Do countries have friends?

Today I had a rare moment of agreement with Realpolitik, as practiced notably by Henry Kissinger.

Realpolitik is “politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises” (Wikipedia).

My moment of realization came in reading Linda Chavez, “Abandoning our friends Obama-style,” Daily Local News, 3/20/15.

In the comment section I posted:

Let’s not get too sentimental here. People have friends; corporations have clients; countries have allies. Russia was our ally, then our enemy. The British, who burned the White House, are now our allies. Values, like friendships, can change; and who always lives up to their own values and friendships… or alliances, for that matter?

Why don’t all countries just go out and act like Hitler and Mussolini—to name two dictators whose countries were highly civilized when Columbus set sail to the New World. Sure, acting like those two (or like Columbus, for that matter) isn’t nice, it isn’t moral, and it kills a lot of innocent people; but countries go right on invading others, killing civilians, reducing whole populations to poverty by sanctions and occupations, and setting up coups against foreign governments.

The real mitigating factor, at least in our time, is world opinion. The US “lost” the war in Vietnam (which we kindly took over from the French) but it would have been easy to “win” by dropping a few nuclear bombs. But we wouldn’t have looked like a very good role model to the rest of the world, would we? After all, in 1945 we became the only country ever to drop nuclear bombs on actual people; twice would become a pattern.

Actually, presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was perceived as suggesting the nuclear solution in May, 1964; although he later hedged on that position, it sure didn’t help his results in November, 39% to LBJ’s 61% (I was in France at the time, and I went through a lot of hoops to cast an absentee ballot in my first presidential election).

But how about this? Chavez writes:

…history is not the primary reason we have always stood by Israel and must do so today. We are part of the same civilization. Our values are the same, part of a continuing tradition that traces its roots back some 4,000 years. Our Founders understood the profound importance of Judeo-Christian values in the American conception of individual rights….

The most cursory look at world history shows that being part of a noble civilization and its ostensible values does not guarantee good behavior. Every European country has played a significant role in western civilization, its great composers and writers, its contributions to democratic thought and government; and every one of them has done the most horrendous things to others.

As a Francophile (yes, as an individual human being, I can have friendly feelings toward a country), I listened intently yesterday to a BBC news report, “Algeria’s War of Independence,” which you can find here.

Beginning in 1830, French settlers took most of the good land and maintained their own institutions and political control. The Algerians started a resistance movement in 1954 that France countered with 500,000 troops, widespread bombings of civilians, destruction of whole villages, use of napalm against suspected militants, and the death of about 1,000,000 Algerians over eight years. Finally France decided in 1962 to let its colony (theoretically a non-contiguous part of France, as Alaska and Hawaii are of the US) go its own way; but for some time the settlers’ “Secret Army” (OAS) continued the battle for Europeans to retain control.

If any country should qualify as our friend, it’s France. Without French support, the US would not have won its war of independence against Britain; without the US, France would have long remained under Nazi rule. As a country, we have never fought against France.

But no, countries aren’t friends, and shared values mean little on the world stage. If they meant more, we wouldn’t have mortgaged our economy to China over the past generation in order to buy cheap plastic goods, when we could have been patronizing countries who “share our values” in Europe.

People can ask Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, but my view is: in foreign policy we should act in our own interest, follow our own governing principles as much as possible, and look like good global citizens. Unfortunately those three desiderata are often in conflict; but at the least we shouldn’t violate all three at the same time.

French soldiers search Algerian
French soldiers searching Algerian, from BBC

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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One Response to Do countries have friends?

  1. Susan Tiernan says:

    <My response to Linda Chavez's column was to use it to start my fire today. Your response was much more articulate and may have made her think. Then again, maybe not. She thinks wrong.

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