Double Standards in Modern Politics
1. Double standards in the European Union:
1.1 Big Sharks bullies Fish
1.2 UN vs Israel
1.3 International law
2. US double standards:
2.1 Double standards at home and abroad
2.2 American exceptionalism and common criticism
One of the Noam Chomsky’s books is opened with a well-known story told
by St. Augustine about a pirate captured by Alexander the Great who
asked him: “How dare you molest the sea?” The pirate in return, relied:
“How dare y o u molest the whole world? Because I do it with a little
ship only, I am called a thief; you doing the same thing with the great
navy are called an Emperor”.
Since the time this story took place a lot of time has passed. Yet the
double standards are still applied to the same actions taken by
different people. The term double standard, coined in 1912, refers to
any set of principles containing different provisions for one group of
people than for another, typically without a good reason for having said
difference. A double standard may take the form of an instance in which
certain applications (often of a word or phrase) are perceived as
acceptable to be used by one group of people, but are considered
unacceptable—taboo—when used by another group.
A double standard, thus, can be described as a sort of biased, morally
unfair suspension (toward a certain group) of the principle that all are
equal in their freedoms. Such double standards are seen as unjustified
because they violate a basic maxim of modern legal jurisprudence: that
all parties should stand equal before the law. Double standards also
violate the principle of justice known as impartiality, which is based
on the assumption that the same standards should be applied to all
people, without regard to subjective bias or favoritism based on social
class, rank, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other
distinction. A double standard violates this principle by holding
different people accountable according to different standards. The
proverb “life is not fair” is often invoked in order to mollify concerns
over double standards.
The term can be applied to politics as well. The Emperors and the
Pirates still exist, they still “molest the sea” and as well as many
years ago their actions are treated in different ways.
1. Double standards in the European Union: Big Sharks bullies Fish
Sometimes in the press there spring up the statements that Brussels
bullies smaller member states but is often feeble towards the big ones
EU bossiness from far away Belgium will be easy to endure by comparison.
But “corruption” is a complaint which dogs the new EU Bulgaria (Romania
too), so it is no surprise to hear today that Brussels is threatening to
suspend financial aid and retain travel restrictions on work-seekers
unless Sofia does more to crack down on organised crime and other forms
of corruption. The promised reforms of the judiciary are also bogged
Bulgaria is the EU’s poorest member which is counting on 7bn worth of
euros ( F5bn-plus) to aid structural reform over the next five years,
though a major road project linking the Black Sea coast to Serbia
collapsed last month, according to the FT. The socialist-led government
faces a no-confidence motion today.
So it’s not hard to feel a bit sorry for the poor Bulgarians as they
grapple with modernisation, evidently less well placed than several
other recent EU entrants from the ex-Soviet bloc.
Doubly so, I think, because the EU admonition reflects a recurring habit
whereby the European commission bullies smaller member states – but
rarely the big ones.
Do you remember the fuss made when Joeorg Haider’s far right Freedom
party – always dubbed neo-nazi in media-speak – made serious gains in
the Austrian elections and nearly joined the coalition in Vienna in
Fourteen member states, admittedly not the EU formally, piled in to
condemn Austrians, as if Haider had burned down the Reichstag.
The Portuguese and the Irish have been hammered over breaches of the
eurozone’s debt rules. The Danes and Irish were bullied over the “wrong”
referendum results – and President Sarko was in Dublin the other day
arm-twisting over the latest “No” to the Lisbon treaty.
Yet I’m stuck to remember the last time the French or German governments
got threatened from Brussels – a city occupied many times by French and
German armies – or the Italians got seriously hammered over its own
That has certainly eaten up a lot of EU aid south of Rome: you can see
it in those half-finished motorways which come to an abrupt end (no more
cash) in the middle of some Sicilian field.
Yes, I know, realpolitik requires a realistic approach to French
breaches of European law or takeover rules – when did you last trying
buying a French utility company? – over which there is a long list of
charges dating back many years.
In Britain we not only take these rules rather literally, we gold-plate
them in their domestic enactment. Health n’ Safety is not something you
will spot too much of in a French country market this summer.
Come to think of it, when Jean-Marie Le Pen got into the French
presidential run-off against Chirac – a pretty disgraceful development –
there was an embarrassed official silence.
In short, if Brussels is often feeble towards the EU big boys, wagging
its stern, bureaucratic and pompous finger at the little boys looks like
1.2 UN vs Israel
The relationship between Europe and Israel is complex, tense, and
historically loaded. A growing gap has developed between their political
outlooks. European political actions can continue to cause Israel so
many problems and harms that these in the longer run may increasingly
dominate all other aspects of the relationship.
One strong gauge of Europe’s negative political attitude toward Israel
is its voting record in the United Nations. Another is the frequent
condemnations of Israel from Brussels. A third is the financing the EU
has provided for a variety of activities directed against Israel. France
has been in the forefront of many European anti-Israeli initiatives.
The mood created by the political leaders of European countries toward
Israeli government officials often permeates their societies. Their
discriminatory attitudes are enhanced by many media, NGOs, and some
churches. These factors together help build an anti-Israeli atmosphere
in large parts of European society, which is expressed in opinion polls.
This is often accompanied by anti-Semitic positions.
The relationship between Europe and Israel is complex, tense, and
historically loaded. An increasing gap has developed between their
political outlooks. At the same time, relations in areas such as trade,
science, culture, and sport have continued to expand over the decades
and have only been affected by the political divergences to some extent.
It is frequently claimed that when assessing European-Israeli relations,
one has to attempt to establish an average of the interactions in the
various fields. To consider this a balanced approach is mistaken.
European political actions can continue to cause Israel so many problems
and harms that these in the longer run may increasingly dominate all
other aspects of the relationship.
The European Union (EU) consists of twenty-five states with a population
of 460 million covering a territory of about 3.9 million square
kilometers. Israel is a small country – covering a territory far less
than one-hundredth of the EU’s size – with a population of six million,
partly surrounded by mortal enemies. Europe and Israel are not
comparable entities. In view of the imbalance in power, populations, and
geographic size of the two areas, an analysis must focus primarily on
the much larger European side.
When looking for telling pointers in such a complex relationship, often
a useful shortcut is to identify extreme attitudes. In turbulent times
these become indicators of how Europe’s attitude toward Israel may
evolve if the world political situation deteriorates.
Analyzing extreme European attitudes is meaningful for another reason as
well. It was against the Jews that Europe reached its absolute low of
barbarian behavior in the twentieth century. Although Europe’s current
worldview is very remote from that of the 1930s, still there are several
disquieting similarities with the demonizing of the Jews – mainly by
Germans but also by others – before the Second World War. The focus of
the defamation has shifted from the individual Jew to Israel, the Jewish
In the 1930s there were many Jews who closed their eyes, not wanting to
see the signs of the times. In a large universe of events one can always
find some positive pointers. Looking for those, while the power of
Germany’s Hitler regime was increasing, one could have cited the fact
that in 1936 for the first time a Jew, the socialist Leon Blum, became
prime minister of France. In 1939, Lodewijk Visser was appointed the
first Jewish president of the Dutch Supreme Court.
These events could have been interpreted as signals of a greater
acceptance of Jews even in the highest positions in various European
countries. These, however, were irrelevant in the broad framework of the
overall deterioration of the Jews’ status in Europe.
Bayefsky stresses the relationship between anti-Israeli bias and the
European desire to avoid condemning world anti-Semitism, which mainly
means its high Muslim and Arab component.
One example of this occurred at the 2003 General Assembly. The issue
arose of including the word “anti-Semitism” in a resolution on religious
intolerance in a preamble. Ireland, which had been the lead state on the
subject of religious intolerance for many years, was determined to keep
mention of anti-Semitism out.
So Israel decided that it would move an amendment to add it from the
floor. The Irish were unnerved. Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and
Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom made a deal that Israel would
withdraw its threatened amendment to the resolution on religious
intolerance. In exchange Ireland would introduce for the first time in
UN history a resolution on anti-Semitism.
Israel was delighted by the prospect. The Irish delegation sat on the
third committee, waited for the resolution on religious intolerance to
pass through the committee without the mention of anti-Semitism. Then
they withdrew their promised resolution on anti-Semitism. Their excuse
was the lack of consensus. Among others, Ireland went to the Iranians
for their support. They afterwards claimed that they were surprised at
the opposition. To sum it up: there was no resolution on anti-Semitism.
The mood created by the political leaders of European countries toward
Israeli government officials often permeates their societies. The EU’s
mindset and discriminatory attitude toward Israel is also manifested by
various European ambassadors. It is unlikely that some of their
statements would be tolerated concerning any other democratic country.
One of the most publicized scandals involved the former French
ambassador to the UK, the late Daniel Bernard. At the dinner table in
the home of then Daily Telegraph owner Lord Black, he said Israel was a
“shitty little country” that had triggered the international security
crisis. Bernard’s remark was typical of the new anti-Semitism, in which
Israel has taken the place of the Jews as the scapegoat for the world’s
Black’s wife, journalist Barbara Amiel who is Jewish, quoted her guest
without giving his name or the country he represented in a Daily
Telegraph column. It did not take long until other papers revealed who
Israel’s undiplomatic detractor was.
Bernard’s subsequent reaction gave even clearer insight into his
mindset. Initially the press secretary at the French embassy said that
the ambassador did not remember if he had used those words. Thereafter
Bernard insisted that what he had said had been thoroughly distorted. It
was reported that he – rather than addressing his own anti-Semitism –
was outraged “that a private discussion found its way into the media.”
Zvi Shtauber, former Israeli ambassador to the UK, relates that Bernard
came to the Israeli embassy afterward to apologize though publicly he
had denied that he would do so.
The foregoing describes Europe’s double standards toward Israel and what
they have caused. One has to assess as well what should have separated
Israel and Europe objectively. Only a few indicative remarks can be
To do so one has to define Europe’s characteristics, policies, and
worldviews. For Israeli strategy expert Yehezkel Dror, Europe is
characterized by its focus on citizens’ welfare and neglect of security
risks. It is busy with current issues but does not devote adequate
attention to the long-term future.
For Trigano, the EU’s ambitions mainly create associations with the
Napoleonic Empire because of its bureaucratic political character. He
points out that every empire needs an enemy, and Europe defines itself
in opposition to the policies of the nationalist American state.
Andrei Markovits, a political scientist at the University of Michigan,
says: “Nobody knows what it means to be a European. It is unclear what
Greeks and Swedes have in common. But one important characteristic they
share is their not being American.” He also observes that
anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the only major icons shared by
the European extreme Left and Right, including neo- Nazis.
The rejection of its proposed constitution by the populations of France
and The Netherlands in spring 2005 has created some uncertainty about
the direction the European Union may take. It is telling mainly in
regard to the EU’s worldview that many observers consider that a crisis
in a democratic entity such as the EU may be advantageous for another
democracy, Israel. This author summed it up by saying: “While past EU
policies have been heavily biased against Israel, as it enters a period
of disarray, EU policies may become less threatening to Israel.”
1.3 International Law
The International Court of Justice
The United Nations plays an important role in the establishment of
international law. Israel is confronted with many new issues where
international law falls dramatically short in meeting reality. In this
area as well, Israel has become an indicator of the failures of Western
Yehuda Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, says that some
fields of international law have greatly assisted society at large. He
mentions as examples the law of diplomatic relations, the Law of the
Sea, and the Law of Treaties. Blum adds:
One field where international law has failed in recent years is where it
relates to the use of force. Its main weakness concerns the law of war,
belligerent occupation, and so forth. Since these are usually acute
problems, they highlight contemporary international law’s weakness.
Another major failure of international law is to cope with the recent
international terrorism. International law is premised on the existence
of states, which are bound by its norms. In this particular case, we are
confronted with a different phenomenon: armed groups perpetrating many
crimes without any state taking responsibility for their actions.
There is often no possibility to hold any particular state accountable
for these actions. Al-Qaeda is like an octopus, which has spread its
tentacles all over the world. It was headquartered in Afghanistan where
it has been disposed of. International law has been unable to develop
the necessary adjustments to this novel situation.
Blum adds that for many decades the Europeans have been unwilling to
confront the new reality of terrorism. “It started with hijacking of
planes and the kidnapping of their passengers in 1969. At that time
because it was an El Al airliner, there was little concern among the
Europeans about the outcome.” He adds that Israel has been at odds with
Europe on matters concerning international law for several decades. “I
think that the major sticking point in our relationship with the
Europeans is their lack of ability or willingness to understand the
perils of the current situation.”
Two Types of International Law
International lawyer Meir Rosenne, former Israeli ambassador to the
United States and France, expresses an even stronger opinion: “There are
two types of international law. One is applied to Israel, the other to
all other states. This comes to the fore when one looks at the way
Israel is treated in international institutions.”
One finds this attitude also in many aspects of customary practice. In
2004 at the Athens Olympics the International Olympic Committee did not
commemorate the murder of the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich
Olympics. A private ceremony of the Israeli ambassador to Greece in
Athens was all there was. The president of the Olympic Committee
attended, but not the Olympic Committee as such. And this was their
attitude despite what happened on September 11, 2001.
Rosenne mentions as a typical example of international law’s double
standards the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on
the Israeli security fence. “In its judgment the Hague court decided
that the inherent right of self-defense is enforced only if one is
confronted by a state. If this were true, that would mean that whatever
the United States undertakes against Al-Qaeda is illegal. This cannot be
considered self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter because
Al-Qaeda is not a state.”
2. US double standards at home and abroad
2.1 Double standards at home and abroad
The Bush administration is attempting to soothe the Turkish government’s
apoplectic reaction to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s label of
“genocide” on Turkey’s slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, which
occurred almost a century ago. The administration fears that an enraged
Turkish ally, already threatening to invade northern Iraq in order to
suppress armed Turkish Kurd rebels seeking refuge there, will also cut
off U.S. access to Turkish air bases and roads used to re-supply U.S.
forces in Iraq. The administration essentially wants to allow the Turks
to continue to deny a historical fact that preceded even the existence
of the current Turkish system of government.
Similarly, the United States has never been too enthusiastic about
criticizing Japan’s denial of having used Chinese and South Korean women
as sex slaves (so-called “comfort women”) during World War II. More
generally, the United States never really says too much when the current
Japanese government regularly tries to whitewash in school textbooks the
atrocious conduct of the Imperial Japanese regime before and during
World War II. Again, a principal ally who does not face up to important
historical facts is not reproved.
Yet the administration is still repeatedly bringing up Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s December, 2005 denial of the historical fact of
the Jewish holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. That’s because the U.S.
government chooses to get along a lot less with the Iranian government
(than it does with the governments of Turkey and Japan); because Israel,
Iran’s nemesis, is a U.S. ally; and because the administration can win
points with its domestic Israeli lobby.
In the same vein, the administration is supposed to be supporting the
expansion of democracy overseas—that’s why the United States invaded
Iraq, right?—but does so only in less friendly countries, not close
allies. The United States has pressured weaker Arab countries near
Israel to hold elections and make democratic reforms, for example, among
the Palestinians and Lebanese, but it has not pressured Israel to remove
the second-class citizenship of the Arab population living within its
borders. The administration has aided opposition forces in Iran, even
though the groups don’t want the support, while making only half-hearted
attempts to democratize its autocratic allies in Pakistan, Egypt, and
Saudi Arabia. Of course, the United States doesn’t really need to coddle
despotic regimes just to win their lukewarm support for the “war on
terror,” their promise not to attack Israel, or their agreement to pump
oil which their own economic interest would cause them to sell on the
world market anyway. But neither does it need to meddle in the internal
affairs of adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.
But if the United States were to have the same standard for all
countries—both friend and foe—and join the international community in
identifying and strongly condemning all documented cases of genocide,
other war crimes, and repressive behavior by all countries, then perhaps
there would be a chance that history might not be repeated.
First though, the United States needs to clean up its own act. Other
countries may have acted terribly in the past, but U.S. citizens should
not be blinded to the sins of their own government. Since World War II,
in terms of numbers of military adventures, the United States has been
the most aggressive country in the world. And many such interventions
cannot be blamed on the need to combat international communism. Even
after the United States’ major foe—the Soviet Union—collapsed, the U.S.
expanded its informal empire and stepped up military activities across
the globe. The United States bombed Serbia and Kosovo; invaded Panama,
Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice); and intervened in Somalia, Haiti, and
Bosnia. Furthermore, the United States has kidnapped people and
illegally rendered them to secret prisons in countries where torture is
perpetrated, or simply had the CIA or U.S. military do the honors. These
prisoners have been denied both the rights of prisoners of war and the
rights of the accused that the U.S. Constitution guarantees—for example,
their right to challenge detention using a writ of Habeas Corpus. It’s
likely that a substantial portion of these inmates are innocent.
If the United States is going to criticize other countries’ behavior,
both historical and current, it should eliminate the double standard at
home and abroad, and clean up its own act first.
2.2 American exceptionalism and common criticism
American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States occupies a
special niche among the nations of the worldin terms of its national
credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions and
unique origins. The roots of the belief are attributed to Alexis de
Tocqueville, who claimed that the then-50-year-old United States held a
special place among nations, because it was a country of immigrants and
the first modern democracy.
The theory of American exceptionalism has a number of opponents,
especially from the Left, who argue that the belief is “self-serving and
jingoistic” (see slavery, civil rights and social welfare issues,
“Western betrayal”, and the failure to aid Jews fleeing the Nazis), that
it is based on a myth, and that “[t]here is a growing refusal to accept”
the idea of exceptionalism both nationally and internationally.
Criticism of United States foreign policy encompasses a wide range of
sentiments about its actions and policies over time.
· Support of dictatorships. The US has been criticized for supporting
dictatorships with economic assistance and military hardware. Particular
dictatorships have included Musharraf of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran,
Museveni of Uganda, the Saudi Royal family, Maoist regimes in
China,warlords in Somalia, President Museveni of Uganda.
· Opposition to independent nationalism. The US has been criticized by
Noam Chomsky for opposing nationalist movements in foreign countries,
including social reform.
· Interference in internal affairs. The United States was criticized for
manipulating the internal affairs of foreign nations, including
Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, various countries in Africa including
· Support of Israel. The US has been accused of condoning actions by
Israel against Palestinians.
· Democracy promotion. Some critics argue that America’s policy of
advocating democracy may be ineffective and even counterproductive. In
World On Fire, Yale professor Amy Chua suggested that promotion of
democracy in developing countries is not always a good idea since it may
result in breeding ethnic hatred and global instability. Zbigniew
Brzezinski declared that “[t]he coming to power of Hamas is a very good
example of excessive pressure for democratization” and argued that
George W. Bush’s attempts to use democracy as an instrument against
terrorism were risky and dangerous. Analyst Jessica Tuchman Mathews of
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agreed that imposing
democracy “from scratch” was unwise, and didn’t work. Realist critics
such as George F. Kennan argued U.S. responsibility is only to protect
its own citizens and that Washington should deal with other governments
on that basis alone; they criticize president Woodrow Wilson’s emphasis
on democratization and nation-building although it wasn’t mentioned in
Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the failure of the League of Nations to
enforce international will regarding Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and
Imperial Japan in the 1930s. Realist critics attacked the idealism of
Wilson as being ill-suited for weak states created at the Paris Peace
Conference. Others, however, criticize the U.S. Senate’s decision not to
join the League of Nations which was based on isolationist public
sentiment as being one cause for the organization’s ineffectiveness.
· Imperialism. According to Newsweek reporter Fareed Zakaria, the
Washington establishment has “gotten comfortable with the exercise of
American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as
appeasement” and added “This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial
policy.” Allies were critical of a unilateral sensibility to US foreign
policy, and showed displeasure by voting against the US in the United
Nations in 2001.
· Hypocrisy. The US has been criticized for making statements supporting
peace and respecting national sovereignty, but military actions such as
in Grenada, fomenting a civil war in Colombia to break off Panama, and
Iraq run counter to its assertions. The US has advocated free trade but
protects local industries with import tariffs on foreign goods such as
lumber and agricultural products. The US has advocated concern for human
rights but refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The US has publicly stated that it is opposed to torture, but has been
criticized for condoning it in the School of the Americas. The US has
advocated a respect for national sovereignty but supports internal
guerrilla movements and paramilitary organizations, such as the Contras
in Nicaragua.The US has been criticized for voicing concern about
narcotics production in countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela but
doesn’t follow through on cutting certain bilateral aid programs. The US
has been criticized for not maintaining a consistent policy; it has been
accused of denouncing human rights abuses in China while supporting
rights violations by Israel. However, some defenders argue that a policy
of rhetoric while doing things counter to the rhetoric was necessary in
the sense of realpolitik and helped secure victory against the dangers
of tyranny and totalitarianism. Another agrees.
· Undermining of human rights. President Bush has been criticized for
neglecting democracy and human rights by focusing exclusively on an
effort to fight terrorism. The US was criticized for alleged prisoner
abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, secret CIA prisons in
eastern Europe, according to Amnesty International. In response, the US
government claimed incidents of abuse were isolated incidents which did
not reflect U.S. policy.
· American exceptionalism. There is a sense in which America sometimes
sees itself as qualitatively different from other countries and
therefore cannot be judged by the same standard as other countries; this
sense is sometimes termed American exceptionalism. A writer in Time
Magazine in 1971 described American exceptionalism as “an almost
mystical sense that America had a mission to spread freedom and
democracy everywhere.” American exceptionalism is sometimes linked with
hypocrisy; for example, the US keeps a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons
while urging other nations not to get them, and justifies that it can
make an exception to a policy of non-proliferation. When the United
States didn’t support an environmental treaty made by many nations in
Kyoto or treaties made concerning the Geneva Convention, then critics
saw American exceptionalism as counterproductive.
· Arrogance. Some critics have thought the United States became
arrogant, particularly after its victory in World War II. Critics such
as Andrew Bacevich call on America to have a foreign policy “rooted in
humility and realism.” Foreign policy experts such as Zbigniew
Brzezinski counsel a policy of self-restraint and not pressing every
advantage, and listening to other nations. A government official called
the US policy in Iraq “arrogant and stupid,” according to one report.
· Excessive militarism. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. criticized
excessive U.S. spending on military projects. and suggested a linkage
between its foreign policy abroad and racism at home. Even in 1971, a
Time Magazine essayist wondered why there were 375 major foreign
military bases around the world with 3,000 lesser military facilities
and concluded “there is no question that the U.S. today has too many
troops scattered about in too many places.” In a 2010 defense report,
Cordesman criticized out-of-control military spending. Expenditures to
fight the War on Terror are vast and seem limitless. The Iraq war was
expensive and continues to be a severe drain on U.S. finances. Bacevich
thinks the U.S. has a tendency to resort to military means to try to
solve diplomatic problems. The Vietnam War was a costly, decade-long
military engagement which ended in defeat, and the mainstream view today
is that the entire war was a mistake. The dollar cost was $111 billion,
or $698 billion in 2009 dollars. Similarly, the second Iraq war is
viewed by many as being a mistake, since there were no weapons of mass
destruction found, and the war continues today.
· International law violations. Some critics assert the US doesn’t
always follow international law. For example, some critics assert the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not a proper response to an imminent
threat, but an act of aggression which violated international law. For
example, Benjamin Ferencz, a chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at
Nuremberg said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with
Saddam Hussein for starting aggressive wars—Saddam for his 1990 attack
on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq. Critics point out that
the United Nations Charter, ratified by the U.S., prohibits members from
using force against fellow members except against imminent attack or
pursuant to an explicit Security Council authorization. A professor of
international law asserted there was no authorization from the UN
Security Council which made the invasion “a crime against the peace.”
However, US defenders argue there was such an authorization according to
UN Security Council Resolution 1441.
· Commitment to foreign aid. Some critics charge that U.S. government
aid should be higher given the high levels of Gross domestic product.
They claim other countries give more money on a per capita basis,
including both government and charitable contributions. By one index
which ranked charitable giving as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranked
21 of 22 OECD countries by giving 0.17% of GDP to overseas aid, and
compared the U.S. to Sweden which gave 1.03% of its GDP, according to
different estimates. The U.S. pledged 0.7% of GDP at a global conference
in Mexico. According to one estimate, U.S. overseas aid fell 16% from
2005 to 2006. However, since the US grants tax breaks to nonprofits, it
subsidizes relief efforts abroad, although other nations also subsidize
charitable activity abroad. Most foreign aid (79%) came not from
government sources but from private foundations, corporations, voluntary
organizations, universities, religious organizations and individuals.
According to the Index of Global Philanthropy, the United States is the
top donor in absolute amounts.
· Environmental policy. The Kyoto Protocol treaty was an effort by many
nations to tackle environmental problems, but the U.S. was criticized
for failing to support this effort in 1997.The U.S. has been criticized
for failure to support the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Critics charge that savvy dictators such as Uganda’s president Yoweri
Museveni have manipulated U.S. foreign policy by appealing to its need
to fight terrorism. Others suggest U.S. should adopt a policy of
realpolitik and work with any type of government who can be helpful.
· Other criticisms. The U.S. has been criticized for its historical
treatment of native Americans. For example, the treatment of Cherokee
Indians in the Trail of Tears in which hundreds of Indians died in a
forced evacuation from their homes in the southeastern area, along with
massacres, displacement of lands, swindles, and breaking treaties. It
has been criticized for the war with Mexico in the 1840s which some see
as a theft of land. It was the first and only nation to use a nuclear
bomb in wartime. It failed to admit Jews fleeing persecution from Europe
at the beginning of World War II, as well as immoral policy for the
· Lack of vision. Brzezinski criticized the Clinton presidency as having
a foreign policy which lacked “discipline and passion” and subjected the
U.S. to “eight years of drift.” The short-term election cycle coupled
with the inability to stick with long term decisions motivates
presidents to focus on acts which will appease the citizenry and avoid
difficult long-term choices.
· Presidency is over-burdened. Presidents have not only foreign policy
responsibilities, but sizeable domestic duties too. In addition, the
presidency is the head of a political party. As a result, it is tough
for one person to manage disparate tasks, in one view. Critics suggest
Reagan was overburdened, which prevented him from doing a good job of
oversight regarding the Iran–Contra affair. Brzezinski suggested in
Foreign Affairs that President Obama is similarly overburdened. Some
suggest a need for permanent non-partisan advisers.
· Dollars drive foreign policy. There are indications that decisions to
go to war in Iraq were motivated by oil interests; for example, a
British newspaper The Independent reported that the “Bush administration
is heavily involved in writing Iraq’s oil law” which would “allow
Western oil companies contracts of up to 30 years to pump oil out of
Iraq, and the profits would be tax-free.” Whether motivated by oil or
not, U.S. policy appears to much of the Arab world to have been
motivated by oil. Some critics assert the U.S. decision to build the
Panama Canal was motivated largely by business interests despite claims
that it’s motivated to “spread democracy” and “end oppression.” Andrew
Bacevich suggests policy is directed by “wealthy individuals and
institutions.” Some critics say U.S. foreign policy does reflect the
will of the people, but blames the people for having a “consumerist
mentality” which causes problems. In 1893, a decision to back a plot to
overthrow the rulership of Hawaii by president Harrison was motivated by
business interests in an effort to prevent a proposed tariff increase on
sugar; Hawaii became a state afterwards. There was speculation that the
Spanish-American War in 1898 between the U.S. and Spain was motivated by
business interests in Cuba.
· Presidents may lack experience. Since the constitution requires no
prior experience in diplomacy, government, or military service, it is
possible to elect presidents with scant foreign policy experience.
Clearly the record of past presidents confirms this, and that presidents
who have had extensive diplomatic, military, and foreign policy
experience have been the exception, not the rule. In recent years,
presidents had relatively more experience in such tasks as peanut
farming, acting and governing governorships than in international
affairs. It has been debated whether voters are sufficiently skillful to
assess the foreign policy potential of presidential candidates, since
foreign policy experience is only one of a long list of attributes in
which voters tend to select candidates. The second Bush was criticized
for inexperience in the Washington Post for being “not versed in
international relations and not too much interested.”
· Presidency has too much authority. In contrast to criticisms that
presidential attention is divided into competing tasks, some critics
charge that presidents have too much power, and that there is the
potential for tyranny or fascism. Some presidents circumvented the
national security decision-making process. Critics such as Dana D.
Nelson of Vanderbilt in her book Bad for Democracy and columnist David
Sirotaand Texas law professor Sanford Levinsonsee a danger in too much
· Difficulty removing an incompetent president. Since the only way to
remove an incompetent president is with the rather difficult policy of
impeachment, it is possible for a marginally competent or incompetent
president to stay in office for four to eight years and cause great
mischief. In recent years, there has been great attention to this issue
given the presidency of George W. Bush, but there have been questions
raised about the competency of Jimmy Carter in his handling of the Iran
hostage crisis. Ironically, a president who was arguably the most
skillful in foreign policy, Richard M. Nixon, was impeached, but for
offenses linked with domestic politics.
· President may be incompetent. The presidency of George W. Bush has
been attacked by numerous critics from both parties as being
particularly incompetent, short-sighted, unthinking, and partisan.
Bush’s decision to launch the second Iraq War was criticized
extensively; writer John Le Carre criticized it as a “hare-brained
adventure.” He was also criticized for advocating a policy of exporting
democracy. Brzezinski described Bush’s foreign policy as “a historical
failure.” Bush was criticized for being too secret regarding foreign
policy and having a cabal subvert the proper foreign policy bureaucracy.
Other presidents, too, were criticized. The foreign policy of George H.
W. Bush was lackluster, and while he was a “superb crisis manager,” he
“missed the opportunity to leave a lasting imprint on U.S. foreign
policy because he was not a strategic visionary,” according to
Brzezinski. He stopped the first Iraq War too soon without finishing the
task of capturing Saddam Hussein. Foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger
criticized Jimmy Carter for numerous foreign policy mistakes including a
decision to admit the ailing Shah of Iran into the United States for
medical treatment, as well as a bungled military mission to try to
rescue the hostages in Teheran. Carter waffled from being “both too
tough and too soft at the same time.”
· Congress excluded from foreign policy. Critic Robert McMahon thinks
Congress has been excluded from foreign policy decision making, and that
this is detrimental. Other writers suggest a need for greater
· Lack of control over foreign policy. During the early 1800s, general
Andrew Jackson exceeded his authority on numerous times and attacked
American Indian tribes as well as invaded the Spanish territory of
Florida without official government permission. Jackson was not
reprimanded or punished for exceeding his authority. Some accounts blame
newspaper journalism called yellow journalism for whipping up virulent
pro-war sentiment to help instigate the Spanish-American War. Some
critics suggest foreign policy is manipulated by lobbies, such as the
pro-Israel lobby, although there is disagreement about the influence of
such lobbies. Nevertheless, Brzezinski wants stricter anti-lobbying
· Alienating allies. There is evidence that many U.S. allies have been
alienated by a unilateral approach. Allies signaled dissatisfaction with
U.S. policy in a vote at the U.N. Brzezinski counsels listening to
allies and exercising self-restraint.
· U.S. foreign policy manipulated by external forces. A Washington Post
reporter wrote that “several less-than-democratic African leaders have
skillfully played the anti-terrorism card to earn a relationship with
the United States that has helped keep them in power” and suggested, in
effect, that foreign dictators could manipulate U.S. policy for their
own benefit. It is possible for foreign governments to channel money
through PACs to buy influence in Congress.
· Ineffective public relations. One report suggests that news source
Al-jazeera routinely paints the U.S. as evil throughout the Mideast.
Other critics have faulted the U.S. public relations effort.As a result
of faulty policy and lackluster public relations, the U.S. has a severe
image problem in the Mideast, according to Anthony Cordesman. Analyst
Mathews said that it appears to much of the Arab world that we went to
war in Iraq for oil, whether we did or not. In a 2007 poll by BBC News
asking which countries are seen as having a “negative influence in the
world,” the survey found that Israel, Iran, United States and North
Korea had the most negative influence, while nations such as Canada,
Japan and the European Union had the most positive influence.
· Ineffective prosecution of war. Amy Chua thinks the Iraq war has been
managed inefficiently, with wasteful spending. One estimate is that the
second Iraq War along with the so-called War on Terror cost $551
billion, or $597 billion in 2009 dollars. Boston University professor
Andrew Bacevich has criticized American profligacy and squandering its
wealth. There have been historical criticisms of U.S. warmaking
capability; in the War of 1812, the U.S. was unable to conquer Canada
despite several attempts and having superior resources; the U.S. Capitol
was burned and the settlement ending the war did not bring any major
concessions from the British.
· Problem areas festering. Critics point to a list of countries or
regions where continuing foreign policy problems continue to present
problems. These areas include South America, including Ecuador,
Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil. There are difficulties with
Central American nations such as Honduras. Iraq has continuing troubles.
Iran, as well, presents problems with nuclear proliferation. Pakistan is
unstable, there is active conflict in Afghanistan. The Mideast in
general continues to fester, although relations with India are
improving. Policy towards Russia remains uncertain. China presents an
economic challenge. There are difficulties in other regions too. In
addition, there are problems not confined to particular regions, but
regarding new technologies. Cyberspace is a constantly changing
technological area with foreign policy repercussions. Climate change is
an unresolved foreign policy issue, particularly depending on whether
nations can agree to work together to limit possible future risks.
· Ineffective strategy to fight terrorism. Critic Cordesman criticized
U.S. strategy to combat terrorism as not having enough emphasis on
getting Islamic republics to fight terrorism themselves. Sometimes
visitors have been misidentified as “terrorists.” Mathews suggests the
risk of nuclear terrorism remains unprevented.
· Historical instances of ineffective policies. Generally during the
nineteenth century, and in early parts of the twentieth century, the
U.S. pursued a policy of isolationism and generally avoided
entanglements with European powers. After World War I, Time Magazine
writer John L. Steele thought the U.S. tried to return to an
isolationist stance, but that this was unproductive. He wrote: “The
anti-internationalist movement reached a peak of influence in the years
just before World War II.” But Steele questioned whether this policy was
effective; regardless, isolationism ended quickly after the surprise
attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Analysts have wondered whether the U.S.
pursued the correct strategy with Japan before World War II; by denying
Japan access to precious raw materials, it is possible that U.S. policy
triggered the surprise attack and, as a result, the U.S. had to fight a
two-front war in both the Far East as well as Europe during World War
II. While it may be the case that the Mideast is a difficult region with
no easy solutions to avoiding conflict, since this volatile region is at
the junction of three continents; still, many analysts think U.S. policy
could have been improved substantially. The U.S. waffled; there was no
vision; presidents kept changing policy. Public opinion in different
regions of the world thinks that, to some extent, the 9/11 attacks were
an outgrowth of substandard U.S. policy towards the region. The Vietnam
War was a decade-long mistake.
1. “Europe and Hizbullah,” Jerusalem Post, 15 February 2005. 2. Manfred
Gerstenfeld, interview with Dore Gold, “Europe’s Consistent Anti-Israeli
Bias at the United Nations,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 34, 1
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