“We have no right to tell other people how to live their lives.” “We shouldn’t force our culture on anyone else.” These are all variants of this argument: “We should not overthrow the status quo.”
And the people who believe this call themselves “liberal”.
Actually, the “we” in the above arguments really needs to be qualified as “The United States” – since it’s okay for anyone else to initiate change. When Yugoslavia fell into civil war in 1991, the USA stood back and let the EU handle the situation. How did they handle it? By handing over 8,000 Muslim men and boys to be slaughtered in Sbrenica, allowing genocide in Bosnia and the “change” of ethnic cleansing.
During the mid 1990s the USA was criticized for not intervening. Finally, when it did in 1995 it did so on the side of the Muslim region of Bosnia. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that the year after the Dayton Accord was signed, Bin Laden’s group al-Qaeda struck the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia killing 19 American servicemen, ostensibly in defense of Islam. Al-Qaeda then struck the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998.
Similarly, in 1999 NATO, under American leadership, launched a 72 day air campaign against Serbia to protect Kosovo. Note that this attack occurred without a UN mandate of any kind since Russia had promised Serbia that it would veto any such measure.
What does this tell us? It tells us that the EU, United Nations, or any other trans-national group cannot act effectively without the backing and support of the United States. Since the American economy remains the world’s largest, economic sanctions will fail unless the USA takes part. Because the militaries of the EU have atrophied under the Cold War umbrella supplied by the USA, an aggressor has nothing to fear unless confronted by the US military. For example, France has one aircraft carrier that spends more time in dry dock than it does at sea. What does North Korea have to fear from France?
The majority of people who say, “We have no right to tell other people how to live their lives,” actually believe that the United States has no right to unilaterally tell other people how to live their lives. It’s okay as long as trans-national organizations like the UN or EU say it’s okay.
The problem is that by promoting this belief, they are sowing the seeds of something much more dangerous: cultural isolationism – or multi-culturalism taken to its logical conclusion. Cultural isolationism is the belief that cross-cultural norms such as human rights for gays, minorities and women do not exist. If Japanese society does not recognize that eating whale meat is wrong, then the world does not have the right to tell that nation to stop killing whales. If female circumcision is practiced in some cultures, we do not have a right to put a stop to it.
When someone says, “We shouldn’t force our culture on anyone else,” one should respond by asking if he or she supports honor killings in Brazil or crushing to death of gays in Afghanistan? Ask him or her if slavery should be allowed in Saudi Arabia, especially since it is allowed under Islam and continues today.
But why stop there? If we are unwilling to recognize universals such as human rights, why not allow slavery back into the American South? As a straight American male, why shouldn’t I be allowed to discriminate openly against gays and lesbians since my (former) religion, Roman Catholicism, allows it?
Enough reduction ad absurdum. The reality is that the meanings of “liberal” and “conservative” have flipped. Today’s conservative champions universals like human rights. People on the right distrust China for its human rights abuses much more than those on the Left who appreciate its Communist roots. I cannot understand how gays and lesbians (like my Kerry-supporting colleague) are so anti-Bush while he stopped the persecution of women, gays and lesbians in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
President Bush believes that the way to stop terrorism and secure America is to “drain the swamp” where terror breeds and spread democracy. This is a truly revolutionary doctrine, much broader in scope than anything imagined by Castro or Che Guevera. Bush understands at a deep and fundamental level that America can no longer be secure in the world as long as people aren’t free to choose their own destinies. People in the Middle East have been oppressed for time immemorial. They have never known freedom, and those that champion it are silenced – often permanently. They cannot choose their own destinies in the way that we can.
America has never imposed its values on a people: it has imposed human values on people. Today nations such as Germany, Japan, Bosnia, Philippines, South Korea, France, Italy, Great Britain are free because of America’s direct intervention to impose human rights on sometimes reluctant populaces. Ask any Japanese, is Japan today better off than it was 60 years ago?
America is doing the same to the Middle East. It is attempting the transformation of an entire region, and is being resisted by terrorists, autocratic regimes, and even those it liberated sixty years ago. If America fails in its revolutionary mission, the French and Germans can pat each other on the back for stopping American “hegemony” – the same hegemony that liberated their nation twice over the past 90 years. They can rest assured that should America fail in its attempt to transform the Middle East, there will never be a third.