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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card June 03, 2002

Being Buddies with the Bad Guys

The hardest thing about foreign relations is that you don't get to pick the governments of the other countries you have to deal with.

And when you do try to pick their governments for them, the results are almost always disastrous -- even when the government you installed was better than the government they chose for themselves.

After World War II, when we remade Japan's governmental system from the ground up, forcing democracy on a country that had never had it, we got a bit cocky. It worked so well there that we thought we could spread democracy everywhere.

Well, maybe we could -- in countries that had utterly exhausted themselves in war, on which we had dropped nuclear bombs, and which recognized their utter defeat at our hands.

The list of countries that meet that list of criteria is very small, however.

And besides, in some ways we only created the illusion of American-style or European-style democracy. Japan remained Japan.

It was a better place to live because of our intervention. I doubt that many Japanese want to go back to the old days.

But those who think we can turn the rest of the world into America are delusional.

Heck, we have trouble turning America into America -- we're constantly having to expunge the body politic of cancers of corruption, and as for democracy, how much of our government do you think is actually elected? And what choice do we have about who gets nominated?

It's good to strive for ideals, but foolish to expect any government -- even our own -- to measure up to them.

The trouble is, both wings of our political establishment have a curious double standard when it comes to foreign policy.

The right wing is absolutely determined that we not do business with vicious Communist and anti-American dictatorships. That's why we have an embargo in place against both Cuba and Iraq.

But vicious dictatorships are just fine if "business" or "national security" require that we keep on good terms with a foreign government. We never had any trouble with Somoza in Nicaragua, according to the right wing, because he kept the bananas coming for the United Fruit Company. And Marcos in the Philippines was a bulwark against Communism, so he was Our Friend.

The left wing is just as contradictory. They have a long history of turning a blind eye to truly hideous acts by Leftist governments -- they simply denied that Stalin had killed thirty million of his own people, or that Mao was either insane or deeply evil in the way he "governed" China by periodically turning loose the mob.

The American left deplores our association with evil right-wing dictatorships merely because they were anti-Communist or have a lot of oil, but then claims that the internal politics of Cuba is none of our business and we shouldn't be starving the poor people of Iraq just because we don't like Saddam.

Which is it, boys and girls? Morality-based foreign policy? Or foreign policy in which we accept the world as it is?

Do we base our relations with other countries on our judgment of their treatment of their own people? Do we refuse to allow American companies to trade with nations governed by torturers and murderers and corrupt leaders who despoil their own people and grind them into the dust?

Or do we simply accept that bad governments exist, and until the people find a way to get rid of their overlords, we do them the most good by trying to maintain good relations with their awful leaders so that American goods and services -- and, we hope, ideas -- can penetrate their society?

Well, let's see. When we do business with the evil governments, then we are perceived -- correctly -- as helping them stay in power. They skim millions of dollars from foreign aid and use it to build palaces or Swiss bank accounts. They use American weapons to oppress their people.

And when the revolution comes, the people hate us for having been in bed with their former masters.

But when we embargo a nation with a despicable government, then we are conveniently blamed for all the ills of that nation. Saddam and Castro can both claim -- utterly falsely -- that the poverty and suffering of their people are the fault of the Americans, not of their own rapacious corruption and ambition.

So when the revolution comes, the people hate us for having made them suffer for so long.

Oh, and it gets worse. On some occasions in the past, when our government has seen that a nation has such a bad government that it not only endangers the people, it endangers the stability of surrounding nations, we have intervened.

In Grenada and Panama, we followed the Latin American tradition of diplomacy-by-Marines.

In Chile and Vietnam, we colluded in the deposition -- and, indirectly, the murder -- of Allende and Diem, and therefore bore much responsibility for the oppression that followed the one and the chaos that followed the other.

In Iran, we intervened after a coup toppled the Shah and got him back into power. I think the Iranians showed us how they felt about that when Khomeini came to power.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.

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