Sunday, October 19, 2008

Be the good guys

I hardly know where to begin with the "Bush Doctrine." It should be obvious that you can't just decide to invade and attack any country that you (unilaterally) decide is a threat to you. At least not if you want to be seen as a peaceful, friendly nation as opposed to being a dangerous rogue state.

I think the obstacle for Americans in understanding this is a failure to see what it looks like from an outside perspective. "America is the good guys; America is a democracy whose actions I can vote for; America will ultimately be acting in my interests as an American; therefore America can be trusted to use this power wisely." I think that about sums up the reasoning for why it's okay. Now (if you're an American), I'd like you to try a little thought experiment of imagining that you're not an American, you can't vote in the U.S. election, and you have no reason to believe that your interests or perspective will be taken into account the next time the "America First" party decides who to bomb.

Obviously the Bush Doctrine relies on having one set of rules for the U.S. and a completely different set of rules for every other country. If every country were allowed to attack any other country that threatens their security, then Iran would be justified in attacking the U.S. already, and that would be just the beginning of the free-for-all of international destruction.

Now I know that some people will immediately dismiss me as a cowardly European, relying on the safety provided by the U.S. military without showing any gratitude and yadda yadda yadda. So let me explain myself a bit:

I'm an American, born and bred. I'm not motivated by hatred for America. I want to be proud of my homeland. I want my homeland to be the good guys. If America has chosen to be "the world's policeman" so be it, but launching unprovoked attacks on other nations, capturing foreign nationals and holding them without trial and torturing them -- these are not the actions of "the friendly cop on the beat." In order to find terrorists worldwide, in order to find and neutralize dangerous weapons that are floating around the world black market, in short to "win the war on terror" it is critical to have the trust and cooperation of lawful people worldwide. Thanks to the Bush Doctrine, lawful people worldwide are terrified of the U.S., and with good reason.

It's hard to exaggerate how sudden and dramatic the shift in world opinion has been. In talking with colleagues from all over Europe, those who have visited the U.S. universally speak of their experiences fondly, and they express surprise that I would choose to live in Europe instead. They also express shock and bewilderment at the current American foreign policy. These are people who would like nothing more than to view the current dismal failure as a fluke. It wouldn't be too difficult to regain their trust and affection if the American people were to stand up and demand a foreign policy that is more constructive, cooperative, and fair.

It's time to stop imagining that "American interests" is just another way of saying "goodness and virtue" and to stop assuming that foreigners don't deserve the same standards of fairness and justice. Remember that to people in other countries you are a foreigner. Trust and esteem aren't earned merely by having the name "America," they come from being fair and trustworthy. These things are earned, with effort. Let's make that effort.

Let's be the good guys.

24 comments:

Karen said...

Alas, you're preaching to the choir or to the wind. The Americans who CAN put themselves in the position of "foreigners" have been hunkered down for awhile now, waiting or working for a political sea change. The rest are, well, what they are.

Saganist said...

I used to be a Bush supporter who didn't have a huge objection to the Bush Doctrine, and I remember explicitly telling someone that it didn't matter what the rest of the world thinks about what America is doing. I was wrong. So wrong. For exactly the reasons you outline here.

What if Russia, for example, decides that George W. Bush is a threat and launches an invasion? Or Iran, as you mentioned? Or China? The Bush Doctrine justifies any "preemptive action" by any country, for any reason whatsoever. That is pure madness.

America needs to stop seeing itself as the center of the world, and start recognizing its own position as a citizen of the world among many.

Matt said...

Thank you, Chanson. I'm casting my vote with Obama. If this doesn't work towards restoring sanity then I'm prepared to join in remedial democratic action.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Karen, Saganist, and Matt!!!

I hesitated to post this (and was preparing myself to debate people on it -- I have all my counterarguments ready for for any disputes that might come up). But really, I'd prefer not to. I hope this is sufficient and that maybe even some people who aren't already in "the choir" ;^) will think about it.

the chaplain said...

I must confess to being a member of the choir too. Still, I'm glad you posted this.

Anonymous said...

While I think that's a noble idea, Chanson, I think that it's impossible for any nation to "be the good guy." Being the good guy for one group of people inevitably means being the bad guy for another. And I think it's human nature to rather be the bad guy than be dead. Fear is a powerful enemy, and one that will not yield the battlefield to any small amount of empathy.

As long as the notion of the modern nation-state exists, this "us vs. them" mentality will prevail. We may have come a long way since our ancestors, but we're still living in primitive times. There's very little we can do about that in the time span of a presidential term.

I often ask myself what we can do about this, but every solution I come up with is never a practical one. I guess I'm too much of a realist to think that Americans are willing to make the kind of sacrifices that it takes to be the perpetual "good guy." In fact, I doubt that anyone is willing to do that.

So at the risk of sounding like an insensitive prick, I'll point out that the Bush Doctrine is just a dressing up of old ideas. It's always been that way, and at the very least it will be that way for a long time to come.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Chaplain!!!

Hey Anonymous!!!

Good points, let's talk about them:

I think that it's impossible for any nation to "be the good guy." Being the good guy for one group of people inevitably means being the bad guy for another. And I think it's human nature to rather be the bad guy than be dead.

It's true that every group (nation, ethnicity) will act in it's own self-interest, which means trying to get the lion's share of resources -- at the expense of other groups. However, it is possible to "be the good guy" in the sense of abiding by clear pre-defined rules (eg. the Geneva Convention) and play fair.

Sometimes acting in your own self-interest means cooperating with others, including other nations, people who are different, etc. This is a real and legitimate survival strategy for humans as well. If you have sufficient resources to survive, then fighting for more does you more harm than good (as it increases your chances of getting killed).

As long as the notion of the modern nation-state exists, this "us vs. them" mentality will prevail.

I'll take you one step further. As long as human beings exists this "us vs. them" mentality will prevail -- at least for a huge portion of the population. However, we're fortunate to be intelligent enough to notice this, analyze it, think about it, and work out strategies for when this mindset is not helpful and not adaptive.

There's very little we can do about that in the time span of a presidential term.

In the space of a presidential term we can stop claiming that we have the right to bomb whomever we damn well please. That is no small matter.

I guess I'm too much of a realist to think that Americans are willing to make the kind of sacrifices that it takes to be the perpetual "good guy." In fact, I doubt that anyone is willing to do that.

Yes and no. People won't be the good guy in the sense of being willing to sacrifice their own survival (and their family's) by just stepping aside and letting other, unrelated people have all the resources, etc. But they can be persuaded to "be the good guy" in the sense of being willing to go along with fair agreements with others that allow them to coexist in peace.

I'll point out that the Bush Doctrine is just a dressing up of old ideas.

Ideas like "we are a law unto ourselves" and "if you don't like me taking this from you, then talk to the business end of my gun about it" are indeed old ideas. It doesn't mean we have no choice but to use them.

JulieAnn said...

C~
Amen to that.

The political climate here is almost unbearable for those of us who strongly oppose Bush and how he has handled our foreign policy (cough cough) for the past 8 years. Hell, I was about ready to join you over there in Europe 4 years ago, that's how seriously I take it.

The bottom line is this: we can't expect the average American Joe (read: Joe Six-Pack--GAWD) to make an informed decision. Sorry to say it, Americans are spoiled, lazy brats. They have been given every opportunity and all they can do is sit on thei asses and watch an ad on TV to decide for whom they should vote. Lack of knowledge is America's worst enemy and will be it's undoing.

Yes, I still read, even though I droppped off the map. But I'm coming back....and know what else? So is Mr. Wanker. Email him at tropicofutah@gmail.com if you want to be one of the select few to gain access to MormonErotica.

Take care, C!

~JA

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks JulieAnn!!!

I'm glad to hear you and Wank are still around!

It's great that Mormon Erotica is still alive too -- it's a fun blog!!! How come it's been switched to private, though? I'm sure lots of other people would enjoy it. :D

Eugene said...

"Neoconservatism" is a naive political philosophy, dangerously so. But at least it's a coherent if idealistic one. Might for right and all that. Other than rediscovering the truth in "he's a SOB, but he's our SOB," it's not clear to me what policy those opposed to it would pursue, other than "everybody should like us," the kind of wishful thinking one is supposed to get over in high school.

Actually, the Prime Directive seems to best reflect the philosophy of the liberal and the libertarian, except when the oppressed peoples in question are really cuddly, at which point everybody becomes a neoconservative again. Granted, the Prime Directive also sums up Pat Buchanan's "America First"-style isolationism, but it is a rational (if harsh) response.

Just to get the terminology straight, "America First" originated as an isolationist movement--whose most prominent spokesman then was Charles Lindbergh and now is Pat Buchanan--that was opposed to American involvement in WWII. And there's no avoiding the irony that as a candidate, Bush was also against the "Bush Doctrine."

Still, there's a lot to be said for the Kirkean (as opposed to the Picardean) application of the Prime Directive. Or as George Washington put it, to "steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world" lest we "entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition," because it is "folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another."

But it does require a certain degree of brutal detachment (Obama's first response to the Georgia crisis was correct). Yes, it would have been nice if we could have "done something" about Rwanda (unlike the U.N., that cut and ran). But "doing something" requires dicey stuff like military bases and forwardly-deployed forces, and the subsequent reproach of the people whose lives they disrupt.

Police hate domestic disturbance calls. No matter what they do, nobody will be happy in the end, and will take it out on them.

Rather than being the world's policemen, perhaps the U.S. should aspire to be the world's firemen. Everybody loves firemen. The fireman shows up to put out the fire. That's it. And when the fire is out, he leaves. It's his job to keep the fire from spreading, not to rebuild the house or take care of its residents. Leave that to the Red Cross.

On the other hand, just as the "Only you can prevent forest fires!" dictum that we all grew up with--according to which every fire was the enemy regardless of how it started--has been shown to not only be bad science but dangerous policy, perhaps we have to stand by and let some fires burn. But that requires the ability to suppress the irrepressible desire to save Bambi and preserve the view.

Sabayon said...

Hold on there, I don't think isolationism nearly is the ideal liberal position. I was going to post something earlier about this, but here goes now. I think we need international cooperation. The US has been the big bad superpower for so long now that we view "international cooperation" as code for taking care of other people's problems, not, what it is, which is a mutually beneficial relationship. At it's best this involves helping other nations with their problems, when they agree that they need help, and then receiving similar help yourself when necessary. I think that last part is the problem. It's been awhile since the US has felt itself in need of help from others. If the US had been Luxembourg we couldn't have invaded Iraq without the support of the UN, but we didn't need other countries and so were able to do some very diplomatically irresponsible things. I don't think its going to be a long time coming before other countries, or blocks of countries such as the EU, have more or equal economic or political might than the US. It's not like I think America is headed for some big fall, merely that other countries are gaining ground. Fareed Zakaria talks pretty well about this in his recent book The Post-American World , arguing that it's not the fall of the US but the rise of the rest. In any case, this is just one reason why the Bush Doctrine is so dangerous. You can really only flout international opinion that much when you are on top.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Eugene!!!

I get the idealism behind the neoconservative "might for right," but in order for it to be coherent, you have to get the "right" part right. It's critical to explain what the rules and limitations on your actions will be -- and what checks and oversight you'll accept from the people you're supposedly helping -- otherwise your actions cease to be those of a "policeman" and become those of a vigilante or gangster/mafioso.

Take the situation with Russia and Georgia. Both major candidates would like to tell Russia that invading Georgia was not okay. So what do you say? "Hey Russia, invading and occupying Georgia is a criminal action because big countries can't just unilaterally decide to invade and occupy other countries. Except us with Iraq. Oh, and any other country we decide to invade. Nevermind."

Personally, I think it can potentially be noble to aspire to lead, but you have to clean your own house first. How can we talk to China about human rights when we're torturing people in Guantanamo? (So in that sense "America First" is perhaps not so terrible. ;^) ). McCain says he wants America to lead. Well then take the lead in the right direction, instead of digging in your heels and being the one backwards country that refuses to sign and follow international environmental and human rights accords.

Of course, you seem to be arguing that America shouldn't aspire to lead the world, and should perhaps intervene minimally in foriegn struggles when it's absolutely necessary. That's a reasonable path, but isn't a reason not to clean our own house in terms of energy consumption, the environment, and human rights.

Hey Sabayon!!!

I'm not sure if anyone here is arguing for isolationism. Eugene might be, I certainly am not. I'm totally down with international cooperation (see my repsonse to Eugene, above).

It's annoying when people assume that anyone who argues against the "Bush Doctrine" must favor isolationism, as though ill-advised military invasion were the only way to interact with other countries.

There are lots of important components to foreign policy other than the military part. When you see problems abroad, there's a big difference between saying "We need to do something!" and saying "We need to do something stupid!" ;^)

mxracer652 said...

Not only is the Bush doctrine ethically/morally wrong, but we can't afford it.

Military spending needs cut about 90% or so.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MXRacer652!!!

So true!

Eugene said...

I'm not disagreeing with you. That's why I said Obama was (initially) right about Georgia. Whenever McCain starting railing about the evil Russians invading Georgia, I couldn't help thinking, "Unlike, you know, invading Iraq."

The problem is, the U.S. is so big it's always going to be the bull in the china shop. Think of it as sort of political Heisenberg principle. Screwing up is endemic to the human condition, but the U.S. seems to be the only party that really pays for it in world opinion.

But other than Mia Farrow, China doesn't get as much bad press for doing bad things on purpose as the U.S. gets for trying to do good things. Ditto Russia. "See no evil, hear no evil" and "show me the money" seems to be the real way to win friends and influence people.

The other problem is that whenever anything bad happens, the opposing party is there to cry, "Ha Ha," like Nelson Muntz. I've heard a few commentators say it, but I'd like to hear it louder: Freedom means willingly bearing the cost of something bad likely happening.

We (should) give criminals due process, even if it means the guilty walking. We (should) prefer some chaos to a police state. But George Bush heard people saying, "Keep us safe from anything bad ever happening again!" and complied. To our collective detriment.

Oh, cut military spending 90 percent and there won't be a navy in the Indian Ocean to provide all the sealift and airlift capacity after the next natural disaster. And there wouldn't be the Hercules C-130, the disaster-relief workhorse of practically every country in the world.

Though I'd agree that military bases in Japan and South Korea could be cut by 90 percent without any harm to our overall defensive posture.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Eugene!!!

Re: Screwing up is endemic to the human condition, but the U.S. seems to be the only party that really pays for it in world opinion.

But other than Mia Farrow, China doesn't get as much bad press for doing bad things on purpose as the U.S. gets for trying to do good things. Ditto Russia.


I don't think it's true that the U.S. gets more bad press than Russia and China. People from all over the world protested the olympics in China.

Still, the U.S. is indeed being held to a higher standard because the U.S. claims to be leading the world towards freedom and democracy, etc. If that's what your intention is, then do it. Don't say you're leading in the right direction -- and insist other countries get on board with you -- then just brutally act in your own self-interest like Russia and China.

The other problem is that whenever anything bad happens, the opposing party is there to cry, "Ha Ha," like Nelson Muntz.

I agree there should be more civility and more willingness in the U.S. to work as a team. That said, a mistake the magnitude of the Iraq invasion should be criticized.

Freedom means willingly bearing the cost of something bad likely happening.

We (should) give criminals due process, even if it means the guilty walking. We (should) prefer some chaos to a police state. But George Bush heard people saying, "Keep us safe from anything bad ever happening again!" and complied. To our collective detriment.


Bush was actively encouraging people's fear, but I agree that it seems like these days people are only willing to hear "don't worry -- we'll tweak things a bit and everything will be fine" even when the reality is a bit harsher than that. That seems to be especially the case with the economy at the moment.

Oh, cut military spending 90 percent and there won't be a navy in the Indian Ocean to provide all the sealift and airlift capacity after the next natural disaster. And there wouldn't be the Hercules C-130, the disaster-relief workhorse of practically every country in the world.

Good point. From the perspective of the budget military spending should be cut 90%. But from many other perspectives it's not realistic, especially not on a short time-frame.

mxracer652 said...

Eugene,
We currently spend more money on the military than the entire European continent, China, East Asia, all of Oceania, Middle East, N Africa and Russia.

COMBINED.

43% of Federal taxes are used to pay for the military.

Also, disaster relief aid does not come out of the military budget.

Ordinary Girl said...

Hell, I can vote in the U.S. election, and I still have no reason to believe that my interests or perspective will be taken into account the next time the "America First" party decides who to bomb.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey O.G.!!!

Very true. I feel the same way.

JulieAnn said...

Hey CL!

It's been switched because we had an ex of his who began stalking me via his blog. Now that we're um, you know, well he doesn't want her gaining access to it. Plus, she has wheedled her way into his ex-wife's camp and they are both...jeez, is this an episode of Gilmore Girls? LOL

Seriously, email him. It's still a great read.

Take care!
ja

llewelly said...


These are people who would like nothing more than to view the current dismal failure as a fluke.

Obviously they haven't been paying attention to what's been going on in Latin America for about a century.
Pinochet? US installed. Gaultier? US installed. Somza? US installed. Duvalier? US installed. All of these creeps were dismal failures by any sane metric, and most of them were mass murders to boot.


The 'Bush Doctrine' is new only in that large numbers of American soldiers are more likely to be used in immoral and idiotic regime changes.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Llewelly!!!

That's a good point. But even people who weren't paying attention before are paying attention now, so it's a good moment to start demanding a more fair foreign policy.

Paul said...

I've long thought the Bush Doctrine was more a reflection of Bush and Cheney's twisted personalities than the result of a shrewd cost/benefit analysis.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

I think so too.