Monday, October 22, 2007

On International Precedent And What Is Anti American Anyway?

There are a couple of stories on the international front which make America seem just a bit hypocritical from my perspective. After touching on those stories I want to take a look at what exactly it is to be "anti American" in light a particular essay which has made a bit of a splash on the web. So this post will cover disparate themes in a seemingly chaotic flow... but what else would you expect from yours truly?

The first story may be gaining little publicity, but if the nation of Ecuador had it's way you can bet the controversy would wreathe your televisions in smoke and flame for weeks on end. The headline of the story blares: Ecuador wants military base in Miami.

The duly elected President of Ecuador is going to terminate the United States lease on the Manta Airbase, unless the United States consents to allow an Ecuadorean military base in Miami. Can you imagine the furor that would erupt from the likes of Tancredo, Buchanan and Holz if we allowed a foreign military base on American soil?

I suppose the thought of how Americans would react to a foreign military base on our soil should give pause when considering how other nations would feel at having our forces based in their nations. Small wonder that our allies in Iraq have given Vice President Cheney a negative message on permanent bases in Iraq, and that was a "big fat no, N-O".

The next story that caught my attention revolves around the liklihood that Turkey is going to move into northern Iraq in response to Kurdish incursions and attacks. The latest attack was Sunday resulting in 8 Turkish soldiers being captured by Kurdish fighters. Around 40 members of the Turkish military have been killed in clashes on the Turkish frontier in recent days. Public opinion in Turkey is overwhelmingly in favor of sending forces across the border in response to the attacks. The United States is pressuring Turkey to exercise restraint and not send troops into northern Iraq.

It should be noted here that Turkey is a member of the NATO Alliance, and a long time ally of the United States from since the early days of the cold war.

I find the response by the Bush administration to the Turkish/Kurdish crisis especially questionable when compared to the administrations reaction to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. That conflict was triggered when Hezbollah attacked an Israeli military patrol, killing several soldiers and taking two hostage. Far from counseling restraint in that case, the Bush administration goaded Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to attack Lebanon, even declaring that the resulting war was a part of the west's war on terror. The resultant debacle was a strategic defeat for the Israeli's and strengthened Hezbollah in the region.

While the Bush administration was itching for a fight between Israel and Hezbollah all along, by focusing on the provocation provided by the capture of the two soldiers as the cause for the war, they have provided a marker for other nations in similar circumstances. How is the case provided by the Kurds Vs. Turks different from the case provided by Hezbollah Vs. Israel? In both cases our allies have been attacked across their border by forces which are not being controlled by the sovereign government of the nation from which they were attacked.

If America faced a similar situation from either Mexico or Canada, our allies calling upon us to restrain ourselves would have precisely zero effect on our response.

I might happen to think that the Kurdish cause is far more worthy than the Hezbollah cause in the two examples, but the similarity of the circumstances which may touch off a regional conflict is self evident. It would have helped our cause now to be more even handed in our approach to this type of provocation in the past.

Now on to the anti American question. Gerard Baker has an interesting piece in The Timesonline titled The US is a great place to be anti-American. I wonder if the opinions which I expressed up til this part of my post would be termed "anti American" from Bakers perspective as written here:
The truth is that America not only harbours the most eloquent and noisy anti-Americans in its own breast, it provides a safe haven for people to come from all over the world to condemn it.

Take a stroll through almost any American university campus and you will hear a cacophony of voices in a hundred different languages, slamming everything America does, from fast food to hedge-fund capitalism. For years one of America’s most celebrated academics was Edward Said, the Palestinian agitator-cum-professor, who lived high on the hog at Columbia University, near the pinnacle of the American intellectual establishment, dispensing his wisdom about US wrongs in the Middle East.
By the standard which Baker seems to apply for the label anti American, it would seem that anyone disagreeing with American foreign policy at any particular point in time are deserving of the label. However, that can not be true simply because the same group can be relied upon to agree with foreign policy as favored by one President, and vehemently opposed to the approach taken by the next one. How can someone be "anti American one day and patriotic the next, solely dependant upon the President in power? I would never dream of calling the conservatives who railed at Jimmy Carter over his response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the Iran hostage crisis as anti American. But those same conservatives had no difficulty in labeling anyone who disagreed with Reagan's central American policy, or his siding with Iraq in the war with Iran as anti American.

Simply having a different take on what is best for this nation than the President in power at any given time should not be enough to be labeled anti American in my point of view. You can go back less than a decade and find example after example of Congress critters wailing about casualties because of Clinton's involvement in the Balkans who now are steadfast backers of continuing ad infinitum in Iraq. Was John McCain anti American when he tried to introduce resolutions forcing Clinton to put a timeline on the Balkans involvement? I don't think so.

So, are only liberals who disagree with conservative Presidents anti American? Unfortunately from my perspective, that is the standard line of thought from the right of late. How else could the President actually express the opinion while campaigning in last year elections that if the Democrats were to win the terrorists would win, and America would lose. I might think it is the President who is misguided, and his policies are the ones strengthening the terrorists. That doesn't mean I'm going to blast him for being anti American.

There actually is one issue upon which I consider the President to be anti American. That one issue is the torture of detainees in the war on terror. Simply redefining the meaning of torture is not an acceptable figleaf to escape this stain either. America has a record going back to our foundation of officially treating prisoners with dignity. To be sure, there are times when we have fallen short of that goal, but never because of an official determination to mistreat our prisoners. The Bush administration has overturned centuries of continual American idealism in this one regard, and to me that is the core definition of what it means to be Anti American. I'm certain they are doing this from a warped sense of what is best for this nation, but that does not excuse the behavior, and the damage they have caused us.

To be sure, Baker would most likely label me anti American for expressing that opinion. I just wonder how that can be when it is my side of the torture debate which is trying to uphold the American ideal from the start of this nation until the Bush administration overturned that ideal.

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