2005/05/04

A liberal says it straight for once

It's rare that the basics behind ideologies of power are stated explicitly. Generally debates are carried on thru rhetorical strategies that emphasize "the common good", "democracy", "freedom", "prosperity for the nation", &c. A good number of people who have never been exposed to the internal records of governments or corporations - where the rhetorical overlay is more frequently dispensed with - even take these appeals to selfless principles seriously. The media are especially culpable in this, casting George Bush as a fighter for democracy, or Bill Clinton as deeply concerned with the disadvantaged of the world, or closer to my home, the Chinese media casting Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as doing their utmost to help China's peasants.

So it's worthwhile to note when a writer or politician skips the ritual obeisances and comes right out and says it, as Thomas Friedman recently did:
at its best, the U.N. has been, and still can be, a useful amplifier of American power, helping us to accomplish important global tasks that we deem to be in our own interest.

The U.N. still represents the closest thing we have to a global Good Housekeeping seal of approval for any international action. Whenever the U.S. is able to enlist that U.N. seal on its side, America's actions abroad have more legitimacy, more supporters and more paying partners....

I don't much care how the U.N. works as a bureaucracy; I care about how often it can be enlisted to support, endorse and amplify U.S. power. That is what serves our national interest.

Thomas Friedman is one of the most popular writers on foreign policy in the USA, and he consistently voices the liberal perspective. This is the liberal approach to the UN - use it whenever possible to gain legitimacy for American policy, otherwise dispense with it.

The neoconservative perspective is that the UN is more a hindrance to America's overwhelming power than an amplifier, and it should thus be destroyed at the earliest possible date.

It's an important tactical difference with clear policy implications. But it should not confuse us into thinking that the two sides have different ultimate goals. Rather, they share a single aim, namely to advance US "national interests", ie to expand the power of the American state and businesses.

The radical alternative is to take seriously the idea that humans are equal and that the interests of one nation (or one ruling class) are not the same as the interests of the world. That means acting to restrict the power of the USA, to build institutions that decentralize global power, and to fight for an equal distribution of wealth in the world.

3 comments:

Kyle Schafer said...

Good to see you're back at it Jake. Just thought I'd let you know I'm still reading.

aaron w said...

I second Kyle. Lets hear more. Surely there's got to be all sorts of things in China to be furious about!

kyle schafer said...

Speaking of liberals and the Times . . . What do you think about the Times' series on class?