19 October 2005

Mixed Messages For Tyrants

Bull Moose argues today that: "In the past decade, two horrific tyrants have been brought to justice by American power - Milosevic and now Saddam. This sends a powerful message to other brutal rulers - there is a price to be paid for tyranny."

The reality is far more equivocal, however. While we have taken out those tyrants, we have coddled many others. In Pakistan, we are now backing a man who came into an office via a coup whose main motivation was to prevent his predecessor from following through on an agreement he had made with the United States. In Saudi Arabia, we steadfastly support that regime that supported the Taliban and has created the conditions that gave rise to Osama bin Laden, his organization, al-Quedda, the vast majority of the 9-11 bombers, and a majority of the suicide bombers in Iraq. We went to war to reinstate a deposed slave holding monarchy in Kuwait. We have used their regime for the purpose of torturing our terror suspects. In Uzbekistan, we supported and set up a military relationship with a little Stalin, whose cult of personality regime was boiling people alive. We took no material action to stop genocide in Rwanda and have taken no material action to end genocide in Sudan. We have for decades consistently backed a dictator in Egypt, who is no better than Castro in Cuba, indeed probably worse, providing him with one of the largest shares of U.S. military aid. We specifically arranged to usher the democratically elected leader of Haiti into exile, under duress, rather than supporting him, in the face of a coup. We have consistently tried to undermine the democratically elected leader of Venezula.

Even in Iraq, we supported him before we opposed him. Our own diplomatic miscues are, in part, to blame for the invasion of Kuwait, because when he conferred with one of our diplomats prior to invading, the diplomat implied that we would not object to an invasion. We were dragged into Bosnia, and then Kosovo, through our international obligations to NATO. In Bosnia, we had been one of the last holdouts to finally acknowledge the existence of genocidal ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Bosnian Serbs, and while Milosevic has been brought to justice, Bosnia itself remains partitioned because of our failure to respond to the crisis quickly.

We are also, of course, the leading force in the world opposing the international criminal court designed precisely for the purpose of bringing tyrants to justice. We are afraid that one of our own will act like a tyrant and be forced to pay the consequences, something no civilized nation should have to worry about if it conducts itself properly. Our enemy combatant policy has emboldened tyrants the world over to ignore the Geneva Conventions on the same grounds that we are doing so now.

Any message coming from the United States is powerful, but the content of the message is far more equivocal than Bull Moose would suggest. Indeed, on balance, it is a counterproductive one. The United States, particularly as a result of the actions of George W. Bush, but also combined with a long history of indifferent performance, has lost the moral authority it needs to confront tyrants effectively and advance human rights in the world.

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