06 March 2009

The United States and the right to meddle

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently lashed out at Iran for its meddling in the Middle East. "It is clear that Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people [in the region] and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it's Hezbollah or Hamas or other proxies," said Ms. Clinton.

This criticism of Iran's machinations in its own backyard exemplifies the Americans' monumental hypocrisy and lack of introspection. They have for many years meddled in the affairs of nations in their region as a matter of course. Nor have they been content to limit their interference to the affairs of countries in the Americas. They make the world their playground.

Yet when Iran involves itself in the affairs of its neighbours, including its quite legitimate support for Hamas and Hezbollah, the U.S. cries foul. It would appear meddling is the exclusive property of the Americans -- and perhaps its allies, at least if they are enhancing American interests.

If American meddling was a positive force, it might have some justification, but in the Third World it is more often negative. A good example is U.S. collaboration in the overthrow of democratically-elected governments, from the Americas, e.g. Guatemala in 1954 and in Chile in 1973, to the Middle East, e.g. in Iran in 1953 and in Palestine today. Indeed, it has been meddling in the Middle East for a long time and almost everyone is worse off for it, except Israel and amenable Arab dictators like Arabia's Sauds and Egypt's Mubarak.

Despite Clinton's bellicose statements, the Obama administration does seem to be shifting toward a more constructive and co-operative foreign policy putting, one hopes, the neocon policies of the Bush administration behind them. For example, they have convinced NATO to resume high-level relations with Russia, with Ms. Clinton calling for a fresh start with that country. And, in a very encouraging move, she announced the administration has proposed a conference on Afghanistan that is likely to include Iran, setting up the prospect of a face-to-face encounter between the two countries.

These are good signs. They don't presage an end to American meddling, of course, but they suggest at least a less belligerent, less self-righteous and more consultative approach. Perhaps even including a little more introspection along with more empathy for other peoples. That would be progress ... something to hope for, to borrow President Obama's favourite word.

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