Saturday, March 24, 2012

Questions Are Qool

With respect to foreign policy, all too often we are searching for concrete answers when we should be searching instead for the right questions. Asking the right questions, and many of them, will lead to a more balanced, sober, and measured answer.

Recently I stumbled on the Daily Star, a Lebanese English newspaper, and in an article written a few days ago columnist Rami G. Khouri asks some important questions about US foreign policy:

It is worth quoting his opening paragraphs in full:

I am impressed by the continuing trend toward common sense and rationality among a growing number of public figures in the U.S. who look at Syria and Iran and remember the lessons and legacy of the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In spite of the warriors among the Republican presidential candidates who are roaring for war, more frequently these days we are hearing words of caution and restraint from Americans who actually take the time to study realities in the Middle East and ask some hard questions. This did not happen to any serious extent when in 2003 the U.S. led the Iraq invasion, the consequences of which continue to plague the region, the U.S. itself and the world.

Khouri goes on to ask some important questions that aren't getting enough attention.

  • Does the U.S. have the moral authority or credible political mandate to initiate wars such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and and still may do in Syria and Iran?
  • By what authority does the U.S. decide to go to war in the Middle East?
My last post concerned the legitimacy of the actions of the United States in the Middle East. In response to Khouri's questions, I would say that the United States has no legal authority whatsoever in the region. There is nothing written down that says that the U.S. can impose its will or intervene unilaterally in any country of its choosing.

However, and here is where Dr. Shadi Hamdi comes into play again, I do believe that the U.S. has the leverage (read: power) to positively influence events in the region -- and the world. That is based on the assumption that the U.S. will pursue goals that are in alignment with its ideals; something that often isn't the case.

Why and how that leverage is used and debating whether its usage is justified, however, is never raised in the "public debate". Apparently, using the enigmatic phrase "national security interests" is all the justification necessary to launch a war. What is unspoken is that raw "power" is accepted as enough of a justification for action as well.


If the United States were to fundamentally restructure how it interacts with other nations, I think that the US could win back its global respect and standing as the center of the free world. That restructuring would include: dealing with countries as equals (not as major/minor powers), respect for cultural differences, and placing diplomacy at the top of our foreign policy agenda. Let's fact it: diplomacy isn't sexy. It should be. And we should be proud of it. (If Kofi Annan pulls off a peace deal in Syria, he should be put on the cover of GQ.)

In order for the United States to rid itself of the "imperialist" label, and in order for the US to regain the "moral highground", it has to ask some important questions. Luckily, the Arabs are asking the questions for us. Washington, for the first time, has to listen.

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