Doug Bandow: A Dignifiied Foreign Policy


I was surprised when Steve asked me to join in as a guest blogger. I remain a books and print kind-of-guy in the internet age, so it’s a new thing for me. I also warned Steve that he risked having the Washington Note turned into a “Blog for Bolton” site. I happen to like John and would enjoy having him at the UN, but that’s another story. And I don’t want to give Steve heart failure if he checks in from whereever he is on his, er, arduous trek in foreign parts.
I was struck by a Washington Post story on Wednesday which described a violent Afghan demonstration at a U.S. base. It seems that American forces had detained of several Afghans without consulting local leaders. The article concluded:

“We have supported the Americans for years. We should be treated with dignity,” said Shah Aghar, 35. “They are arresting our people without the permission of the government. They are breaking into our houses and offending the people. We are very angry.”

Sadly, my first thought was: where’d he get that silly idea? (A friend cattily remarked: “he doesn’t seem happy about being liberated.”) When does the U.S. ever treat other states or peoples with dignity? As far as I can tell, the Secretary of State is almost constantly on the road lecturing everyone else on how to live their lives.
In this case — after a thousand people had gathered, tossing stones and attempting to bust down the gates to the base — the U.S. gave in, subsequently turning over the eight men. But the specific controversy is not the main point. What’s so disturbing is that Washington is widely perceived as imperious — a perception based on its behavior — which has a corrosive impact on attitudes toward the U.S. Foreign peoples and governments might have to listen to the Great Superpower, but they resent doing so. And many of them can be counted on to resist, balk, delay, and impede whenever the opportunity arises.
I recently returned from a trip to Nepal where I was speaking on economic development to audiences ranging from students to politicians. After one talk someone went up to one of my hosts and said that he liked me because I was “unAmerican.” By that he meant that I wasn’t acting as if I was omnipotent and telling them exactly what to do. Rather, I emphasized that I was no expert on Nepalese society and encouraged them to work on applying the principles of economic liberty, so necessary for the development of a free and prosperous society, within their own traditions and culture.
At the same time, admiration for the liberty and opportunity available in America remained strong. But the U.S. risks squandering this appreciation for America’s strengths — an incredibly valuable intangible asset — by attitudes and policies that often are unabashedly arrogant.
Doug Bandow