Ever wonder why brutal terrorist organizations like al-Qaida enjoy global support? You might find part of the answer in a U.S. foreign policy that is frequently hypocritical. Consider George W. Bush's Jan. 29 State of the Union address, in which the president claimed, "America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."
The words are powerful, but when compared with actual American policies around the world, they lose all meaning. People who live in other countries are smart. They know a snow job when they see one.
For the past two weeks, I've been combing the Los Angeles Timeseditorial pages, looking for any sign the paper had noted that duplicity.
It has been a big disappointment.
"As Bush suggested in his speech, the nation is not only a beacon of universal values; it has also become an international target," said the Times' Jan. 30 editorial, showing the most powerful paper west of the Rockies had thoughtlessly translated into print Bush's blather.
Interestingly, The Orange County Register came much closer to the truth in a Feb. 3 editorial on Bush's curious phrase "axis of evil." It's an evocative reference to Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Japan that Bush now hopes to apply to Iran, Iraq (two nations that are more accurately described as enemies than allies) and North Korea. The Register reasonably observed that there weren't enough names on Bush's list and that some of those excluded were U.S. allies.
"There's no doubt these regimes are ruthless and dictatorial," said the editorial. "But so can be such American allies as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan."
But the Register missed a larger point. Bush didn't merely forget to mention other nations that belong in his evil axis; he deliberately avoided calling out our allies. That's not only hypocritical but cowardly as well.
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Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the U.S. and as such buys about $2 billion in high-tech weapons yearly. Its regime severely restricts freedom of speech and association, is aggressively intolerant of non-Muslims, persecutes and even executes homosexuals, and has deprived women of everything from owning property to driving a car.
Pakistan is also a close U.S. ally—especially since Sept. 11. It has banned political rallies and meetings, restricted political parties, arrested thousands of activists, and cut freedom of speech to little more than prayer, pleasantries and commercial speech.
These two countries are hardly alone. The Times, Register and Bush might have mentioned such allies as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Colombia, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and others that enjoy substantial U.S. financial and military aid and trade even while committing multiple human-rights violations, sometimes on an industrial scale.
In other words, the U.S. defends the sovereignty of brutal regimes more frequently than it does the rights of their citizens. Groups like al-Qaida recognize that fact and advertise it among the billions of people stomped on by their own governments. Those people may look to the U.S.—"defender of liberty"—but they receive only cold disregard. It would be nice if the Los Angeles Times recognized that.