Change Foreign Policy to Win the War on Terrorism

Change Foreign Policy to Win the War on Terrorism

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There are many advocacy groups that have long been doing important good works in the international arena, but on issues that have not officially been seen as being a proper part of foreign policy: the environment, human rights, women's rights, the condition of children, labor, international public health issues (e.g., AIDS in Africa), sustainable development, refugees, international education, and so on.

The metaphors that foreign policy experts have used to define what foreign policy is rules out these important concerns. Those metaphors involve self-interest (e.g., the Rational Actor Model), stability (a physics metaphor), industrialization (unindustrialized nations are "underdeveloped"), and trade (freedom is free trade).

I would like to propose an alternative way of thinking about foreign policy under which all these issues would become a natural part of what foreign policy is about. The premise is that, when international relations work smoothly, it is because certain moral norms of the international community are being followed. This mostly goes unnoticed, since those norms are usually followed. We notice problems when those norms are breached. Given this, it makes sense that foreign policy should be centered around those norms.

The moral norms I suggest come out of what I called in Moral Politics "nurturant morality." It is a view of ethical behavior that centers on (a) empathy and (b) responsibility (for both yourself and others needing your help). Many things follow from these central principles: fairness, minimal violence (e.g., justice without vengeance), an ethic of care, protection of those needing it, a recognition of interdependence, cooperation for the common good, the building of community, mutual respect, and so on. When applied to foreign policy, nurturant moral norms would lead the American government to uphold the ABM treaty, sign the Kyoto accords, engage in a form of globalization governed by an ethics of care-and it would automatically make all the concerns listed above (e.g., the environment, women's rights) part of our foreign policy.

This, of course, implies (a) multilateralism, (b) interdependence, and (c) international cooperation. But these three principles, without nurturant norms, can equally well apply to the Bush administration's continuance of its foreign policy. Bush's foreign policy, as he announced in the election campaign, has been one of self-interest ("what's in the best interest of the United States")-if not outright hegemony (the Cheney/Rumsfeld position). The Democratic leaders incorrectly criticized Bush for being isolationist and unilateralist, on issues like the Kyoto accords and the ABM Treaty.

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He was neither isolationist nor unilateralist. He was just following his stated policy of self-interest.

The mistaken criticism of Bush as a unilateralist and as uncooperative will now blow up in his critics' faces. When it is in America's interest (as he sees it), he will work with other nations. The "War against Terrorism" is perfect for changing his image to that of a multilateralist and internationalist. It is indeed in the common interest of most national governments not to have terrorists operating. Bush can come out on the side of the angels while pursuing his same policy of self-interest.

The mistake of Bush's critics has been to use "multilateralism" versus "unilateralism" as a way categorizing foreign policy. Self-interest crosses those categories.

There is, interestingly, an apparent overlap between the nurturant norms policy and an idealistic vision of the Bush administration's new war. The overlap is, simply, that it is a moral norm to refuse to engage in, or support, terrorism. From this perspective, it looks like Left and Right are united. It is an illusion.

In nurturant norms policy, anti-terrorism arises from another moral norm: Violence against innocent parties is immoral. But Bush's new war will certainly not follow that moral norm. Bush's military advisers appear to be planning massive bombings and infrastructure destruction that will certainly take the lives of a great many innocent civilians.

Within a year of the end of the Gulf War, the CIA reported that about a million Iraqi civilians had died from the effects of the war and the embargo-many from disease and malnutrition due to the US destruction of water treatment plants, hospitals, electric generation plants, and so on, together with the inability to get food and medical supplies. Many more innocents have died since from the effects of the war. Do we really think that the US will have the protection of innocent Afghanis in mind if it rains terror down on the Afghan infrastructure? We are supposedly fighting them because they immorally killed innocent civilians. That made them evil. If we do the same, are we any less immoral?

This argument would hold water if the Bush War on Terrorism were really about morality in the way that morality is understood by progressives/liberals. It is not. In conservative morality, there is fight between Good and Evil, in which "lesser" evils are tolerated and even seen as necessary and expected.

The argument that killing innocent civilians in retaliation would make us as bad as them works for liberals, not for conservatives.

The idealistic claim of the Bush administration is they intend to wipe out "all terrorism." What is not mentioned is that the US has systematically promoted a terrorism of its own and has been trained terrorists, from the contras to the mujahadeen to the Honduran death squads to the Indonesian military. Indeed, there are reports that two of the terrorists taking part in The Attack were trained by the US. Will the US government stop training terrorists? Of course not. It will deny that it does so. Is this duplicity? Not in terms of conservative morality and its view of Good versus Evil and lesser evils.

If the administration's discourse offends us, we have a moral obligation to change public discourse!

Be the change you want! If the US wants terror to end, the US must end its own contribution to terror. And we must also end terror sponsored not against the West but against others. We have made a deal with Pakistan to help in Afghanistan. Is it part of the deal that Pakistan renounce its own terrorism in Kashmir against India? I would be shocked if it were. The Bush foreign policy of self-interest does not require it.

The question must be asked. If that is not part of the deal, then our government has violated its own stated ideals; it is hypocritical. If the terrorism we don't mind-or might even like-is perpetuated, terrorism will not end and will eventually turn back on us, just as our support for the mujahadeen did.

We must be the change we want!

The foreign policy of moral norms is the only sane foreign policy. In the idea of responsibility for oneself, it remains practical. But through empathy and other forms of responsibility (protection, care, competence, effectiveness, community development), it would lead to international cooperation and a recognition of interdependence.
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