Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The United States Government Should Not Remain Neutral During the Iranian Protests.

First published at BlogCritics on 23 June 2009.

There are circumstances when neutrality is wise; neutrality in the face of outrageous human rights violations is unwise.

Corporations, in my view, have one basic obligation, and it is to those who invested money in them. That obligation, in most circumstances, is to make money for its investors -- not to promote freedom and not to ensure the well being and comfort of corporate employees, except as doing so increases their earnings. It is for those who invested in the corporation to decide whether and how to use their own resources to support worthy causes. A business corporation has no mandate to diminish the gains of its investors by using what should be their money to support what its officers and directors consider to be worthy causes.

The United States Government is, in many respects, similar to a corporation. Her primary obligation is to her citizens, which she should meet by keeping them safe and otherwise generally staying out of their way. In most circumstances, the United States Government should offer support to, or oppose, other governments only when that benefits her own citizens. On this basis, if Country A attacks Country B, and there are no pesky treaty obligations standing in the way, the United States Government should normally intervene only when it appears to be in the best interests of United States citizens for her to do so; no matter that Country B may be a democratic, freedom loving country or that Country A may be a dictatorship lusting after the resources of Country B.

The problem here, as I see it, lies in the words "in most circumstances;" those words suggest that there may be cases in which the United States Government should seriously consider doing things not likely to promote the safety of her own citizens -- directly or even indirectly. Such cases are probably uncommon. They may include providing relief to people in other countries suffering from natural disasters. They may include spending money to support literacy and medical efforts in other countries. Some would probably say that they include sending food to the people of North Korea, many of whom are starving, even though this may help North Korea to keep her armed forces well fed and better able to attack our ally South Korea. These things cost money and detract, pro tanto, from the ability of the United States Government to ensure the safety of her own citizens and otherwise to stay out of their way. Contrary to the apparent opinion of some, the United States Government's supplies of money and other resources are finite.

Most of those now protesting the Iranian election are not starving, nor are they the innocent victims of a natural disaster. Still, I think it the obligation of the United States Government to come to their aid in whatever way is within her means and is likely to assist them. There are times when even a country should strive to encourage those freedoms which she claims to hold dear -- even if it costs money and even if a consequence may be to irritate an existing, already hostile, Government such as that of Iran.

It is claimed by some that, due to her horrible record in the past, the United States Government has no moral authority now to encourage freedoms elsewhere. I don't accept that basic thesis, but even accepting it for the sake of argument, it seems very unlikely that by remaining indifferent to the situation of the Iranian protesters will help the United States Government to regain any moral authority; to the contrary, it will further erode what little she is said to have.

The United States Government is not a human being, and generally should not behave as though she were. A human being, seeing another human or a dog lying injured in the road should, I think, stop and render such assistance as he can. If a delay in getting to the grocery store or even worse results, so be it. "Good" people do that sort of thing. That human reaction is probably at the root of many of the cases in which the United States Government uses the resources of her citizens to assist those elsewhere in time of crisis.

I think that's what the United States Government should do in the present Iranian situation. Even if the United States has not done enough to support human freedom in the past, it is now high time for her to do so.

What can't and shouldn't the United States Government do? I have not heard any cries for her to send in troops, and think that to do so would be a very bad mistake. The imposition of further sanctions on the Iranian Government would not likely help, and would do far more harm to the Iranian citizens who are now opposing that Government than to the Government itself. At best, further sanctions would reiterate to the Iranian Government what she already knows -- that other countries are unhappy with her actions. That has not worked well in the past, and seems unlikely to do so now.

The United States Government should and can come down firmly on the side of the Iranian protesters by stating, clearly and not in "diplospeak," that the protesters are right to oppose their Government's actions, and that their Government is wrong in violently repressing them. President Obama has done this to a minor extent, and he continues to do a bit more, a little at a time. However, he still needs to do more; with passion and not as though he had to. He should use the office of the Presidency to emphasize the recent news coverage of the Iranian Government's highly dubious election and of the violent repression of those protesting it, as well possibly as any independent intelligence gathered by the United States Government and (with their consent) by her allies; he should say that He, personally and as the President of the United States, agrees with the voices in the United States and elsewhere damning the Iranian Government's actions. He should say that the United States Government will provide all of the moral support it can, but will not send in troops or otherwise meddle in any physical sense. He should express the strong hope that those willing to give their blood and their lives succeed in overthrowing an illegitimate Iranian Government, and the belief that if they do not give up, they will succeed. He might even consider using a minor variation on his campaign phrase, "Yes You Can!"  He should extend the hand of the United States People to them, and promise that when they succeed, he will make it his priority to extend diplomatic recognition to their new Government and to provide whatever assistance it may request and which does not undermine United States treaty obligations. If, as I understand to be the case, the Iranian people seek and badly need such support, he should give it to them, unstintingly and without unnecessary reservations. Unlike a corporation looking only after its profits, or a government looking only after her own the parochial interests, the United States Government should do all within its power to assist those Iranians who want voices in a legitimate  Government of their own.

President Obama has said that having such voices is a universal human right.
Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.
Now, President Obama has a very good chance to show that he meant what he said. He should do it before it's too late.

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