Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wading in

A couple of days ago, I was listening to my Africa Today podcast from the BBC that included a report on African protests against Israel's incursion into Gaza. In Khartoum, Sudan, a group of 5,000 "mostly peaceful" protesters were chanting. What were they chanting? "Down, down, U.S.A.! Down, down, U.S.A.!"

The anchor said to the reporter, "The sentiment seems to be more anti-American than anti-Israeli. Why is that?" Her response was

There is a very strong anti-Israeli feeling here…but I think that the American support for the Israelis has also really touched a nerve here. And this fits in with a kind of wider world view that Sudan has: that the West, Israeli, the Americans are targeting Arab countries like the Palestinians, like Gaza, and like Sudan itself….and there have been quite a few of these demonstrations … outside the American embassy which was indeed shut today because they feared the crowd could get out of hand.

Then yesterday, on Grandmere Mimi's blog, she posted an AP report that said, "Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Iraqi resistance Wednesday to stage 'revenge operations' against American forces to protest Israel's Gaza offensive...The State Department dismissed al-Sadr's calls, describing them as 'outrageous.'"

"Any call for attacks against Americans is outrageous and, frankly, not worthy of much more comment," deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. "Outside calls to attack Americans for what's going on in the region are outrageous."

Here's the thing: I would think our government might want to consider why these countries perceive the U.S. in this way, rather than just brush off the comments as "outrageous." Especially considering U.S. lives are at stake.

Could it possibly have something to do with non-binding resolution passed by the House of Representatives yesterday that says the House of Representatives "(1) expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas’s unceasing aggression, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter."

I was really struck, upon reading the whole thing, at how one-sided the language is. Certainly I'm not saying that Hamas is a paragon of virtue, but I just don't think Israel is blameless, here.

My point being that it might be in the U.S.'s best interest to appear more impartial. In this, I defer to none other than the father of our country, General George Washington himself, who said as much in his Farewell Address of 1796.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

One of the things that impressed me most about the last presidential election was that, by having a free, fair and democratic presidential election, we may have done more to promote democracy abroad than by all force of will or arms. The point I'm trying to make is that we might all be better off seeing to our own house than in interfering all over the place. I'm not talking about isolationism, I don't think. More leading by example than by didactic self-righteousness. (She says didactically and self-righteously.)

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