The Danger of Cultural Relativism in our Foreign Policy

Conservative, Politics

Much is being made of the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran, warning them that any agreement reached with President Obama is not guaranteed to last past 2016, when there will be a new president in the White House. Some question the legality of this move, others its wisdom and what precedent it might set for future diplomatic negotiations with the United States. There is even a petition at whitehouse.gov calling for criminal charges against the 47, accompanied by cries of treason and claims of an “unprecedented breach of protocol.” Now, regardless of how blatantly false, mendacious, and misguided these claims are, they neglect a far more important and politically far less expedient point: what those who support the President in this endeavor to sign an agreement with Iran are missing is the absolute and utter irrationality of such a deal.

Fundamentally – for anyone to advocate a formal agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, one has to have faith that Iran will actually comply with the agreement. Given its history of failing to do so, what makes anyone think this time will be different? What, then, is the point of such an agreement? If you have that confidence in Iran, you’re not only kidding yourself, but you’re also putting millions of lives at risk (unless the goal is to lure them into some false sense of security and then catch them “red-handed”).

Others argue that “Iran has every right to nuclear capability” and ask, “who are we to deny them this right?” At its vey core, such a statement is rooted in a cultural relativist worldview. In other words, one has to wholeheartedly believe that nothing separates Iran from the United States, that our differences are merely “matters of perspective,” and that we, as the United States, “have no right to deny them” nuclear power or nuclear weapons. It is a worldview, a belief system that completely abdicates any notion of right or wrong and chalks up all such characterizations to “difference” and mere matters of opinion.

But if you live in the real world, you will realize that Iran is an unadulterated evil. Its leaders are hateful, cruel, and ruthless madmen who have repeatedly expressed their desire and intentions to exterminate both Israel, the United States, and all the Jews of the world. It is a state riddled with absolute contempt for the West. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to posit that many of its people feel similarly. Iran is dangerous and simply has not proven itself to be a reasonable, responsible, peace-seeking member of the global community. This is why Iran does not have any sort of “right” to nuclear weapons.

What makes us different –  what makes us deserving of having nuclear power? Our civility, our common sense, our compassion,  our preference for peace, harmony, democracy as opposed to fanatical war and destruction, and our institutions and Constitutional foundation. It is impossible to equate these two sets of characteristics and it is because of this that Iran simply does not “deserve” to have nuclear weapons (of course, ideally, there would be no nuclear weapons at all in the world, but that’s utopian).

And finally, if my claim that the United States is deserving while Iran is not offends you and makes you want to cry out that we as a nation are merely “different,” I invite you to go live in one of these countries (Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, etc.) that is merely “different” from ours for a year and to report back to us how “different” those experiences of yours were.

Obama’s HUDdle on Campus

CRDaily

If you aren’t aware, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, graced our fair campus with his presence this afternoon. According to UNC’s Office of Federal Affairs (did anyone know we even had one of those?), the purpose of the visit was “to provide an opportunity for Carolina stakeholders to engage a member of the Obama Administration and to better understand some of their policies.” Sadly, the event resembled something closer to a campaign event (and a rather poor one at that).

In the Vicinity of Beijing's 4th Ring, or More Properly, What America Should be Shooting For

I think what was most disappointing was simply the quality of the questions students asked during the Q&A. The first one was “In your dealings with President Obama, what have you found to be his best quality?” And it was simply downhill from there. Now, if this man was addressing a group of third graders, that question might have been appropriate (maybe), but among a group of college students and academics it’s simply absurd. Consider the situation. Here you are, a college student (or professor, or whatever), with an opportunity to discuss anything, from the anemic job market, the depressed housing market, a rapidly nuclearizing Iran, a debt-to-GDP ratio north of 100%, or the impeding collapse of the post-World War II world order, and you essentially ask, “Why is the President soooooo awesome?” I think this little episode perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with American higher education today. Instead of thinking critically about events around it, the academy is so radically self-absorbed and out of touch and so obsessed with its own ideology, it’s simply laughable. Is this really all that the best and brightest of North Carolina is capable of? Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe some rogue from Duke snuck in, but it was kind of embarrassing.

Secretary Donovan, when he wasn’t answering inane questions from the audience, also did a fair amount of pontificating. Apparently, the administration is convinced that we can educate ourselves out of this recession. If only we spend (a lot) more on higher education and push as many people as we can through the system, we’ll all be happy again. Color me a skeptic, but the plan he described, where the federal government subsidizes education through new tax credits, etc., guarantees low-interest loans for all comers, and then requires those borrowers to make only bare minimum payments on those loans, seems awfully similar to American housing policy circa 2008 (which incidentally, HUD bears a lot of responsibility for). I suppose if the idea is to create a giant education bubble, such that when it pops, everyone forgets about the housing problem because the education bubble is so much bigger, then this is a great idea. But if the idea is to generate genuine economic growth, this is certainly not the way to go.

And what’s a State of the Union talk without some mention of trains? Aren’t those things amazing? If only we had more of them, those pesky Chinese wouldn’t even be able to touch us. Actually, the best part of the Secretary’s little speech was when he was talking about China’s impressive infrastructure and how the Chinese are just light-years ahead of us in this regard. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. If he did know what he was talking about, he would know that, even in the (very crowded and polluted) major cities (i.e. places like Beijing), you can’t drink the tap water or flush toilet paper because the sewer systems are so old and so out of date. He would also know that electricity is also a problem, and that you actually have to buy surge protectors to insulate your electronic goods from regular power surges. Indeed, even China’s much lauded trains aren’t much to write home about. When they’re not falling off bridges, many of China’s trains are (very) overcrowded, smelly, and generally a very hellish experience. And their highway system isn’t anywhere nearly as well developed as ours. Now, don’t get me wrong, China’s quite a charming place, but the U.S. is definitely winning the infrastructure game.

Shiny!

There was also a fair amount of green energy hype. The Secretary informed us that while there might be a few Solyndras along the way (who doesn’t mind a little government corruption after all), we can’t expect the government to make the right choice every time when it comes to deciding which business to support. This, of course, is the whole point! The government can’t make these decisions, because they are infinitely complicated and not something that some bureaucrat hiding in the basement of a federal building can make. Such choices are properly left to the market, which is a better evaluator  of risk and profit than the government will ever be. When the government tries to make these decisions, you end up with Solyndra. Solyndra isn’t merely a side effect of government intervention in the market, it is its natural conclusion.

All in all, this event was pretty disappointing. The questions were childish, and we got the same old, same old from the administration. It’s simply too bad that what could have been a really interesting event on the future direction of the country devolved into a Why Barack Obama is the Greatest Thing Since Baked Bread event.

Iran to China for Money, Now She’s Angry

CRDaily

One of my first blog posts was about the dangers in the Middle East and the likelihood that war could break out between Israel and her neighbors. I argued that this would be fundamentally different, and more dangerous, than previous wars that Israel has been involved in. Just to recap, I focused on the dangers of an Iran with growing nuclear potential and on Turkey’s break from the West, but I also mentioned that China would have a strategic interest in helping the Arab nations prolong such a war to increase its influence in the region, and decrease the influence of the United States.
Over the past week, there has been some movement on two of these fronts. Iran has heightened its feud with the more Western-friendly Saudis, and US-Chinese relations have been strained with passage of legislation that would allow punitive sanctions to be imposed on any country that manipulates the value of its currency, a move clearly aimed at the Chinese. Turkey has had no major activity in the region recently, except asking Iraq to crack down on Kurdish insurgents, so I will largely leave them out of this blog.
If you have not heard, members of the Iranian government allegedly sought to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Even if the actions were not approved by President Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah, such a bold and rash action is indicative of a regime high on its newfound status in the region. The Saudis have been the dominant military and economic power in the Islamic Middle East for decades, but the Iranians now can challenge them for hegemony. In terms of US interests and Israeli security, Saudi hegemony is imperative. The Saudis have never directly participated in the wars against Israel because of their economic ties to the pro-Israeli West, making their relative strength in the region of utmost importance to the US and Israel.
Contrastingly, the Iranians have had to turn to anti-Western nations, such as Russia and China for economic ties, since the West imposed economic sanctions on Iranian gas imports. They have no economic or political need to support peace with Israel; in fact, in order to please the religious fanatics that have strong factions within the Iranian government, a hegemonic Iran could very well call for “pushing Israel into the sea”, as it has in the past.
The escalating tensions with China are just as worrisome, however. After the Senate passed the sanctions on currency manipulators on Wednesday, talk of a trade war with China immediately arose. If this dispute were to escalate beyond the inevitable tit-for-tat punitive measures that they will try to impose on us, then it is very conceivable that they would take a more active role in escalating the situation in the Middle East. They know that we will feel the need to involve ourselves and that we will be sucked further into a prolonged conflict than we would like to be, so in the atmosphere of a trade war and strained relations with the US, the Chinese would be fools not to enflame unrest in the Middle East.
An alternative, and potentially more grave, scenario that could arise would be the Chinese trying to punish our protectionism by liquidating our debts to them in a manner that would tell other investors that the US is no longer considered a safe risk by her biggest foreign creditor. Even if this did not spark a bear market for American debt, it would significantly increase our interest rates and wound an economy that is barely limping along as it is. With such an economy, our influence in the Middle East would drop as quickly as our purchasing power, and we would be unable to effectively promote peace in the region, at which point the stability of the region would likely be determined by the victor of Saudi Arabia and Iran’s race for hegemony.
So, what course of action should we take to avoid such a scenario? Well, we must try to avoid a full blown trade war with China; we must try to inhibit Iran’s growing power in the region through diplomatic means; and we must make sure that if the worst case scenario does manifest, then Israel has the ability to adequately defend herself from invasion with as little aid from the US as possible. All these are good treatments for the symptoms of our illness, but the root cause is the irresponsible economic practices that we have domestically. If we had not run up a huge deficit, had it financed by unfriendly nation, prevented domestic oil drilling, or set up a system that rewarded the exportation of manufacturing jobs, then we would be in a much stronger situation today. The problems that we see today are all symptoms of a decade of irresponsible economic policies, but if we fix them in a truly capitalist fashion, then we will see the symptoms cured as well, in the long term.

Iran

CRDaily

By now, we all know the story. Iran’s leaders released statistically suspicious results to the latest presidential election and as a result the streets exploded in protest. The Iranian leadership had two options: Back down and hold new elections that would probably be won by the man they tried to stop, or assert their authority and probably kill a lot of people. They chose the latter. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared the results were a “divine assessment” and said they were final. In a great display of twisted logic, Khamenei asserted that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s large margin of victory was proof that the election was not rigged.

By drawing this line in the sand, Khamenei was casting the protesters not simply as the losing party, but as enemies of God himself. As a result, the situation escalated. Iran erupted in an explosion of pent-up rage against the regime. Protesters rioted in and clashed with government paramilitaries. People were gunned down in the streets. The death toll is still unclear, with numbers running between 19 and 150. A few days before, the cries in the streets were asking “where is my vote?” Last weekend, they were screaming “Death to Khamenei!”

The Iranian regime appeared weak, but predictions of an overthrow were premature. Protesters getting shot in the streets is nothing new in the Middle East. Power in the Middle Easts resides with the gun. Since the Supreme Leader was refusing to budge, the only way the protesters were going to get their way was if the military took their side. For a while, it was possible that this could happen. Rumors were flying that some Army officers were refusing orders to suppress the demonstrations. By relying on loyalist paramilitaries to suppress the protesters, Khameni bypassed a possible showdown with the military, which remained on the sidelines. Some protests continue, but they are not on the scale of hundreds of thousands that were seen last week. At the same time, the response by the authorities has gotten more and more violent.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s grip on power seems secure, for now. But Iran will never be the same. As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, the Supreme Leaders of Iran have always claimed divine sanction for their actions. Now, the people of Iran view these actions as wrong and Khamenei’s proclamations of divine guidance as false. The regime’s pillar of legitimacy – that the Supreme Leader has a special pipeline to the Almighty – is gone.

Historically, when a regime loses its ideological basis, its response is to govern by the gun, relying on fear alone to enforce obedience. Thus, the Iranian regime will likely move to destroy the last vestiges of Iranian democracy and replace Iran’s authoritarian regime with a totalitarian one.

This is already happening. Opposition leaders have been arrested, including family members of leading Guardian Council figures such as Ali Rafsanjani. Hundreds of others have been arrested. Four Iranian soccer players that wore green armbands in protest of the election received lifetime bans from Iranian soccer. Those who have been arrested will be tried before a special court created especially to make an example of them. The court is run by prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, a brutal regime apparatchik who in 2003 was involved in beating, torturing, raping and murdering Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi while she was in custody.

However, the clearest hallmark of Iran’s emerging status as a totalitarian state is the way the regime is beginning to take on an Orwellian sense of truth. George Orwell’s classic depiction of totalitarianism, 1984, describes a government which simply asserts whatever it wants to be true, and expects the people to believe it.  The Iranian government started down this road when they declared Ahmadinejad the landslide winner two hours after the polls closed. The foreign minister has claimed that the protests were orchestrated by British intelligence agents who flew into the country in several planeloads prior to the election. A government ‘investigation’ has tried to justify the killing of protester Neda Agha-Soltan by saying that the paramilitary sniper that shot her in cold blood “had mistaken her for the sister” of a deceased Iranian Marxist terrorist leader from the group Mujahedin-e-khalq.

Of course, the idea that a country can count tens of millions of paper ballots in 2 hours, or that planeloads of MI6 agents could suddenly fly into Iraq and organize mass protests, or that Iranian snipers were specifically looking out for siblings of long-dead members of now-defunct terrorist organizations in the huge crowds that engulfed Tehran, are all patently ridiculous, and Iranians know it. But these claims are asserted to be true in a totalitarian state because the state forces people to believe them. Everyone knows the truth, but anyone who speaks it gets killed.

Iran’s transformation into a totalitarian police state should throw a wrench into Obama’s plans to engage the Iranian government in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Obama’s strategy was contingent on recognizing the Iranian regime’s legitimacy as an elected institution. With that legitimacy gone, Obama could abandon negotiations and strongly oppose the new government. Or, he could pretend that nothing has happened and and continue negotiations with a totalitarian regime, thereby legitimizing it. The trouble is, as attempted negotiations with North Korea have shown, negotiating with a totalitarian regime is impossible, because a regime which is used to asserting whatever it wants to be true as truth cannot be a trusted partner in negotiations.

While Obama’s approach might have worked prior to June 12th, it will not work afterwards. Iran has been changed forever, and Iran’s relationship with American cannot help but also be changed. Obama has a choice between taking a stand for what’s right, or legitimizing a regime of tyrants and killers. Will he make the right choice? And will the American people let him get away with it if he doesn’t?

Award Winning Evil

CRDaily

Mahmoud Ahmadinerjad

UNC professor Carl Ernst has received an academic award from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad personally presented the award to Ernst in Iran for his work involving a 12th century Persian poet. The Daily Tar Heel, of course, could not help itself. According to their editorial board, “the accolade he received ought to be celebrated as an opportunity for academic interaction with a different culture.”

The DTH’s sentiment is a symptom of that disease that so infests UNC:  multiculturalism; an unforgiving infirmity that promises to make one stupid. Oh, Iran’s “different” alright. Everyone but Barack Obama has figured out that it is a terrorist state responsible for the murder of U.S. Military men and women; Iran actively smuggles weapons into Iraq for the stated purpose of supplying Iraqi terrorists. A U.S. defense official has noted that “these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government.”

Other favorite past times of Iranian culture is to murder both political and moral dissidents. Ahmadinejad has among his government officials those who, according to a human rights organization, “engaged in extra-judicial killings of opposition figures, political activists and intellectuals.” And, when asked at a Columbia University speaking engagement back in 2007 about his systematic murder of gays, Ahmadinejad explained, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” I guess not; they are all dead.

Further, Iran has, for two years, defied the United Nations regarding their uranium enrichment program which is just fantastic considering one of Ahmadinejad’s new year’s resolution is undoubtedly to bring the world to an end. Don’t believe me? He has said so himself. In a speech given November 16, 2006, Ahmadinejad stated that his main goal is to “pave the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam Mahdi,” the so called 12th imam who (according to the Shia) will bring an end to the world upon his return.

Ahmadinejad has also denied the Nazi holocaust, calling it a “myth.” In 2006, the Iranian government held and organized a conference to examine whether the genocide of 6 million Jews ever really happened.

Lastly, a note to the UNC feminists out there:  I wouldn’t recommend holding an “I Heart Female Orgasm” event in Iran; that’s probably grounds for death by stoning. In Iran, women are oppressed daily. If a woman dares dress different from the Islamic dress codes, for example, she is promptly arrested.

So there you have it. The murder of thousands, the killing of gays, the persecution of women, denying the holocaust, and supplying terrorists with weapons used to kill U.S. soldiers; all this the DTH can forgive. Why? Because it’s “different.” Well whoop-di-doo.