Events of the past few months have thrown the nation into ideological and political quandaries from which no exit is evident. As the Middle East explodes in citizen rebellions against autocrats, America's foreign policies seem poorly informed, out of touch and increasingly contradictory. We have become the hypocrisy nation, where we say one thing, do another, and spend most of our time pointing fingers and making excuses instead of making a better future.
It doesn't take a political wizard to watch the events unfolding in the Middle East and wonder, "What's up with America's foreign policy?" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ever the war hawk, is strangely silent. Her role should be to define and defend a sensible, fair and even-handed approach to world events as the lead spokesperson for America's international affairs. But instead, it's the generals doing the talking.
Take, for instance, the latest debate on intervention in Libya. President Obama wags his big finger at Colonel Moammar Ghadhafi and threatens that those loyal to him "will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place." Oh really? And how does Mr. Obama intend to do that?
If you listen to hawks in Congress—including Vietnam War veteran/protester Sen. John Kerry—we should move immediately to enforce a "no-fly zone" over Libya to prevent Ghadhafi from using the nation's air force against the rebellious citizenry. But wait, says Robert Gates, the leftover Secretary of Defense from the Bush administration. Enforcing a "no-fly zone" means we have to first destroy Gadhafi's capacity to strike back. And that, says Gates, will require "an act of war."
While the swirling and disjointed political rhetoric of Washington continues to spin out of control, more than a few folks are beginning to ask if we really want to start our third war in the Middle East—and if so, to what end.
But those who think America should act to defend the out-gunned citizenry in Libya might want to ask themselves a simple question. Namely, what's the difference between these people seeking to overthrow their sitting regime and the people in Afghanistan who seek to overthrow the despised American-backed government there? While it's morally convenient for us to condemn the use of Gadhafi's air power against the civilians in Libya, how do we justify using U.S. air power against the civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan on a daily basis?
It can't have escaped the attention of those who wield the Big Stick in the nation's capital that, in the last week alone, U.S. rockets launched from U.S. forces in the air space of foreign nations have slaughtered six children in Pakistan and five in Afghanistan. Add this to the list of thousands of other civilian deaths that we casually brush off as "collateral damage."
One could easily argue that we are continuing George Bush's "Global War on Terror." But hey, Gadhafi has just usurped that same stupid vernacular to dub those who are rebelling against his government as "terrorists." Gadhafi uses our own words, imitates our own tactics, and then, oblivious to our own hypocrisy, we self-righteously condemn him for doing so.
In the meantime, our condemnation remains what you might call a tad unbalanced. What exactly did Saudi Arabia have to say about tolerating any citizen uprisings? They'd respond with overwhelming force to put them down. But in that particular case, we are silent as mice because Saudi Arabia—the home of the vast majority of those who flew the jets into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center Towers—is our oil daddy. As everyone knows, the last thing we'd want to do is endanger the oil that supplies our unceasing addiction over something as ephemeral as our commitment to humanitarian principles.
Or how about Bahrain? While few Americans can even locate Bahrain on a map, much less discuss the politics of its Shiite uprising against the ruling Sunni monarchy, it may well rock our world. The island nation is where the American Fifth Fleet, with its 20 warships and 26,000 personnel, is based for the sole purpose of protecting the oil supply routes we deem vital to our interests. Yep, American taxpayers are picking up the tab to make sure Saudi Arabia's royal family can continue to wring us dry for oil.
And if the Bahrain uprising gets out of hand, then what? Why, Saudi Arabia's ruling Sunni royal family has promised to use military intervention to put the unruly Shiites down. That they'll be flying the latest American military jets outfitted with the latest American weaponry will surely impress upon the Bahrainian citizens the great love that America has for them—as well as our sincere respect and support for their demands for free elections and democracy. After all, we're the "Beacon of Democracy" in the world.
But wait, there's also Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Jordan. Tunisia's 23-year ruler was driven from power in January due to resentment against what has been called his "iron fist" approach to governance. And where did he flee when his own citizens revolted? Why to Saudi Arabia, of course, where he was warmly welcomed.
Like the tale of the tar baby in the old Uncle Remus story, America has got itself good and stuck in the oil goo of the Middle East. That our current predicament has exposed our blatant hypocrisies in foreign policy may, in the end, be a good thing—but only if our political leaders have the humility to admit our errors and the fortitude to deliver the promised, and ultimately unavoidable, change in those policies.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.