April 24, 2003


THE TIMES DEMAND WE FACE UP TO TERROR, CAN THE LEFT ANSWER?: Distinguished British journalist, JOHN LLOYD who resigned from the London New Statesman over its coverage of the war, asks: what future has the Left if it cannot deal honestly with the rise of terrorism and the crimes of dictators? (John Lloyd, OpenDemocracy)
What is very rarely recognised in the radical camp, except as the occasion for mockery, is that the major states have, since the collapse of the cold war, elaborated and put into practice some version of an 'ethical dimension to foreign policy' (the phrase was put into the public arena by Robin Cook, the former UK Foreign Secretary).

In an article in the current issue of Foreign Policy the journal of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb and Justine Rosenthal write that "something quite important has happened in American foreign policy making with little notice or digestion of its meaning. Morality, values, ethics, universal principles--the whole panoply of ideas in international affairs that were once almost the exclusive domain of preachers and scholars--have taken root in the hearts, or at least the minds of the American foreign policy communiy...in the past, tyrants supported by Washington did not have to worry a lot about interference in their domestic affairs. Now, even if Washington needs their help, some price has to be exacted, if only sharp public criticism. Moral matters are now part of American politics and the politics of many other nations".

Note the many reservations. Ethics have not taken over foreign policy: it remains largely driven by national interests. The application of moral standards is often--indeed, one could say always--selective. Some tyrants are targeted, while others are cosseted – and the reasons given for targeting some are often applicable to those being cosseted. My contention, however, is that there is a significant effect which is growing. Namely that the ethical dimension is increasingly being linked with the realist concerns of the kind most famously associated, both when he was a scholar and when he was a practitioner, with Henry Kissinger.

This has not of course been confined to America. Britain has its own version of an ethical foreign policy, as has France and even Germany--the latter, under a social democratic government, confronting its own comfortable and popular pacifism in order to make some sort of effective response, even if tardy, to the horrors of former Yugoslavia.

Many on the left and most on the right have dismissed these shifts towards an ethical dimension in international policy as cosmetic, propagandist, hypocritical, over-idealist or useless. This is tragic, especially on the left, for this current of opinion has in the past--together with the United Nations, Christian churches and many international NGOs--been in the forefront of pressing for humanitarian intervention, and for an end to the possibility of using national sovereignty as a shield behind which tyrants can commit atrocities with impunity.

As a result the intellectual/creative opposition to this war has, in Europe, been quite close to a monopoly. Only a few have broken this monopoly, notably the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who wrote in La Repubblica on 16 April that "one of the few profound joys which history reserves for us is the end of a tyranny." But few of his fellow writers and artists have shared this joy. Most have felt something quite different: a profound disgust--at the US. [...]

According to a report last week in the Independent , poor Zimbabwean youths are asking when Bush will come and liberate them from Mugabe. Do we smile at their naivete and the falseness of their consciousness? Or, on the other hand, do those of us who are British--with some historical responsibility--allow an indifferent American administration to convince us that we have no dog in this fight because Mugabe is not part of any axis of evil? Or do we try to think through, as the times invite us to do, how we can better square our ideals, our humanitarian impulses and our internationalism with life as it is lived and deaths as they are meted out?

We should recognise that politics, and human rights, are becoming global. None of the answers to the often-hideous questions thrown up are easy. And those that spring from finely crafted denunciations of American wickedness are the least convincing of all.

Let Tony Blair lead the way and I suspect most Americans would be prepared to help Zimbabwe rid itself of Mugabism. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2003 9:05 PM
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