Friday, 31 August 2012

Notes on Hypocrisy, Double Standards and Self Righteousness.

On the subject of double standards and hypocrisy, the current crisis in Syria is instructive. The trio of Western Powers ( the USA, France and UK ) explicitly demands that the Assad regime should go or, in actual fact, be overthrown when it comes down to it.

This demand is explicitly justified by claiming that they have the moral high ground as Syria is a dictatorship, we are democracies and Assad's forces are attacking their own people and civilians.

No mention is made of the fact that Saudi Arabia is the West's main ally in the Middle East, apart from Israel, and that the former is a theocratic dictatorship backing Sunni jihadists in Syria.

The problem is that international politics in the West since 1990 has become less about cautious diplomacy and far more about competing radical visions about reordering the world according to ideological precepts.

By comparison, Russia and China do not base their foreign policy on trying to overthrow regimes or demand adherence to human rights and to promote democracy but only its own power interests.

In that sense, powers that do not share the liberal internationalist stance of the USA and EU are not seen to be as hypocritical as they make no high standards they can be called to account on by internal critics. 

The accusation of double standards is harder to make if a Power does not flaunt its proclaimed standards of democracy and human rights as a means of what is often seen as rationalising the same Great Power interests.

The noble idea of human rights has become a tool of the USA to put forth a messianic vision in which it can do no fundamental wrong as it uses Great Power status to advance democracy.

If "regime change" brings about a new "free" country as in Afghanistan or Iraq that is seen as great or, at least, an improvement: if not then it must at least by pro-Western in its foreign policy.

The current mess in Syria shows that humanitarian concerns and rhetoric about the Assad regime is used by liberals such as Secretary of State Clinton to support regime change by stealth as only the USA has the right to intervene in Syria to support the Syrian opposition.

To do so by aiding "the Syrian opposition" to co-ordinate militias, many of which are Sunni fundamentalists backed by the Saudis is not considered important: as our foreign policy is conducted by democratically elected governments, they still must be better than those backed by Russia or China.

This conceit is a dangerous one as the choice in practice is often between a secular dictatorship and a dysfunctional democracy in which rival sectarian militias jockey for control. 

That was seen in Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion of 2003 and still is as Sunni jihadists carry out fresh bomb attacks against the Shi'ite government. Again it is happening in Syria and the Western Powers have learnt nothing.

Realism is not cynicism. There are many on the left who fail to grasp that too. In fact foreign policy controversies are often about whether to back a foreign policy if it is an agent of progressive global change of not. And that often hinges around whether the USA can be that agent or not.

Now there are those who tend to assume it is an Empire an so never can be. Chomsky is that his belief in the fundamental malignity of US exceptionalism is itself based on an exceptional view that as a democracy "we" can change the world if "we" change our foreign policy first.

In reality, the other Great powers have their agendas and in practice there are limits to what the West can do and which it needs to learn. And one of those is to believe it can bring about a globe of liberal democracies using force as the midwife of history.

By comparison bringing up the role of China in Africa is often a large omission by leftists in the West who used to continually claim to be concerned with the fate of the continent, opposing South African apartheid and the Rhodesian government in the late 1970s.

The usual waffle about only being able to change "our" foreign policy ignores the obvious fact that those who profit from "anti-westernism" like Mugabe are part of a non aligned bloc which includes those such as Hugo Chavez who are supported by many Western leftists such as John Pilger.

China makes no claim to improve human rights there at all but operates on a "no strings attached" policy. This means corrupt dictatorships are supported with weapons if China gains the concession to mine precious minerals in return for infrastructure projects.

When the insurgents in Libya was supported by the USA, France and UK, Pilger wrote,

"Africa is China's success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilisation, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa's greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was one of China's most important sources of fuel"

This is curious. In what way is propping up dictatorships a "success story" ? Really ? In Zaire where African's are slave labourers ? Unless Pilger is suggesting that the West's foreign policy is so bad that China's seems better only by comparison, this comes close to rationalising dictatorship.

The best thing in the circumstances is to understand why this Great Game for resources is driving conflict, the better to try to avoid it. For  another source of hypocrisy is the one where people say "No War for Oil". Iraq and Libya were about oil, but what do people think powers the economy ?

If a lot more focus was put on finding alternatives to oil and stating clearly why these resource wars are happening, a sane alternative can be put forward. That should, in fact, be the starting point of any constructive solution to the reality of our time-wars for resources.

For isn't it hypocrisy to insist we deserve higher living standards and growth ( what many on the left and liberals regard as "Progress" when that necessarily means more oil must be forthcoming ?

Or would people prefer to give up their cars, learn to live with far less ? Is that something consumers in Western democracies want ? Have anti-war organisations posed that question to the public ?

Note, this does not mean endorsing wars for oil: just that people ought to heed what Tolstoy said "everybody thinks about changing the world: too few about changing themselves" . Rather than screaming self righteous slogans, espousing hysterical forms of anti-American vitriol and posing as though that can make the world better.

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