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The perils of excessive moralism in foreign policy

 “Double tap” was the name given to the U.S. drone warfare technique of first attacking a hostile target and then making another attack shortly after when the family, friends or colleagues rushed to rescue the injured in the first attack. That a number of women, children and noncombatants were killed as a result did not seem to worry our drone operators.

Changing the subject slightly, it is quite likely readers have heard of U.S. political commentator Fareed Zakaria. As an Indian-American with strong liberal sympathies he is popular with media seeking to reach out to internationalist-minded audiences. Often after yet another “terrorist” attack in Europe or the United States, Fareed likes to begin his denunciations with the headline “Why do they hate us?” But if Fareed had been a victim, or even a bystander, to a “double tap” attack, would he really have been surprised?

The liberal moralistic approach to foreign affairs can be welcome, of course. But there is also an obligation to find the causes of the seemingly immoral behavior of the other side. Does a man or woman who has seen people slaughtered in a “double tap” or some other ruthless bombing operation and seeks revenge as a result really deserve to be wiped out as a “terrorist?”

In the past our media were careful to use the more neutral word “militants.” Today it is “terrorists” — a term calling for immediate hatred. Chechens trying to resist the brutality of the Russian-supported regime there were “terrorists.” Tamil people rebelling against the ruthless Sri Lanka regime were also dubbed “terrorists” even though the West now accuses that regime of crimes against humanity. In the Middle East and Africa both regimes and their opponents accuse each other of “terrorism.”

It is easy to blame our hawks for much of this confusion; they never saw a conflict they did not like and where they could get budgets, weapons and experience. But our moralistic liberals can be equally if not more guilty. They are often too lazy or dogmatic to look into the causes of the knee-jerk “evils” they want to oppose. Moral outrage takes over and it can be years, decades even, before common sense prevails. The Cold War lasted 40 years and only ended when the other side began to prefer common sense to moralism. The Kennedy liberals, the best and the brightest, were largely responsible for the Vietnam intervention; some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese had to die before the mistakes were realized. Over China The New York Times seems to have taken the lead with its mistaken Tiananmen massacre report and has been reluctant to abandon its proselytizing role ever since. Over the former Yugoslavia today there is little interest in the Croatian, Bosnian and ethnic Albanian excesses that triggered the Serbian responses (though I note that the International Criminal Tribunal is now walking back on its verdict against Slobodan Milosevic). Over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea we have the endless talk of Russian aggression leading to sanctions without anyone, it seems, being even slightly interested in studying what is actually happening on the ground in both areas, not to mention the reasons.

An exception on the Japanese side was former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, but his findings were ignored, totally.

True, the moralists are right to be appalled by the brutality of the bombings in Aleppo. That the success of the bombings strengthens the hated Assad regime there is even more reason to be upset. But what was the alternative? Almost all now admit that the anti-regime rebels there had come to be dominated by fanatical Islamist groups. Were they supposed to be allowed to take over the nation? As with the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the U.S. had inspired an uprising, but then refused aid — in the case of Syria, the imposition of a “no-fly” zone — needed to prevent the uprising from being crushed. But for the Russian intervention in Aleppo, the fighting would still be continuing.

But despite all these mistakes, moralistic Western opinion refuses to let up. Demonization and ignorance run together in tandem. Russia is the enemy and its leaders are evil (President Barack Obama twice referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the former KGB head). That Mikhail Gorbachev together with the large bulk of the allegedly anti-Putin Russian population strongly support Putin’s policies over Ukraine, Crimea and even Syria is barely noted.

A key to resolving the Syrian dilemma had long been the close working relationship that seems to have developed between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Between them they negotiated the planned Sept. 12-20 cease-fire which could have ended the Aleppo stalemate. But it was broken by the allegedly accidental Sept. 17 U.S. bombing of the Syrian government base fighting Islamic State from the Deir ez-Zor Airport, with over 60 government soldiers killed and more than 100 injured.

Do we find any serious examination of this crucial development, and the weak Pentagon excuses for it, in the mainstream U.S. liberal media? Even less do we see the frightening conclusions, that the U.S. military can now sabotage U.S. government decisions they do not like. Instead, the same media clamor on about alleged Russian hacking during the recent U.S. presidential election, as if U.S. spy agencies had not been doing the same for years and probably to much greater effect.

The coming Donald Trump regime has much-criticized connections with the Russian government. So it is better not to have connections and remain constantly hostile? Our hawks usually manage to ease their hatreds when they get to know people on the other side, as Henry Kissinger did in both Moscow and Beijing. Our moralistic liberals seem never to learn; they can recognize evil without even talking to the other side.



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