In the year 1850, John Parker Hale, free soil Democrat from New Hampshire who had been watching the painful aftermath of the failure of the 1848 revolutions, began a speech to express his sympathy for “the millions who are under the heel of power.” Taking the tone of today’s human rights crusaders, he said he viewed the crushing of the revolution in Hungary by Russia and Austria as a moral, not simply a political, question. He urged “…the American Senate, the highest legislative body of the world, the wisest, greatest and most magnanimous people” to “constitute themselves a high court” whose mission should be “to try the nations of the earth for ‘atrocious acts of despotism.’” Hale urged that we Americans as “a high court of indignation. “are to arraign at our high bar the nations of the earth, and they are to pass in trial before us.” America’s targets weren’t to be small fry or second rate powers, but villains like the Czar of the Russia,” the aim to try him “not only for what he did to Hungary,” but “for what he had done long ago in sending those unfortunate exiles to Siberian snows.” Hale then asked, “And after we arraign Russia, what would the next target be? England for the way they had treated the Irish and for the cruelties oppressions they did there?” (or) “go to Algiers to inquire what the French had done there?” Hale wanted to try the czar of Russia, In other words, Hale felt that the U.S. government should become a unilateral agency for the promotion of human rights.
Henry Clay, then at the twilight of his career, brought some perspective to the debate with Hale. He agreed that Austria had played a poor part in the Hungarian revolution, but why not send a distinguished American to Vienna on behalf of the Hungarians? Why not bring forward “some original plan for affording succor and relief to the exiles of Hungary?” Clay rejected the idea that we can judge foreign countries and their actions by our own notion of what is right and proper in the administration of human affairs. He ended by saying that Hale’s view that America should right the world’s wrong by intervention had its hazards. “Where it he limit?” Clay asked, “Where are we to stop?” This 1850 debate only shows how little we have advanced in the debate over how to advance actual U.S. national interests versus our compulsion to rely on using human rights to improve the conduct of human rights of foreign countries. The gigantic and fatuous ocean of trite statements issued daily by the media, the unending tiresomeness about “the aspirations of the Syrian people,” or “giving the Syrians democracy and a free market economy,” or “Give freedom to Syria’s opposition,” only make us gag. They numb the mind. The phrase “Syrian people,” used by U.S. politicians is especially annoying because it is a species of theft, the infirm product of some mentally limping office-seeker who is laying claim tothe authority to speak for millions when in fact they know only a minute and obliging scatter of citizens. Frankly, the phrase “American people” is for weak-kneed and semi-literate.
The great poet Paul Valery once said that the only word that truly defined the phrase “the French people” was the word “mixture.” The latter word deflate a lot of grandeur from of the phrase, but it did let the air out of bombast. Deflating bombast is sorely needed in today’s world where so many shrill, tinsely voices often blare their loud rhetorical bugles while sitting on their high horses. The futility and irresponsibility of outfits like CNN are repulsive to the soul and distasteful to the mind. CNN and other similar groups have embraced “parachute journalism” – sending in some half-informed chatterbox into Syria to parrot talk about democracy and freedom from the oppression of Assad, without once condescending to tell us who their sources are, what ends they serve, who is backing them, and where these sources are located. We know that the term “The Opposition,” is apparently is something so prestigious and haloed that we don’t need to scrutinize what it means. But what do we really know about The Opposition? Do they welcome democracy, free speech, the rule of law, the pursuit of happiness? Do the rebels use free speech to spread their views, do they really value free speech and democratic values, or it is simply a tool of propaganda, a crude way of manipulating or pandering to American public opinion.
Day by day, CNN and its hireling’s indulge in rhetorical flourishes that frantically wave before us like white hankies. The fact is that rebels inside Syria are completely at odds with exile groups outside the country especially regarding the direction of their country once Assad falls. For example, there one indigenous group, the Khalid ibn al-Walid Battalion, which is supported by the Muslin Brotherhood. The al-Farouq Battalion is armed and funded by Saudi Arabia. There is another. None of these has a plan to unite warring religious or opposition groups, nor are they able to formulate a coherent policy that has real traction among the Syrian public. The Syrian conflict prompts one to ask, what kind of freedom fighters are these, these allies of America? Do the CNN defectives ever look at American’s allies aligned against Assad? The UAE is violating a number of fundamental principles of human rights. Specifically, the UAE does not have democratically-elected institutions and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. Qatar, which had U.S.-trained Special Forces on the ground in Syria, restricts freedom of speech and the press, and it has been found of guilty of using forced labor in its economy. Some of the labor rights violations include beatings, withholding of payment, charging workers for benefits which are nominally the responsibility of the employer, severe restrictions on freedom of movement (such as the confiscation passports, travel documents, or exit permits), arbitrary detention, threats of legal action, and sexual assault. The Saudis punish crime by flogging, and the amputations of hands or feet. Saudi law does not recognize religious freedom.
You would think this would quiet some of the fervor to spread democracy in the Middle East but apparently it doesn’t. After euphoria in Egypt about the downfall of Mubarak, today we learn the Muslim president has just begun to censor articles unfavorable to him. . President Jimmy Carter condemned “the folly of trying to inject power into the internal affairs of other nations.” President John Kennedy was the one who said that “Since human rights are basically indivisible, this body (the U.S.) cannot stand aside when those rights are abused and neglected by any member state.” He said these words only two months before Dallas. FDR on the other hand, always argued that ideals should be a part of foreign policy but only a part. I would argue that while human rights are an important factor, they are not the most decisive factor in framing a policy
The questions that should be posed about Syria’s future should be these.What is the U.S. national interest in Syria in a region that is unprecentedly complex? Is our opposition to despotism ideological or is it practical? What is idealistic element in handling of the conflict as opposed to what is indispensable element? Do other countries in the Middle East really share the U.S. our view of human rights? Do other nations feel the same interest in resisting an act of Syrian aggression? Do U.S. allies have the same identical motives in opposing Assad? Do other Arab countries consider the spread of representative institutions as the key to bringing peace to the area as we do? The American inclination is always to protect the weak against the strong, but in Syria, who are the weak? What are they tempted by? We know who the strong are, but who are the weak? Do they pretend to be weak until they have grown strong and pitiless and become the despotic they once pretended to despise? Do that have underground agendas that pose us difficulties and would spread instability. To me, the spread of democracy smacks of intervention and intervention always seems to me to imply conversion. Americans are an insecure people. They only like what they know and are suspicious of what they don’t. To like what you know is merely an act of recognition. To suspend judgment about what you don’t know requires a much higher order of mental gifts. Most of us lack them. It takes an acute perception which can absorb details of the unfamiliar without pronouncing judgment on them. It requires the ability to place the unfamiliar in some context that makes it intelligible and it requires knowledge to interpret it correctly. It takes an absence of panic, which is, after all, a very unmanly emotion. To interpret the unfamiliar, requires true ingenuity, an ability to imagine, a freedom from fear. It requires the courage not to regard the unfamiliar as the hostile. A neocon recently urged “The Syrian people need the tools so that they can finish the job of removing this cruel regime.” Brave words. It is very difficult to translate principle into effective policy. What is the U.S. national interest in Syria? Has anyone defined it? Once we thought that defeating communism and rolling it was our national interest in Vietnam. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance warned “we must recognize “the limits of our power and our wisdom” and avoid at all costs, “a rigid, hubristic attempt to impose our values on others” and reject the illusion that "a call to the banner of human rights will bring a suddenly transformation in authoritarian societies.” I’m with him.. Sale