You are here

The once and future guide

Not so long ago, the United States made the pursuit and maintenance of moral authority one of the tenants of it's foreign policy. The incident that comes first to this blogger's mind is one that Henry Kissinger has roundly criticized in his 1994 book DIPLOMACY: America's intervention on the side of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956 against its English and French NATO allies.

Mr Kissinger's analysis (which I do not have on hand and, regrettable, cannot therefore quote) is a good starting point. He writes that Egypt sought to make overtures to both NATO and the Soviet Union, playing the two blocs against each other to better place Egypt in the new world order; when Egypt warmed to the Soviets, America and England withdrew their financial commitments to Egypt (the building of the Aswan Dam). To finance the construction of the Dam, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, an old Anglo-French joint colonial venture. As the old colonial powers and the new state of Israel geared up for war, America forced its NATO and Israeli allies to withdraw. America, then under President Eisenhower, realized that it could not condemn the Soviets' brutal suppression of Hungary while simultaneously supporting colonial imperialist gestures in Egypt. To retain its moral authority to inspire revolutions to destabilize the Soviets, America -- putting it bluntly -- betrayed its allies to side with a country that was warming to the Soviets. But what is counter-intuitive from a strictly geo-political standpoint is a wise and prescient in a more nuanced analysis: for America to inspire revolutions behind the Iron Curtain it had to stand apart as an ideal example. Today, for America to undermine religious fanaticism, it must similarly deploy moral authority as part of its arsenal; to do that it must again stand apart and stand morally upright.

Mr Holder's step is a positive one. Mr Obama, like Mr Eisenhower, has felt that retaining (or, in our modern case, retaking) America's moral authority is more important than the loyalty it owes to the CIA. The analogy can yet be carried farther: in much the same way that America sought to destabilize the Warsaw Pact by inspiring popular, democratic, and capitalist revolutions through leading by example, America is now seeking to win 'hearts and minds' in much the same way. If America is to destabilize and deprive radical Islam of its recruits, it must deprive them of something to rail against; transparency and accountability is one step for America to regain its moral authority.

A new best-seller, CHINA & AMERICA'S EMERGING PARTNERSHIP: A REALISTIC NEW PERSPECTIVE argues that for America to regain its position as a world leader, it must lead through moral authority. Deprived of moral authority, the American military is powerless: in stabilizing Iraq, it was the moral support lent to General Petraeus by Muqtada al-Sadr that armed American troops with the support (or, at least, lack of hostility) of the local population. Moving forward, America will need the same support--willingly given--if it is to combat terrorist threats; to do that, America must first regain and then deploy its influence with strong, persuasive moral authority. The book, which is part of a series of eight books written by Mr John Milligan-Whyte which together form a 'New School of America-China Relations', is a persuasive text and I urge you all to read it.

Re-opening the old wounds of 'enhanced interrogations' hurts; but it is a good first step for America to begin to recapture its moral authority. Mr Eisenhower understood the need for moral authority to undermine the Soviet bloc; I trust Mr Obama understands the need for moral authority in the fight to keep America safe from terrorists.


Thanks for writing this - it forms a good start on the question of quelling sectarian terrorism through methods of moral authority. The trouble is the intermingling of sectarian interests with political ones - not just abroad, but at home. The constant tensions in the West Bank and in Gaza are in no small part funded and backed by apocalyptic fundamentalist Christians who see the destruction of the "Holy Land" as a precursor to the theological endgame. These elements exist within a community that is validated and condoned by the Republican party in America, and are starting to crop up among the Democratic party as well.

While the threat they pose is political rather than militant, and there are other sociological causes for terrorism (although arguably, these sociological 'causes' are also byproducts of sectarianism as well), if we wish to present an image that is worth rebelling for, an image free of barbarism in the name of dogma, we need to expel the dogma from our own ranks in turn.

...then it'll be right back to business-as-usual with everyone knowing in their hearts that things aren't right, but accepting it when they're told that things are. Don't get me wrong,the CIA might throw a few nerds under the bus, but there's no real change that's going to result from this other than the CIA will destroy more evidence earlier on, in the years to come.

I'm not convinced that the USA or its military are going to be able to reclaim the moral high-ground for a long, long time. Even our successes, such as they are, in Iraq were predicated on outright bribes to buy off opposing factions. We're now heavily engaged (via complicity or active participation) in the opium trade in Afghanistan and unacceptable levels of civilian casualties due to "lazy" intelligence methodologies. We're still performing illegal renditions, Camp X-Ray/Camp Delta hasn't closed, our spy agencies are running amok and we're still practicing predatory capitalism on third world nations.

There's been no substantial positive change in our foreign policy with the new administration, indeed we've stepped up the bombings on Pakistan and now we're eyeing Iran with a new fervor.

Until we can dislodge the "crony capitalism" which has hijacked our country and its leadership, we're going to be unable to affect any great improvements on our domestic OR foreign policies. Smedley Butler was quoted elsewhere on this site and what he said applies to this situation as well. As long as our military is relied upon to enforce corporate thuggery, we'll never regain the moral high-ground.

The military only maintained the dignity that it did because of the "Soviet Threat". No matter how big they make OBL out to be, he's no Khrushchev and the actual threat is very small. There's no honor in squashing bugs or hauling dope and especially not in killing civilians.

In the 80's I had the feeling that the military really was protecting me from something. Nowadays I don't have that feeling at all. In fact, I'm starting to feel a little threatened by the increasing military presence on the streets of America. Last year it was a request for 40k troops to be station with NorthCom, this year it's 400k troops the Pentagon is asking for to turn out onto America's streets.

We've fallen into the trap of these "crony capitalists" as described by Carroll Quigley:

"the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can ‘throw the rascals out' without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy… It should be possible, to replace one party with the other party which will pursue, with new vigor, approximately the same basic policy."