Tribalism and Conservatism

Unqualified Offerings talks about how US intervention looks from a foreigner’s perspective:

Do not mistake Unqualified Offerings’ point here. UO is not saying Mr. Nawfal is right and we’re terrible people. Unqualified Offerings is saying that what matters is that Mr. Nawfal thinks he’s right and we’re terrible people. The fact that we launched our interventions in the name of Good Things counts for nothing with people like Mr. Nawfal. That the interventions may have accomplished at least some good things doesn’t either. (I am convinced that mitigating the humanitarian catastrophes of Sabra and Shatila really was the immediate motive for the Reagan Administration intervention, which I was old enough to follow at the time.)

Unqualified Offerings is saying, once again, that military intervention buys a country almost nothing in terms of lasting gratitude (and you can ask Mr. DeGaulle if you don’t believe UO). Our coming Glorious Liberation of Iraq will simply produce legions of Iraqi Mr. Nawfals, and smaller legions of Iraqi Mr. Attas. Do not be fooled by any short-term kite-flying or parades. The real issue is not the immediate post-conquest reaction, but the mood a year from then, and five years from then, and ten.

I wasn’t old enough to remember anything more than that there was a civil war in Lebanon, though I was old enough to watch Italy win the soccer World Cup and Connors beat McEnroe in the Wimbledon final in 1982. However, foreign help is always looked down upon. The US and Pakistan have been allies sinnce the 1950s. The US has given tons of aid to Pakistan. But ask any Pakistani and he remembers only betrayals. As I mentioned before, only 10% of Pakistanis have a positive impression of the US. The figure was 23% in 2000. So it’s not just the war in Afghanistan that has shaped Pakistan opinion. More than all the good things that the US did, they remembered all the times when the US should have helped Pakistan (like in the 1971 war with India and Bangladesh.) They are not grateful for the aid, but resent whenever the US cut off aid. They still remember the cutoff of military supplies in Pakistan’s 1965 war with India. A lot of Pakistanis do not like the extremist religious parties (only 50% respect the religious leaders). In fact, most people outside of the Frontier province (on the Afghanistan border and populated by Pashtuns) voted against them. But they dislike the US and especially US intervention.

It is the same everywhere. Some people argue that one of the reasons for the attention given to apartheid-era South Africa was because whites were oppressing blacks. Nobody did anything about the other African countries where black rulers were oppressing their fellow citizens.

It’s a conservative world. Sorry, liberals among you, but it’s true. From continent to continent and country to country, most people prefer the familiar to the strange, whether in terms of people or folkways or governance. The West did not invent ethnocentrism, we just named it. I pluck you down anywhere in the world, outside of a major metropolis, and I will be plucking you down among people who like their own tribe better than the next tribe and the next tribe better than, well, you. What bothers Mr. Nawaf about the history of US intervention in Lebanon is less that the interventions were “bloody” – Lebanon’s neighbors and its own factions far excel us there – than that we weren’t Lebanese.

Very true. And it is not just true in backward countries.

Right now the United States government is busy putting itself in military opposition to this one known immovable object. I do not argue that democracy, free economies and individual liberty are not “universal goods,” or that certain foreigners somehow don’t deserve them. I love two out of the three and find no acceptable substitute for the other (democracy). Every human alive deserves to live in these conditions. But these universal goods are very, very hard to foist on someone at gunpoint. They take root when the people in question come to want them for themselves, to insist on it by themselves and to take them, as much as possible, with their own hands. Eastern Europe was the great lesson of the 1990s. Iran looks like it might prove the point for the Noughts.

I agree that liberal democracy cannot be forced on people. I also agree that foreign intervention is usually not a good idea. However, I think there are times that it is needed. We just need to think long and hard and weigh all the short and long term consequences of our actions, not just from our point of view, but from the point of view of the people we are trying to help.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer