Friday, June 3, 2011

The National Interest?

In 2009 President Barack Obama gave an eloquent speech in Cairo. In it, he promoted human rights and democracy. He did so in a country where America has warmly embraced a corrupt and violent dictatorship for the past thirty years or so.

Why does America support dictators like Hosni Mubarak? Or religiously repressive antidemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia's? Or even Israel, who's illegal and authoritarian occupation of Palestine is wearing thin even for those of us who strongly support Israel's right to exist? Why were human rights in China just a footnote in last week's visit to the United States by Chinese President Hu Jintao?

Because, as any American at the State Department will tell you, America runs its foreign relations "in the national interest." Whatever the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights may say about human rights and ideals of freedom and democracy, in practice these are for American consumption only. Similar rights in foreign countries matter only when it suits America's larger geopolitical or economic goals.

I don't criticize America lightly. I'm a Canadian-born American citizen. America's robust political democracy and fierce embrace of its freedoms is inspiring. In the end, I loved Canada first, because I was born here; but I came to love America for what it aspires to be.

Still, America is wrong send the universally-condemned Egyptian military nearly 1.5 billion dollars of weapons every year--the second largest recipient of American aid in the world, after Israel. Sadder yet is that in spite of this massive aid no one in Cairo's streets believes that America cares a whit for them.

All this, again, as they'll tell you at the State Department, because what really matters is "America's national interest." America will put up with a lot of nonsense from bad rulers treating citizens without regard to basic human rights if America thinks it helps its trade, economy, or military alliances.

It is time for people of good faith to demand an end to our nations' religiously promoting their national interest. It is a policy that puts us in bed with the Duvaliers, Husseins, Fahds, Shahs, and Vorsters of this world, and doesn't put values we would otherwise willingly die for, first.

For people of faith it is time to demand of our governments--American and Canadian--that we love our neighbors, first, instead.

(First published in March 2011 in Northumberland Today, at

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