The public discourse about foreign policy in the last month or so is depressingly fixed on either wanting to talk more about Benghazi or wanting to talk less about Benghazi. That is disheartening even ignoring the Petraeus scandal, which is as popular as it is nonsensical and irrelevant. There seems to be no airtime left to discuss serious foreign policy issues such as the situation in the Middle East; Syrian and Israeli problems for example. Additionally, in the last decade, the anti-war movement became increasingly absolute and has managed to make it a common belief, especially on the left side, that not taking part in anything even remotely military is the right option and the moral necessity. A stand which is rendered morally objectionable with just a quick glance at the bombing of Sarajevo (intended as a part of ethnic cleansing) before the American intervention, back in the 1990s. The moral evil of absolute anti-war stance appears self-evident, but were the times when the United States made an intervention much better?
To investigate this question we may look at one of the most influential figures in the American foreign policy of the last half a century and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient – Henry Kissinger – who, together with Richard Nixon, has sabotaged the peace talks in Paris in 1968 by collaborating with the South Vietnamese (against the Logan Act) and making them withdraw from the talks just before the elections, leading to 4 more years of war and over 20 thousand casualties just on the American side. Kissinger was also involved in the murder of Chilean general René Schneider, leading to the sanguineous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. That is still excluding two accounts of his actions leading to genocide or democide. Firstly, together with President Ford, Kissinger has supported President Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the subsequent massive war crimes there, including genocide, and secondly Kissinger has orchestrated the illegal bombing of Cambodia, leading to the murderous Pol Pot regime, leaving millions dead in the country.
In between Kissinger and another American policymaker who received a Nobel Peace Prize the world has seen Bill Clinton trying to turn the world’s attention away from his political and personal problems by bombing Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, leading to tens of thousands of deaths due to the lack of medicines (the factory produced around 60% of the medicines in Sudan at the time), which crime Noam Chomsky thinks we can “compare […] to the assassination of Lumumba, which helped plunge the Congo into decades of slaughter, still continuing; or the overthrow of the democratic government of Guatemala in 1954, which led to 40 years of hideous atrocities; and all too many others like it.” The other recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is of course Barack Obama, leading his love of peace with (admittedly defensible given the track record of Pakistani leadership) killing Bin Laden on Pakistani soil without their knowledge, and (not defensible) murdering a 16 year old American citizen with drones.
The history makes one wonder whether it isn’t indeed better to be against American intervention of any kind regardless of the circumstances. But that discussion about principles is disrupted by the world throwing real situations at the international community, which should be lead by the United States (if only for the lack of any viable alternative). According to Peter W. Galbraith the world has a genocide-in-waiting in Syria, where 3 millions of Alawites, dominating Bashar al-Assad’s government, may soon be a subject to bloody backlash fuelled by the everlasting (in the Middle East) conflict between various branches of Islam and the Alawites’ compliance with al-Assad’s war crimes. And as of now there are no efforts to ensure strict adherence to the international humanitarian law by all sides in Syria.
Not far from Syria, on Wednesday the 14th Israel assassinated a Hamas military commander in Gaza, leading to fierce fighting and bombings of cities in Israel, including Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem for the first time ever. Not only the assassination but also many recent Israeli military attacks aimed at factories in Sudan are not helping the peace process and are destabilising already fragile situation in the region. That is not to say that the bombings of Israeli cities, targeting civilians, are to be thought of as justified, but Israeli forces killing children in Gaza are equally appalling. The Israeli situation has a huge potential to be an ever bigger humanitarian problem, as the current operation in Gaza is minuscule as compared with the military power Hezbollah holds in Lebanon.
The situation in Israel clearly needs to be resolved on a permanent basis, with a simple two-state solution, to which the only obstacles are religious fundamentalism and the inertia of the international community. The situation in Syria has to be defused before anything atrocious can happen, by carefully controlling the pressure international community applies to all Syrian groups, not only for moral reasons, but also to comply with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In the second term President Obama will have a hard time not only trying to find a successful road in between not doing anything about fiscal cliff and observing the prospective distress and compliance with the House Majority potentially leading to even more distress, but also trying to prove he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize by navigating the narrow moral road between shameless inert watching of tragedies on one side and barbarous interventions similar to the aforementioned American policies on the other. The hope is the public disinterest in moral foreign policy will not steer the President off a moral path.
This essay first appeared in The Firebrand Magazine.