Perils of excessive moralism in foreign policy

Gregory Clark

DOUBLE tap” was the name given to the US drone warfare technique of first attacking a hostile target and then making another attack shortly after when the family, friends or colleagues rushed to rescue injured in the first attack. That a number of women, children and non-combatants were killed as a result did not seem to worry our drone operators. The liberal moralistic approach to foreign affairs can be welcome, of course. But there is also an obligation to find the causes of seemingly immoral behaviour of other side. Does a man or woman who has seen people slaughtered in a ‘double tap’ or some other ruthless bombing operation and seeks revenge as a result really deserve to be wiped out as a “terrorist?”
In the past our media were careful to use the more neutral word “militants.” Today it is “terrorists” — a term calling for immediate hatred. Chechens trying to resist the brutality of the Russian-supported regime there were “terrorists.” Tamil people rebelling against the ruthless Sri Lanka regime were also dubbed “terrorists” even though the West now accuses that regime of crimes against humanity. In the Middle East and Africa both regimes and their opponents accuse each other of “terrorism.”
Moral outrage takes over and it can be years, decades even, before common sense prevails. The Cold War lasted 40 years and only ended when the other side began to prefer common sense to moralism. The Kennedy liberals, the best and the brightest, were largely responsible for the Vietnam intervention; some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese had to die before the mistakes were realised. Over the former Yugoslavia today there is little interest in the Croatian, Bosnian and ethnic Albanian excesses that triggered the Serbian responses. Over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea we have the endless talk of Russian aggression leading to sanctions without anyone, it seems, being even slightly interested in studying what is actually happening on the ground in both areas, not to mention the reasons.
True, the moralists are right to be appalled by the brutality of the bombings in Aleppo. That the success of the bombings strengthens the hated Assad regime there is even more reason to be upset. But what was the alternative? Almost all now admit that the anti-regime rebels there had come to be dominated by fanatical Islamist groups. Were they supposed to be allowed to take over the nation? As with the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the US had inspired an uprising, but then refused aid — in the case of Syria, the imposition of a “no-fly” zone — needed to prevent the uprising from being crushed. But for the Russian intervention in Aleppo, the fighting would still be continuing.
A key to resolving the Syrian dilemma had long been the close working relationship that seems to have developed between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Between them they negotiated the planned Sept. 12-20 cease-fire which could have ended the Aleppo stalemate. But it was broken by the allegedly accidental Sept. 17 US bombing of the Syrian government base fighting IS from the Deir ez-Zor Airport, with over 60 government soldiers killed and more than 100 injured. Do we find any serious examination of this crucial development, and the weak Pentagon excuses for it, in the mainstream US liberal media? Even less do we see the frightening conclusions, that the US military can now sabotage US government decisions they do not like. Instead, the same media clamour on about alleged Russian hacking during the recent US presidential election, as if US spy agencies had not been doing the same for years and probably to much greater effect.
The coming Donald Trump regime has much-criticised connections with the Russian government. So it is better not to have connections and remain constantly hostile? Our hawks usually manage to ease their hatreds when they get to know people on the other side, as Henry Kissinger did in both Moscow and Beijing. Our moralistic liberals seem never to learn; they can recognise evil without even talking to the other side. The writer is a former Australian diplomat, with experience of both Russia and China dating back to the 1960s.
— Courtesy: The Japan Times

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