I mean the greedheads who finance our politicians; often to the determent of most Americans. We’ve demonized the leaders who won’t work with our monied interests, and lionized the ones who will. And that’s just wrong. By accepting the bad leaders and incorporating them into the system, we do far more to help their people in the long run than our cynical selfishness can ever achieve.

Realism doesn’t have to mean cynicism and greed, and idealism doesn’t have to mean we stick our noses in everyone’s business. A grown-up foreign policy is to realize that some things work themselves out, and that the worst thing you can do is try to interfere. And when our economic power continues to empower the people of the world, those leaders will find themselves forced to share the growing power their country wields.

We just need to give things time, and allow people to see how wonderful democracy can be. Not by bombing the shit out of them and depriving them of our goodies; but showing them how much better things can be. It’s the only thing that’s ever really worked, and I’ve seen nothing to indicate it will stop working now. We just need to make it our permanent policy; rather than the accidental one it’s been so far. It worked in Germany, Japan, Russia, Europe, and here in America. I see no reason to believe it will stop now.

Update: Addendum added here, More Flies with Sugar


whig said...

A contract made under duress is inferior to one made voluntarily by equals. In the case of the latter, the contract is what it is supposed to be, a meeting of the minds and agreement. A forced contract in the extreme is just a bill of sale for a slave. Legitimating both under the theory that a contract is a contract will not help us free ourselves.

whig said...

I do think you have a good point as to the contracts that exist, of whatever dubious validity in theory, are a fact of enforceability. And that enforceability is in part a function of perceived enforceability, but also a large part of reality comes to bear whenever any number of people perceive one to be more legitimate than another.

One person cannot be very strong, or at least not untouchable, but an idea can sweep the world in a day.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Legitimating both under the theory that a contract is a contract will not help us free ourselves.

But this isn't about freeing ourselves at all. This is about facing facts and building a realistic policy around those facts. And as I argue, I think the people under a bad social contract would be better off were we to admit that the contract is in effect and not punish the people trapped into it. Our current system is not only arbitrary and selfish, but it usually has only made things worse for the people we might try to help.

Economic sanctions only work against countries that are already within the system, and have no effect on those leaders willing to stay outside of it. And for those leaders, it only makes them more powerful and allows them to keep enforcing their unfair contract. So by admitting the validity of the contract, we're actually establishing a better means of correcting it. That's been a pattern throughout history and I've seen no reason to think that's changed now.

J. Mumphrey Bibblesnæð said...

Overall, I think you hit the right notes. I would say, though, that it is in everybody's interest that people be free. It's in our interest as Americans, it's in the interest of other free people, and it's in the interest of those people who are not now free that they be made free. I guess I should say that it isn't quite everybody's interest that all people be free; it isn't in the interest of those who keep others unfree. But other than tyrans, great and small, it is better for all of us that we should all be free.
I think it is in America's interest to push for freedom around the world. Free people are, overall, happier people. Happier people make, overall, for happier societies, and happier societies are, over all, stabler societies. I think it shoul;d be part of our foreign policy to push for freedom and self determination around the world. I think all of human history has shown, though with cycles, a slow climb toward freedom and enlightenment, and I think we'd be doing ourselves a favor to help that progress along. I think Kennedy put it best when he said that "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."
The question, obviously, is how we go about helping these peaceful revolutions. I don't doubt that we'll make mistakes here and there along the way; after all, we are all human. But Bush's astoundingly ham-manded way of beating people over the head with democracy sticks is a particularly awful way of doing it. (I myself happen to believe that what Bush is doing in the Middle East has nothing to do with spreading democracy and everything to do with his badly warped personality and psyche.)