Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Confusing Realpolitik with Imperialism

Probably one of the most infuriating things about the New Left is the unspoken assumption that all liberals walk around with, that international relations are essentially a benign state of affairs where everyone pretty much gets on with each other and all minor trade and other disagreements are settled without too much fuss over some tea. Unless of course there are warmongering creationists in the White House breaking that peaceful status quo.

Let's briefly consider the history of international relations. Let's take Ancient Greece, which is one of the closest things we have to a modern nation state with diplomacy over trade and war from the ancient world. Ancient diplomacy most famously demonstrated through the vigilant and changing allegiances of the Greek cities before the dominance of the Roman Empire was based on power. Each cities' concerns revolved around their own power status and their relation to other blocs of power. If another city acquired too much power, alliances with states that may have been hated ideologically would naturally form to attempt to restore the balance of power in the participant's favour. The expectation of any kind of reciprocation of a diplomacy based on anything other than ruthless self-interest and militarism was not present at the destruction of Rome and thus the end of the classical period. The first notions of concern for states outside of one's own could be said to have developed in the middle-ages in a very infantile manner due to a variety of factors. First of all the role of religion in Catholic Europe as a unifying ideology that placed an importance in the protection of an idea rather than an individual state's power, which brought nations together however rarely and briefly. Wider ethnic notions of a 'Europe', 'Africa', 'Arabia' were slow to develop and most of these periods are still marked by continual war. The continuous struggle for power combined with advancements in technology led to a new generation of empires as each state rushed to increase their respective balance of power by taking colonies and carving empires. These empires were not, despite popular belief created purely to generate wealth, as vast fortunes were squandered fighting each other with such power politics ultimately leading to one of the deadliest conflicts in recent history, the First World War. The first efforts of the benign and disinterested United States at the kind of policy modern leftists demand of it now is remembered as the laughably naive and unsuccessful attempts by Woodrow Wilson of creating an international community called the League of Nations, that was doomed to fail from the outset due to a lack of mutual trust in good intentions in the international arena. The Second World War is largely viewed as an ideological war, with Britain and France declaring war on Nazism whereas again the concern was mainly over the growing threat of a militaristic Germany rather than an illiberal ideology (it was after all the British empire that declared war on the Reich and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour that brought American entry into the war). The utter chaos and devastation that followed from this war forced a Europe that had now been eclipsed as the military and economic hub of the world to choose co-operation instead of confrontation at the behest of the United States, which itself finally had to depart from its Wilsonian ideals in its entry into the Cold War. 

This period (the Cold War leading up to 9/11) is where we draw our precedent for our modern foreign policy. This was a period where every nation on earth engaged in power politics where possible, and reluctant co-operation where forced. Battered Europe begrudgingly (in a far less smooth manner than most believe) began the slow move towards integration and co-operation that we now know as the EU. America did not have the luxury of fighting the Cold War under purely rosy ideological terms. The threat from the Soviet Union originated entirely in power and influence. If the Soviet Union increased its respective power, then it exerted a greater influence and threat towards the United States and its wider economic interests and national security. Regions such as South America, the Middle-East, Africa and Asia all contained a unique strategic interest to both powers irrespective of the ideology they held. A very lazy criticism of the US these days is to hear people claim that 'America created Osama Bin Laden' or 'Armed Saddam', as if they were done in a vacuum of free will and preference. America's involvement in the Middle-East was based on a policy of necessity of nurturing as much influence towards America and her allies as possible and as much away from the Soviet Union. Yes it did arm the enemies of the Soviet Union to keep the people of Europe and America as free as possible from the danger of Soviet invasion. How dare they. 

This is what I have always found slightly confusing about Noam Chomsky and his work, in that I actually agree with a lot of what Chomsky believes, being that much of US foreign policy is about power and increasing that power. The only thing I am confused by is his apparent view that the US is somehow unique in this phenomena, or that any other nation has ever existed or could exist that would not act in such a way. I even heard an interview of his recently where he stated that the US is merely acting as all other power systems do, seeming to render a lot of his criticism presumably void without offering an alternative that has not yet been presented. 

Taken from an article written by Tariq Ali.
It is with this backdrop that a large amount of leftist thinking in modern foreign policy is so baffling. Describing the war in Vietnam as 'imperialism' is an utterly puerile view of international relations. That does not mean that there are not legitimate criticisms of Vietnam, such as the methods used to conduct the war, or even the decision to get involved in the first place but to describe this policy as imperialism, as a form of empire building for profit, instead of a natural continuation of power politics in the interest of protecting national security is completely childish. Furthermore when we enter the post-9/11 period we find a branch of foreign policy so far removed from the 20th Century's Realpolitik it can be barely be compared to the imperialism emanating out of Europe during the 19th Century that it is so commonly compared to. Instead of simply neutralising the threat posed by a foreign state in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States at the expense of its own tax-payer's money and solider's lives overthrew the dictatorships and attempted to build democracies in their place. Had it followed its Cold War policy that the left spends so much time criticising, it would have simply removed the dictatorship and funded another one that was at least favourable to American interests in return for American backing. Of course the left criticises America for supporting as well as overthrowing dictatorships so it cannot win. Contrary to popular conspiracy theories, the US spent a lot of money on building infrastructure for democracy in Iraq and allowed it to keep its own valuable resources in oil whereby oil contracts were sold off freely last year by the Iraqis with very little going to the American invaders. Once again, just because it is not imperialism does not mean that one should automatically support all facets of the war on terror, but it should at least mean it does not actively oppose it in the manner that it routinely is subject to. It is also interesting that the same people who denounced the policies of the US in the Cold War for  the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' type approach, are themselves taking up the banners of anyone that opposes the United States whether they be the Islamist insurgents in Iraq (not freedom fighters, the exact opposite in fact) or the vicious Hezbollah in Lebanon. If as this pictures from an article of Tariq Ali seems to demonstrate, the left does not believe in allying strategically with enemies' enemies, then are we to believe that the pro-gay, pro-women, pro-free speech, secular left actually find solidarity with the people that blow up civilians and civil workers because they fundamentally oppose the idea of women voting and democracy? 

Some states cannot be negotiated with.
One's role in the international arena is dominated by the actions of its enemies which create the prevailing rules of war. If the Soviet Union has opted for an isolationist and merely ideological and charitable form of influence then the United States could have similarly sat back and attempted to enforce its national security by simply exporting arguments and ideology. Not recognising that the United States' policy during the Cold War was simply a necessary process of power politics dictated by circumstances regardless of how deserving of criticism that participation in places may have been, will not result in an accurate assessment of the period. Describing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, whatever their faults as 'imperialism' and a belief that militaristic Islamism and authoritarian dictatorships can be overthrown without force is akin to advocating at best national surrender and at worst, national suicide. Nowhere is this clearer then the left's willingness to acquiesce in Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. 

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