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Military Dictatorships: Friendly and Not-So

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The Times’ front page today: ‘Clinton Fears Iran Is Headed For Military Dictatorship

An excerpt:

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran’s political, military, and economic establishment.

“That is how we see it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting of students at the Doha campus of Carnegie Mellon University. “We see that the government in Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.”

A brief list of US-sponsored military dictators:

Gen. Augusto Pinochet – Chile, 1974-1990

Ferdinand Marcos – Philippines, 1965-1986

Gen. Fulgenco Batistia – Cuba, 1933-1944, 1952-1959

Marshall Castillo Branco – Brazil, 1964-1967

Gen. Medici – Brazil, 1969-1974

Gen. Geisel – Brazil, 1974-1979

Gen. Figueiredo – Brazil, 1979-1985

Gen. Mobutu Sese-Seko – The Congo, 1965-1997 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Sani Abacha – Nigeria, 1993-1998

Gen. Redondo – Argentina, 1976-1981 (guilty of genocide)

Col. Hugo Banzer – Bolivia, 1971-1978

Bolivian Military Junta – Bolivia, 1978-1989

Gen. Maximilliano Martinez – El Salvador, 1931-1944

Alfredo Christiani – El Salvador, 1980-1994 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Francois Duvalier – Haiti, 1957-1971

Gen. Jean-Claude Duvalier – Haiti, 1971-1986

Gen. Manuel Noriega – Panama, 1983-1989

Gen. Suharto – Indonesia, 1967-1998 (guilty of genocide)

Turgut Ozal – Turkey, 1983-1993

Gen. Yahya Khan – Pakistan, 1969-1971 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Muhammad Zia – Pakistan, 1976-1988

Gen. Musharraf – Pakistan, 1999-2008

Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov – Turkey, 1990-2006

Gen. Somoza Senior – Nicaragua, 1957-1967

Gen. Somoza Junior and subsequent Junta – Nicaragua, 1967-1980 (guilty of genocide)

Alfredo Stroessner – Paraguay, 1954-1988

Gen. Efrain Rios Montt – Guatemala, 1982-1983 (guilty of genocide)

I wonder if The Times has a sense of irony. Or shame. What they meant to write in their headline, obviously, is that Secretary Clinton fears Iran might be headed for an unfriendly military dictatorship. Otherwise, I fail to see her problem with the concept.


10 Responses

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  1. The idea here being that because past U.S. governments have engaged with military dictatorships – ignoring whether these regimes were better, or not, than those they were replacing – we should keep our mouths shut now? As if it’s better that we stay silent to, what, “show penance?”

    Are you under the impression that Iran IS NOT headed towards a military dictatorship, or are you just taking an opportunity to smugly point out that the U.S. – like every other world power in the history of the world – has frequently dealt with people that we find reprehensible?

    You may have noticed that Iran is ALREADY unfriendly. This is not a new development. Whether or not you agree with their policies – like giving ultimate legal arbitration to a religious leader – you would have a very difficult time finding countries on Earth that have a more antagonistic relationship with the U.S. than does Iran.

    I’m curious as to what you think our approach to Iran should be.


    February 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

  2. Not merely engaged, Mr. Publius, but enabled and exhorted to commit genocide in exchange for their country’s resources. (Ask yourself where our oil, copper, tungsten, uranium, timber, etc. come from).

    It seems unlikely that Iran is headed towards a “military dictatorship” in the generally accepted use of the phrase. I mean, by your (and Ms. Clinton’s) definition the US is a military dictatorship since the Commander in Chief of the military is also the head of state. Obviously that’s not what we mean. Iran still has a parliament one-half elected by the people, and it still has an independent judiciary, something which the US can hardly boast.

    You say “world power” like that’s a good thing. In fact, I would contend that it would be cause for nothing but shame. And did we really find these murderous dictators “reprehensible”? If so, we had a strange way of showing it. (Kissinger and Ford met with Suharto and basically told him to go ahead and wipe out East Timor, Clinton said Suharto was ‘[his] kind of guy’. Likewise with nearly every name up there – they all got official and vocal support from our leaders)

    Since you asked, I think at a minimum we should offer Iran our sincerest apologies for our continuous meddling in their affairs. We should particularly apologize for the 1953 CIA sponsored coup which deposed their democratically elected Prime Minster.

    Then we should remove our army from their borders and stop this ludicrous round of “sanctions”, which does nothing but punish Iran’s population.

    Also, if we aren’t prepared to “allow” them to have nuclear weapons, we should insist that Israel, who has repeatedly threatened Iran with nuclear holocaust, to give theirs up as well.

    Finally we should make clear that while we would like the population of Iran to have its voice heard, we really have no business dictating how they prosecute their internal affairs. A meeting or two with Khamenei would also not go amiss.


    February 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

  3. My point wasn’t that I condone our past dealings with dictators, but that our past wrongdoing should not hamper our current willingness to deal with authoritarianism. It can also be misleading to use the standards of the modern, peaceful, Democratic state to judge the actions of foreign governments, or past governments of the U.S. The world literally faced nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, and while we certainly did make regrettable decisions (you could insert more colorful language here if you’d like) the stakes were the highest that they could be, and hindsight is 20/20.

    Iran’s parliament is a joke. Their legislation is meaningless unless it is approved by the 12-member Guardian Council, half of which is selected directly by the Ayatollah and the other half of which is selected by an appointee of the Ayatollah. The parliament is for show; the Guardian Council can declare any legislation void for being against “Islamic values.” Their judicial system is based on sharia, and their judges are appointed by an appointee of the Ayatollah. Even if their judiciary were independent – which it surely is not, based on who appoints them – they would be ruling based on an oppressive, religious fundamentalist code of laws. Appointees of the Ayatollah may also disqualify any candidate for President, and did so in the last election.

    Iran’s government is objectively oppressive and does not include even the most basic of civil rights like the freedoms of speech and assembly. We saw the lengths that the Iranian government would go to to squash dissent during the Green Revolution, when communications were shut down and protesters were threatened, beaten, and murdered. Please do not treat Iran with a double standard in terms of granting it democratic legitimacy while the you deny the same recognition to the U.S., who by objective metrics has a more free and democratic government. The excessive corporate influence on government in America, which seems to be your main criticism of our system, is not lost on me. It’s admittedly a big problem, but it does not mean that we don’t have a democracy.

    And, yes, I do say “world power” like it’s a good thing. I know that it’s easy and popular to paint the U.S. as the root of all evil, and while I’m far from the “my-country-right-or-wrong” type, the U.S., as a superpower, maintains a much safer world than we would have otherwise. It’s a very recent development in history that wars between nations are not commonplace. This is in part because of the extensive interconnectedness brought about by global trade, which is enabled by U.S. protection of shipping lanes (we’ve seen the results of unprotected shipping lanes, in the past, in the South China Sea, and more recently off the coast of Somalia). The U.N., which is mostly funded by and gains its military legitimacy from the U.S., is another strong pillar in our current era of relative global peace.

    I agree that the U.S. has had missteps during its brief and apparently waning stint as the sole global superpower, but the alternative is not a world of love and universal understanding, but one either of constant conflict caused by vying for position (imagine Europe in the 1800s) or a world with a different superpower. Right now, China is first in line for that title. We could only hope to compete with their antidemocratic and imperialist tendencies. If you’re concerned about repression in order to gain natural resources, read up on China’s activities in Africa during the past decade.

    On your first point about our dealings with Iran – that we should apologize for the coup in 1953 – I agree, in principle. Madeleine Albright gave a half-hearted apology during her stint as Secretary of State, but it certainly wasn’t a mea culpa by America. It is worth pointing out that the democratically elected Mosaddegh, whom we overthrew in 1953, was backed by a monarchy.

    The military withdrawal is more complicated. I agree we should withdraw from Iraq. The Obama Administration is in the process of doing so. “Afghanistan,” meaning Afghanistan AND Pakistan, is more complicated. I’m somewhat pessimistic about our ability to establish a democracy in Afghanistan but we at least have to stabilize the country before leaving. Our military activity in Pakistan is against a force there that directly threatens their democratically elected (albeit flawed) government. I’d like to get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan sooner rather than later.

    I’d sleep better at night if Israel didn’t have nuclear weapons, but they haven’t used them or, so far as we know, sold them. They have proven to be at least fairly responsible stewards of their nuclear arsenal, and on some level I don’t blame them because some strong deterrent is necessary to keep them safe from their militaristic, fundamentalist neighbors, who have invaded them in the past. I am extremely concerned with the idea of a radical Iranian government with known links to terrorist organizations (specifically as a provider of materials and expertise for IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan) having nuclear weapons.

    Finally, you say we should “make clear” that we want the Iranian populace to “have its voice heard” but that we have no business in telling them what to do. I don’t think you can have it both ways here, even though I understand the sentiment of it being necessary to have a hands-off approach while quietly supporting democracy activists. I think that the Obama Administration has split this hair very well.

    So overall I support your ideas about adding a light diplomatic touch to our approach to Iran. But without hard-and-fast measures to check their power, they could expand their already-substantial influence in the Middle East, could lead to more radicalism, fewer rights for women, less education, and less democracy in the region and in the Muslim world. We need to back Islamic moderates in places like Turkey, Iraq and Morocco to help moderate Islamic voices come out and participate in, if not lead, the dialogue about where to go from here. The best bet for peaceful coexistence between the Middle East/Islamic World and the West is not to let loud, extreme voices like Iran crowd the field. Iran isn’t going to play nice with us just because we start playing nice with them. It hasn’t worked out for the U.S. dealing with China in the 2000s, and it didn’t work for Neville Chamberlain with Germany in the 1930s. Conciliatory tactics – and feel free to cite some examples if you disagree – usually lead to the aggressor taking a mile after the inch you gave him.


    February 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

  4. A “much safer world”, eh? I’m sure the Iraqis and Vietnamese would beg to differ. You’re aware, I have no doubt, that worldwide terrorism has increased seven-fold since we began our misbegotten “war on terror”, so there goes that point.

    “Our era of relative global peace”? Have you heard any reports out of The Congo recently? You know, that country in which we funded a dictatorship for, oh I don’t know, like 30 years or whatever, and then said “you guys aren’t useful to us anymore, so peace out!” Yeah, that one.

    You know, I’m sick of all this “nobody’s perfect, so genocide is just all right in my book” bullshit. Like if we say, “oh, you know, we’ve made a few mistakes, a few mis-steps – whatever.” that makes it all right. These weren’t mistakes. They were calculated policy, designed to achieve a particular goal at any cost.

    I’m not going to apologize for Iran’s half-theocracy, but I do think we should acknowledge that the heavy-handed, dictatorial, and lets admit it, slavish Shah we installed was a direct catalyst for the Islamic Revolution. Iran’s democracy may be “flawed” (according to the CIA Factbook), but I think you’ll agree that the US is the last country to be schooling anyone in “democracy” – first because of the abysmal state of our own representative government, and second because every time we’ve attempted to “promote democracy abroad”, we’ve ended up saddling these countries with inhuman dictatorships. Name one country in which the US successfully “installed democracy”.

    Oh yeah, I know all about China in Africa, but – and I’ll make this point again – we can’t control what other countries do, much as we would like to. All we can do is control what we do, to try and act in as responsible a manner as possible. Obviously this has not yet happened.

    Clearly a withdrawal of US hegemony won’t lead to peace and understanding, but at least we won’t have blood on our hands. At least we can hold our heads up without knowing, in our heart of hearts, that we’re no better than common thugs.

    Regarding Israel – oh, I’m crying big crocodile tears for the “constant threat” they face from their “crazy, fundamentalist, and/or insane neighbors”. Boo Hoo! What would Israel do if it couldn’t pound the Gaza strip into submission every couple years or so to show its neighbors it means business? How could they possibly survive without the laser-guided missiles with which they can atomize anyone at any time they see fit? And don’t give me this nonsense about them “being invaded” in the past. Their whole existence is an invasion – and if that weren’t enough, they invaded the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights at various points in their tumultuous existence. Forgive me, but which Arab army marched into Tel Aviv? Oh that’s right, none. But which army massacred thousands of Gazans, indiscriminately bombed schools, and used White Phosphorus grenades on defenseless civilians (a war crime, I hasten to add)? Oh yeah, Israel. Responsible stewards, you say?

    You should be pessimistic about our ability to “establish democracy” in Afghanistan and Pakistan because – and here it is again – we can’t control what other countries do! It’s not our place! And we haven’t even tried that hard. Maybe you remember an election that happened in Afghanistan last August. You know, it wasn’t a big deal or anything, but people got pretty upset because the winner, Hamid Karzai, blatantly stole it. And then the US was all like “Yeah, don’t worry about it, Karzai’s cool.” Our support for Karzai, and by extension, our military presence in Afghanistan actively subverts its democracy.

    You’re “extremely concerned” about a “radical Iran” with nuclear weapons, are you? Yet you can’t see how some might see Israel’s actions as “radical” and be equally “concerned” that it has the bomb? I mean, Jesus – how can you not see that?

    So instead you recommend “hard and fast” methods to “check their power”. Do you think the US might need some “hard and fast” methods to check its power? Oh, I forgot, US power is good. Iran power is bad bad bad.

    And man if I hear another comparison to appeasement I’m gonna slit my wrists. What is it with you people? Everything short of a declaration of war is “appeasement”. I’m reminded of an exchange between Chris Matthews and some conservative hard-on where the conservative gave the “appeasement” argument and Matthews put him on the spot and asked “what did chamberlain do wrong?” And the guy couldn’t answer. Chamberlain’s mistake wasn’t talking to Hitler. It was giving him half of Czechoslovakia. No one is proposing we allow Iran to annex a huge part of another country.

    What I am proposing, however, is some measure of fairness in deciding who can and cannot get the bomb. Why should Israel get the bomb and not Iran? Shit, why should the US have the bomb, with its long and storied history of aggression? Iran hasn’t invaded anyone under false pretexts, destroyed their whole infrastructure and said, “oh man, sorry guys I thought you had WMDS” recently.

    Have they?


    February 16, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  5. i seriously hope no one is suggesting that we have suddenly changed our views of dictatorships and become democracy loving. you are acting like we couldn’t bear to support dictatorships anymore. as if at some imaginary point we decided we would no longer support dictatorships. on the contrary, we still support a great number of dictators.

    and i love the argument, well no one likes the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons(they also have one of the largest chemical weapons programs in the world, but why talk about small time stuff), but they haven’t used them, so its ok.
    that is the argument every single nation uses to support their nuclear programs. after they make it, they say “Well you see, we haven’t used them, so we are cool now.”
    what kind of message is that to send? OFCOURSE nations like Iran are going to take that to mean,
    “if you don’t have nuclear weapons, we will ostracize you, and do anything to stop you. AFTER you get it, we will respect you.”

    never mind the fact that nearly all the nuclear plants they started of with were made by US.
    same with those of North Korea by the way, all their initial plants were made by us.

    the message the western world has invariably sent is this, We don’t want you have to nuclear weapons unless you are our allies. but if you somehow manage to get them, then we can talk as equals.

    by the way, panavan you missed Ceauşescu of Romania General Ershad and General Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh.
    a few current ones are also Mubarak of Egypt. the Saud family. until recently Musharaf. there are a BUNCH of others just from the top of my head. obviously that was a brief list.


    February 16, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    • Yeah, that was just off the top of my head – obviously there are way more.


      February 17, 2010 at 7:18 am

  6. Hi Publius, this is a reply to some of your comments which (I think) haven’t been properly addressed.

    “The world literally faced nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, and while we certainly did make regrettable decisions (you could insert more colorful language here if you’d like) the stakes were the highest that they could be, and hindsight is 20/20.”
    – this is used to justify US subversion of democracy abroad during the Cold War. There is an easy way to evaluate this justification – we can look at history for the past 20 years and see if there are continuities. The US gave Suharto a green light for strong repression in East Timor until September 1999, waged three wars that unambiguously constituted Nuremberg’s “supreme international crime” of aggression, continues to give $2.5 billion in aid, yearly, to Israel and Egypt (one continues a 42 year illegal occupation, and the other is an authoritarian state), along with funding Turkey’s internal repression in the late 90s and Musharraf’s anti-democratic reign, etc etc. These actions, because of the fact that they feature(d) US participation in the violation of international law and/or human rights, actively subvert(ed) democracy. They happened after the Cold War. Do you see the pattern? Do these actions adhere to the criteria for your “modern, peaceful, Democratic state?”

    “Right now, China is first in line for that title. We could only hope to compete with their antidemocratic and imperialist tendencies.”
    – What about our antidemocratic and imperialist tendencies? These vastly overshadow China’s. If you’re interested in learning history (not the stuff you learn in school, but the stuff you’re not taught), read about all American interventions in the past 100 years (or take a shorter time frame if you wish) and compare these to Chinese interventions.

    “On your first point about our dealings with Iran – that we should apologize for the coup in 1953 – I agree, in principle.”
    – why not add paying reparations, too? This act has had grave consequences for Iran’s people.

    “It is worth pointing out that the democratically elected Mosaddegh, whom we overthrew in 1953, was backed by a monarchy.”
    – backed by what monarchy? It couldn’t be the Shah, because he benefited tremendously from Mossadegh’s ousting. If he supported Mossadegh, he wouldn’t have sent him to jail and put him in house arrest until his death.

    “I am extremely concerned with the idea of a radical Iranian government with known links to terrorist organizations (specifically as a provider of materials and expertise for IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan) having nuclear weapons.”
    – Israel is a terrorist state. It committed the supreme international crime of aggression in June 1967 and is still in control of the occupied territories (minus the Sinai). It has zero legal title to the land and remains on it, and from time to time, Palestinian and Lebanese civilians pay the ultimate price for it. Wouldn’t a reasonable person be scared at the thought of a country like that outlined above having nuclear weapons? On the issue of terrorist organizations, perhaps you need some words of wisdom. Norman Finkelstein once said, “I don’t pay much deference to what official lists of terrorist organizations have to say, not the least because most of the countries drawing up those lists belong on the top spots on it.” Be wary of official lists of terrorist organizations, because our side somehow always manages to evade being placed on them. Also, at least Iran is a signatory to the NPT – Israel isn’t.

    There is an IAEA proposal on the table for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, from Iran to Israel. Iran supports having a NWFZ. Why hasn’t the NWFZ become a reality, then? Because the US and Israel refuse to seriously entertain this idea.

    “We need to back Islamic moderates in places like Turkey, Iraq and Morocco to help moderate Islamic voices come out and participate in, if not lead, the dialogue about where to go from here.”
    – agreed, let’s back moderates. But what makes you think the US has any right, let alone legitimacy, in telling other countries how to be democratic? Democracy means having the people exert meaningful control over the political process. 50% of Americans vote in elections, and if you look beyond the corporate-owned mass media, you’ll see that the US is essentially a one-party state, with two factions. The US’ record abroad in promoting democracy, in a meaningful sense, is horrible (not that it actually tried to). In light of these facts, the US should get its own shit straight first, and then if it wants to really promote democracy, it should do so through the UN.

    Anyways, there are a lot of resources at your disposal (plenty of websites, books, etc) if you’re interested in learning the facts about US foreign policy. I encourage you to do so.


    February 18, 2010 at 3:51 am

  7. The problem isn’t a lack of information on my part. I studied this at a university and extensively on my own time. I understand what the consequences of the last hundred years of U.S. foreign policy have been. You are missing my point. I’m not saying “everything we’ve ever done has been good,” but retreating into isolationism or is not the answer. You assume that hostile nations’ military ambitions are somehow checked by some fundamental law of nature, where in reality this is a direct result of American hegemony, the most benevolent in history, if very much imperfect.

    I’m really not an ideologue. For those of you eager to brand me as a neocon and write me off, I’m a lifelong Democrat and I worked on the Obama campaign (I eagerly await the accusations that both political parties are exactly the same). I’m interested in practical solutions to humanitarian and political problems in the U.S., and, yes, abroad. I don’t want a hard-power empire.

    The problem is that you’ve stretched idealist international relations theory past the breaking point. States have not, and never will, be “nice” to each other, even if you think they should. All states – even Iran, whose international behavior you seem to admire? – act in their own self-interest. If we begin behaving altruistically, it is not likely that other states will follow. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and I hope you see the host of problems that your view of foreign policy lends itself to.

    Also, I’m very amused at the accusations that I’m brainwashed or uninformed simply because I don’t agree with you. You’ve your own brand of kool-aid, and imbibed so deeply that you have not stopped, as I did for you, to give more than lip service consideration to what I’m saying.

    I feel a bit doomed to be shouted down here, as if there’s a certain politically correct way I ought to think about foreign policy and I didn’t get the memo to include the appropriate caveats that the U.S. is an evil corporatist state, that we are the cause of the world’s problems, etc. In a way, I wish it were that simple. The causes of the problems of the world, based on what I have seen, are far more complex and far more diverse than that. We are ultimately neither the cause nor the solution.

    I would be happy to have a point by point debate on this. If you’re game, I would like to find a mutually acceptable, unbiased moderator and post a series of essays on the merits, free from ad hominem attacks and the like, on the issue of policy towards Iran. I think it’s certainly something that could use a vigorous debate.


    February 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm

  8. “You assume that hostile nations’ military ambitions are somehow checked by some fundamental law of nature, where in reality this is a direct result of American hegemony, the most benevolent in history, if very much imperfect.”
    – You assume that there aren’t any alternative forces that could check “hostile nations’ military ambitions” except the US. A strong coalition of states determined to counter aggression can succeed in countering aggression. This is my view – and since this is a negation of your one argument advocating US supremacy on the global scene (that it would benevolently ensure stability), I believe it to be a negation of your whole argument.

    Just because the US has been the most benevolent hegemon in your understanding of history, that doesn’t mean that its crimes should go unpunished. Even if global stability would be worse with the US out of the picture, aren’t violations of international law, human rights and democracy bad on their own? And shouldn’t they be opposed accordingly?


    February 18, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  9. Sorry Publius – I didn’t mean to shout you down. It was late when I wrote my last reply, and I hadn’t had a very pleasant day. (No excuse, I know.)

    So yeah – I don’t really think the US is the cause of all the world’s problems. The Soviet Union, for instance, I am convinced was an independently evil entity, whose crimes against their own citizenry far outstripped anything Americans did to themselves, even (and here I risk overstepping my bounds) during the years of African-American slavery. Oh, when you read the horrors of Gulag, particularly through the pen of Solzhenitsyn, you definitely get a sense that evil can exist wholly outside of the United States.

    But I think you’ll admit that our “Washington consensus” politics, combined with our unilateral exercise of power and control of the IMF have caused more than their share of “third-world” suffering. And here, also, the comparison to the Soviet Union is apt. The USSR acted execrably to its own population, to that of Central Asia, and to Eastern Europe. But there it pretty much stopped. (I don’t count Cuba, as Fidel doesn’t really seem to be the Marxist terrorist he’s made out to be).

    You could make a compelling argument that the US was instrumental in halting the “advance” of Soviet Communism, if you subscribe to the George Kennan view of international politics, but often our efforts at mitigating Soviet expansionism had devastating effects on the people we were supposedly trying to protect. Particularly in the cases of Argentina, Chile, Indonesia and others, one wonders how much worse off those countries would be, had they come under the Soviet “sphere of influence” (as a side note, our policy planners have repeatedly mistaken nationalist, anti-imperial movements for pro-Moscow movements – particularly in the case of Vietnam. It remains to be seen whether this is so.)

    I can see very clearly that you aren’t an ideologue – your responses have been nuanced, and, for the most part, rather well-informed. I apologize if I accused you of being brainwashed or uninformed. I simply think you display a typically US-centric view of history, but this is likely the fault of our university education system, which, at points I feel is inseparable from sheer indoctrination. That said, you seem to have come away with some measure of intelligence left intact.

    Your point, which (and correct me if I’m wrong) boils down to ‘well, if we weren’t hegemon someone else would be – and that someone else would probably be way worse than us” is a difficult one. I’ve heard it from several establishment figures, including my own father, and it’s really quite tricky to counter. Like all hypothetical propositions, its answer depends heavily on the political predilections of the one doing the answering. It’s a difficult question.

    I think you’re probably right that “playing nice” is generally a failed international strategy. In his essay, “Reflections on Gandhi”, written right before he died, George Orwell addressed this very point. He was discussing Gandhi’s method of non-violence, and asked:

    “So far as one can gauge the feelings of whole nations, is there any apparent connection between a generous deed and a friendly response? Is gratitude a factor in international politics?”

    I am afraid to say the answer to that is probably “No”.

    But then at the same time, when you read the minutes of these meetings between (say) Kissinger and Nixon, and they’re just callously talking about throwing away tens of thousands of lives, you can’t help but think – there must be another way. I mean, these guys were totally devoid of any kind of humanity. Sitting in their plush Washington chairs, it’s like they didn’t even see their victims as real people, just statistics – or (remember, Nixon was a hardcore racist) “little brown people who don’t matter anyway”.

    That kind of thing is a little difficult to forgive, and it’s happened over and over. And at times it seems like it was just wanton bullying. I mean what purpose did Vietnam really serve us? Or Grenada for that matter? Did we really need to fund genocide in El Salvador?

    I definitely agree that if left to their own devices, countries tend not to play nice (however you can look at the European Union as a counterpoint). But does the US have to be quite so brutal? I mean, was it really necessary that East Timor be wiped out? Did they even care?

    So I guess that’s my final point – I’d like to see a return to some kind of humanity in international politics. To see countries as made up of people, not just abstract entities – toys, really – with which we can do what we please.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments, Publius! They were definitely appreciated. I’d like to moderate, or even participate in the Iran debate, if you’re still up for it.


    P.S. Having worked for the Obama Campaign, I’m interested to know what your opinion of him is now. Has he lived up to your expectations? Given his record on civil liberties, his expansion of the Afghan war, his continuation of the Bush bailouts, his shitty excuse for healthcare reform, etc, do you think it might be possible that the Democrats and Republicans are more similar than they are different?


    February 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm

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