Monday, March 27, 2006

Don't just know, Respect, your enemy

Respect your enemy.  It might require a hard sell, but at this time of year it seems an apt phrase to use as a basis for a redrafting of America’s foreign policy.  And yes, in the next 700 words, that is what I will propose.


America’s enemy has been defined as Islamic Extremism—anywhere and upheld by anyone.  We are no longer bound by the strictures of the Westphalian nation-state, nor the norms of the Geneva Convention.  But when engaged in war, no country ever was, really.


Why did General Lee personally surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse at the end of the civil war?  Because there was a fundamental respect for the other side in the conflict.  While disagreeing over motive, goals, and world-view the General Staff of the South and the General Staff of the North fundamentally respected their adversary.


Why is there still an Emperor in Japan?  Because Gen. Macarthur had spent years learning about the Japanese, and had a fundamental respect for Japanese people and their culture.  Out of this respect grew an understanding that a people may be defeated, but to be rebuilt, they could not be destroyed.


Traveling through Andalusia in southern Spain offers one an opportunity to tour castles, mosques, and palaces built by the Moors during their 800 year rule of the region.  Why?  Because for all the xenophobia and religious persecution prosecuted under the Inquisition, Ferdinando and Isabella respected the culture and sophistication required to accomplish what the Moors did in Spain—and throughout the world.


This respect is virtually absent in our latter-day unilateralist attempt to Americanize the world.  As a country, and certainly our political leadership, is lacking in a modicum of respect for those of different nationalities—to say nothing of different faith or culture traditions.  When U.S. policy manages to get France and Germany on the same side of an issue—along with a majority of the British populace, it should be a sign that the policy might not be great.


When our policies in the Mid-East have Iran meeting with us to discuss what they can do to help stabilize and strengthen Iraq—it is a signal that a line has been crossed (and the line is called the River Styx). 


The U.S. policies of preemptive strike, of unilateral invasion, and of Marlboro Man diplomacy are out of touch with how the world is presently operating.  More fundamentally, though, we are disrespectful to those whose behavior we wish to change.  Regardless of U.S. opinions to the contrary, we cannot point a finger around the world and chastise friends, allies, and enemies alike as though we are a disappointed parent and they a misbehaving 6 year old. 


If we truly wish for success in the Middle East, if we truly wish for success in East Asia, we must change our tack, and start interacting with people in a way that respects their culture, their religion, their world-outlook, and the goals they have for themselves and their country.  We can no more impose a democracy on Iraq (or Syria, Iran, North Korea, or Libya) than we could have installed a successful democracy in Japan in 1945, Taiwan in 1949, or South Korea in 1953.  Each of these took time.  In Japan, we had the presence of hundreds of thousands of troops; a devastated populace, and a compliant national deific figure—the Emperor—to help us accomplish our democratization plant.  In Taiwan and South Korea, democracy didn’t begin to grow until the protests and violence of the 1980s, and didn’t take hold until the early 1990s.  What makes us think Iraq would be any different?  Why would we believe a country that has never been unified under anything but a strong-man will coalesce into a Shangri-La, or Oasis Mirage Democracy; materializing out of nothing?


Without finding a way to engage moderate elements within Muslim societies.  Not just in the Mid-East, but in Indonesia, in Bangladesh, we will not be able to pursue policies of change.  Because rather than finding areas and issues of agreement and working towards those, the U.S. will be setting priorities first, and seeking to gather vassals second.  As our experience in Iran from the 1950s-1979 should have pointed out, that way is not likely to lead to long-term success.

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