During presidential campaigns we often forget that, despite acting to the contrary, America is not the center of the world. As a superpower — I would argue imperial power — the U.S. values the lives of Westerners over the lives of others on a daily basis.
Through a combination of diplomatic, economic and military actions, our government elevates the American way of life high above the actual beating hearts of millions of people — my right to drive a car is worth the lives of innocents.
In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last week, Mitt Romney proposed a more “assertive” foreign policy. He described Obama’s approach as one of “passivity,” saying that Obama’s hope for a more peaceful Middle East is not a viable strategy. I seriously doubt that those in Yemen or Somalia who are killed in drone attacks simply for fitting a phenotypic description would describe the U.S. policy as passive. Nor would those killed in NATO’s intervention in Libya, a conflict having more to do with maintaining western access to oil and inserting a neoliberal ally in North Africa than toppling a dictator. Neither would Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a man who, despite being cleared for release for many years, recently committed suicide in Guantanamo Bay. In a letter to his lawyer, he described the prison as a place that “does not know humanity, and does not know [anything] except the language of power, oppression and humiliation for whoever enters it.” This is the legacy of Obama’s foreign policy — power, oppression and humiliation, not passivity.
In Romney, we have a man who attributes the disparity between a prosperous Jerusalem (the Jewish part) and an impoverished West Bank to cultural differences. He is on tape saying that Palestinians (though I doubt he has ever met any) do not want peace with Israel, and the best America can do is kick the can down the road, though he would leap at the chance to kill Iranians in the name of Israel.
In his speech last week, he ademonstrations ttempted to explain the massive that took place across the Muslim world some weeks ago, but he only managed to echo the perennial question of U.S. imperialists: Why do they hate us? His answer undoubtedly is the same as Bush’s: They hate us for our freedoms, because we allow people to make offensive YouTube videos aimed at inciting violent reaction (which we can then point to and say, “See! See how barbaric they are!”). Surely the Hellfire missiles, the drones, the violent intervention, the economic exploitation and the history of western imperialism in the region have nothing to do with the hatred; it has to be the freedoms.
The president also had a chance to speak on his foreign policy in recent weeks. Before the United Nations General Assembly, he summed up what most people would characterize as a job well done. I am not one of these people, but objectively speaking, Obama handled what he inherited well. Compared to his predecessor, Bush the second, and his would-be successor, Mr. Romney, he is, by all accounts, the lesser of two evils.
Michael Dean didn’t take Jeffrey Robin’s opinion into account in that last sentence.
REBUTTAL to “Right Said” column:
Is a president to stand for the ideals of liberal democracy? Or is he to promote the strategic interests of the United States? History teaches us that the two are incompatible. President Obama has expressed support for the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. In Libya he managed to disguise a geo-strategic and incredibly bloody intervention as one of humanitarian nature. Not only has Obama remained aloof in Syria and Iran, he has also silenced thousands of voices in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Should democracy spread to the Gulf States, global chains of oil profit would be interrupted, thus the U.S. continues to sell the House of Saud the guns they need to quell rebellion and the murder of Saudi citizens remains absent from our television sets, as do the drones. Obama is the lesser of two evils, but he evil is nonetheless.