Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ethics and Foreign Policy

Still dead

I cannot really fault US foreign policy for siding with dictators during the Second World War or the Cold War, when it was a matter of clear and present danger and the lesser of two evils. But is there any longer a need for such an approach? I wonder what would happen that would be so terrible if the US--uniquely among nations, it should be said--decided today to pursue a foreign policy on purely ethical grounds?

After all, relatively safe behind its oceans, the US could probably afford the risks better than most other great powers in history. (Lesser powers have more often been able to afford it—they have fewer vested interests). It is even getting to the point of being able to afford it in terms of strategic oil reserves, thanks to Canada's tar sands and the new fracking technology. And, as more democracies come into existence year by year, the risks of such a policy grow less and less.

It might work best longer term, too. Wherever the US has a history of supporting an oppressive government, sooner or later, that government falls, and the population of that country are revealed as hostile to the US—Iran after the Shah, for example. Any aid money sent to such regimes is also mostly wasted. Conversely, wherever the US has a history of opposing an oppressive government, sooner or later that government falls, and the population are revealed as pro-US—Eastern Europe, for example. So, longer term, if there is no present emergency, US interests might be better served by sticking to the straight and narrow and not supporting dictators. Otherwise you only lose later what you win today.

No doubt the US would not always get it right. The average American, for example, has an unreasonable prejudice against monarchies and religion-linked regimes. Things like a “right to bear arms” can be questioned. Nevertheless, at least the US would stand for something. They would get some credit for this even among those who disagree.

At some point, on the pure logic of it, the strategy will probably be tried. And the world may be better for it.

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