Are we, in the United States, the defenders of democracy and freedom that we so often claim to be? Are we neutral observers in world affairs? Or are we accomplices to human rights' crimes worldwide? As usual, the answer is complex: it's a little of everything.
Do you remember president Jimmy Carter? When it came to foreign policy, he was an idealist who believed human rights should be upheld in all nations, communist or not. He managed to get Egypt and Israel to end their war with the Camp David Accord, to secure the transfer of control over the Panama Canal back to Panama (effective in 1999), and to open full diplomatic relations with China for the first time. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the past came to haunt Carter when he allowed the former leader of Iran, who was dying of cancer, to enter the U.S. for medical treatment. Many people in Iran were extremely upset by this. Protestors took control of the U.S. Embassy and took 66 Americans hostage. This crisis lasted for over a year, through the end of Carter's term, costing him re-election to Ronald Reagan.
Reagan ushered in a new era in international relations, one that re-focused on fighting communism (even as the Soviet Union began to soften relations under Mikhail Gorbachev). The Reagan administration gave financial support to military leaders in Guatemala in order to promote democracy. These same leaders were responsible for numerous murders and tortures. The Reagan administration also supported guerilla fighters against the Nicaraguan government, who mostly attacked local peasants and farmers, and crippled the economy. Furthermore, the administration financed the Nicaraguan "contras" by selling weapons to Iran for their war with Iraq.
Things became even more hypocritical when we entered the Persian Gulf War under George Bush (notice there's no W). During and after Operation Desert Storm, his administration talked about how Saddam Hussein had murdered his own people by attacking the Kurds with biological and conventional weapons. What they did not tell anyone was that those weapons were partially paid for by the U.S. at a time when they knew Saddam would perform such atrocities. The administration knowingly supported Saddam's genocidal campaign!
The U.S. has been acting this way at least since WWII. Take a look at this team MAD. Today the world faces a worsening environment; especially as the Bush II administration seems to be turning its back on stricter environmental policy. We are told that strict policy is harmful to business and threatens the economy (not true). However, as people suffer from the increasing health problems that accompany global warming, and natural resources disappear, where will the world be then?
Even if we think we are neutral observers, we may take an active role. Take China, for example. Their numerous human rights' violations are well documented: the Tiananmen Square Massacre, torture and murder in Tibet, censorship and imprisonment of protesters and political dissenters. We don't give China any military support, yet we give them lots of money through trade. Many common items we buy are manufactured in China, and this indirectly supports the Chinese government and all its actions.
So, how can you make a difference?
Get involved! Groups like Amnesty International campaign to change policy and practice.
Know your history! We have current problems with both Iraq and China. Where did these come from? Who were the people that started them? It isn't always the ones that you thought they were. You've heard the old saying, "Those who do not remember the past, are destined to repeat it?" Well, not only will we repeat it but the chaos that we create each time we "forget our past" will further blind us and the cycle will continue.
Break the cycle, Make A Difference.
Daphne - The 444 days Americans were held hostage in Iran