Davidson Guest Op-Ed: "Whose Interest Defines National Interest?"

Lawrence Davidson, author of Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest, writes in a guest op-ed for IC:

Why is it that most Americans pay little attention to foreign policy? For instance, over the last eight years we have seen the awful consequences of foreign policies that support dictators, supply the weapons for war crimes against the Palestinian people, launch invasions of sovereign nations under false pretenses, and earn the United States the anger, bordering on hatred, of growing numbers of people around the globe? Yet there is no real outcry among Americans except for a small, if increasingly vocal, minority.

In a recently published book, Foreign Policy Inc: Privatizing American National Interest (University Press of Kentucky, 2009) I explain why most Americans disregard foreign policy (it is due to a phenomenon I call “natural localism”) and examine the consequences of this long standing popular posture.
Cont’d


A major consequence of this disregard is that actual policy formulation has come under the influence of well organized and financed lobby groups which do have interests in foreign affairs. This is certainly the case as regards the Middle East. Here both Jewish Zionists and Christian fundamentalist Zionists have achieved ascendent influence over policy formulation toward Israel and the Palestinian territories and much of the rest of the region as well. Likewise, a neo-conservative interest group with strong ties to Israel, achieved command positions in the Defense and State Departments under the administration George W. Bush. Relative to these lobbies, the influence of oil interests is of only secondary importance. One can argue that as a result of this situation, there is no foreign policy reflecting genuine US national interests for this important part of the world. There has been, and continues to be, only the parochial goals of special interests which present their own aims to the public as “national interests.”

The public’s inattention to foreign policy has inevitably led to a deep and persisting ignorance of the consequences of US foreign policy. The mainstream mass media, whose editors and reporters are themselves often biased in their perspectives and ignorant of the “facts on the ground,” has helped perpetuate a myth that American foreign policy is mainly an altruistic effort to export our domestic ideals: democracy, modernity, development, etc. The long list of dictatorships that Washington has seen fit to subsidize and arm, the coups and right wing revolutions that the CIA has been involved in (sometimes aimed against democratically elected governments), the subordination of whole economies to the interests of US business concerns, the collusion of multiple US administrations in the destruction of Palestinian people, and other dubious policies have conveniently been overlooked by most of the media. Thus, when those abroad who resist US policies do damage to American lives and property, the vast majority of American citizens have no context to understand their behavior. They are easily convinced they are terrorists who simply “hate our values.”

Yet the truth of the matter is that America’s policies in the Middle East have been lobby driven for at least the last 60 years. And, unbeknownst to the general public, they helped create the historical context for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Then, the response of the Bush administration to that attack went on to made things much worse for the US. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world and a growing number of them are now seriously angry at America. There are over 300 million Arabs and many of them are willing to materially support those who stand up against the US and its ally Israel. These vast numbers represent the sea in which our country’s adversaries now swim. The US has not the manpower, the intelligence capacity, nor the staying power to fight and defeat all the various organizations that have and will arise to confront us. Keep in mind that these will not be regular armies, but will be guerrilla operations and clandestine groups who, as we have seen, are already capable of doing us great damage both in their own part of the world and here in America.

Under the circumstances, it is in the interest of all Americans that there be a thorough policy review of past and present foreign policy efforts in the Middle East. This should be done with transparency and include a national public debate on just what are our national interests in that part of the world. If oil is one of them, is it also in the national interest to use force to control that resource at its source? Is Israel really a country important to the United States, or just important to certain powerful but parochial special interests? And, what has truly been the results of Israel’s US subsidized policies toward the Palestinians? Finally, is it an offense warranting impeachment when the president lies, misleads, distorts information and then sends American troops to their deaths based on that presentation? These issues are important to all Americans. They deserve to be publically aired. Progressives should demand these subjects be taken up at all levels of government from town and county councils on up. Media outlets should be picketed with demands for open debate on foreign policy. And, most importantly, Americans should insist that the incoming Democratic administration promote the necessary public debate on national interests and foreign policy formulation. If we ignore this, and allow things to go on as they are, then we can expect nothing but continuing disaster.

By Lawrence Davidson
Professor of History
West Chester University
West Chester, PA
ldavidson a/t wcupa d o t edu

Professor Davidson is author of the just-published Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest