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US Policy in the Mideast and the Low Art of Duplicity

Two thing stand out about the interview with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch in today's issue of The Daily Star. Both betray either a distorted view of reality verging on psychosis or an arrogant belief that everyone in the Arab world is a moron. Whatever the diagnosis, his comments explain a lot about how and why US policy in the region is so frequently off the mark.

In one instance, he described the Lebanese opposition as having "blocked the normal process for coming to support an international agreement" on creating a special court to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - and as having done so "after it all had already been agreed." Even if one sets aside arguments about the opposition's not having been consulted about the draft accords with the United Nations, about the Lebanese political model's reliance on consensus, and about the necessity of ratification, the United States has no standing - legal, moral, or otherwise - to comment on another country's behavior when it comes to international agreements. Welch represents a nation that has made one habit of signing treaties and then failing to ratify them (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol), another of entering into multilateral pacts and then quietly refusing to abide by them (e.g. the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and a third of claiming an imaginary right to re-interpret agreements designed expressly to prevent unilateral determinations (e.g. the  Geneva Conventions).

Later, when asked what the United States is prepared to do in order to ensure the creation of the court, Welch produced one of those gems made inevitable by the contradictions at the core of American policy in the Middle East. "We want to see our international law observed," he declared. But when Israel and certain other countries trample international law, the United States rewards them handsomely. Why should anyone believe that respect for international legality is anything but a sick joke in Washington?

The United States has been asking an awful lot of its allies in this part of the world of late. If it expects anything like wholehearted cooperation, it might at least feign genuine interest and objectivity in undoing some of the region's most glaring injustices, starting with the ones in Palestine. Instead, it trumpets pleasant-sounding principles when they are convenient and unabashedly jettisons them when they are not. Apologists might try to rationalize this by referring to American "exceptionalism," but most observers recognize it for what it is: sheer and shameless hypocrisy.

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