"Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions."
-- Paulo Coehlo
We are all human beings. We are all born into this world with certain unalienable Rights, Rights that are intrinsic to one and all. Whether you were born into riches as the daughter of an American billionaire or born in poverty to a rape victim in Sudan, your humanity means you are equal to every other human being on the planet. You may be taller, shorter, fatter, skinnier, richer, poorer, gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or anything, but the unalienable Rights of mankind are what bind us all together. It is an understanding that life is tough, that liberty is necessary in order to have and create opportunity, that honor given is honor received, that love is what we all desire, that humor shows our enjoyment of the world, and that all of these make up our pursuit of happiness.
Yet when it comes to policy both foreign and domestic, we cast aside these ideals. We begin speaking in generalities without regard for the consequences. Here in America, we have Democrats and Republicans calling each other idiots, blaming each other for the problems at hand, overgeneralizing on issues and more in an effort to create universal dislike for another group, dislike which is then used to foster favor for "their team." Abroad we do the same, especially in response to terrorism or what we perceive to be terrorism. All Muslims get lumped together as part of a radical movement to destroy America, all Chinese are lumped together as part of a conspiracy to topple America, all Russians are lumped together as vodka drinking bullies, all immigrants or foreigners wishing to live in the US become "undesirables" unless they have "merit" (ie, economical means) because of how our elected representatives and our leaders speak in relation to other countries and other cultures.
This is a foreign policy failure. This is not how you bring about change in the world.
In order for us to engage in good foreign policy, we must first understand foreign culture. Not all countries and not all cultures behave the same way through their outward facing personas. Some place more emphasis on religion, others on strength of character, others still on harmony with nature, and still others treasure wealth beyond measure. We need to understand the culture of the countries we wish to deal with in order to produce good foreign policy.
Understanding language abstraction plays a critical role in this culture phenomenon as well. English is the main language we speak here in America, but English also does a horrible job when it comes to translating other non-Western languages. There are very subtle, yet powerful meanings that can be held in foreign words and phrases, meanings that get lost in translation. We must remember that there is often depth with language that simple translations cannot convey. "Word for word" translation can be a very dangerous thing, for when one understands language and how language works, one knows that language is the vocalization of abstract concepts and ideas into reality. The word "love" has thousands of years worth of substance associated with it, an essence that carries tremendous significance. Yet, we just say "love" with an (expected) understanding of all that it represents, all that stands behind it.
So to, when engaging in foreign policy, must we keep this in our minds and our hearts. The cultures of the Mesopotamia, of east Asia, throughout Africa and even in South America must be acknowledged and understood, even if the words and actions do not necessarily fit in with our thoughts on how the world should behave. We must remember that these cultures have existed for thousands of years before America was even born. They are rich in history, rich in symbolism, and rich in nuance. They are to be acknowledged and even respected for what they are. Ignorance of foreign culture or, worse, a complete disregard of foreign culture is a quick way to piss off the locals, insult an entire nation, and make any kind of progress exponentially more difficult.
Foreign policy, like domestic policy, begins with this cultural respect and understanding. America accepts and appreciates the multitudes of cultures- be they born of racial difference, geographic necessity, religious upbringing or more. We must do the same abroad. Blanket statements regarding a nation, a region, or a religion stir the pot of hatred, not the fount of love and respect.
If there is one thing to understand about foreign policy, one thing of the utmost importance, it is this culture piece.
With the acknowledgment and understanding of culture, the next critical piece is understanding that the majority of the planet operates in the realm of metaphor. Metaphor is... complicated. Metaphor is used to bend the meaning of time and space, to cram a half-dozen possibilities into a single word or phrase, and to physically represent certain universalities in small, simple gestures.
Let me give you a couple examples. When you greet someone in a yogi-like fashion with your hands pressed together and go "namaste," that's a metaphor symbolizing a recognition of something greater than the self in another human being. The word "karate" gets translated as "empty hand" in English, but the character for "empty" is a character that contains meaning of limitless potential for creation while the character for "hand" has an older meaning for "technique" which thus gives "karate" a simple meaning of "empty hand" but also a much deeper meaning of "the technique of limitless possibility." In the Mesopotamia region, there are two sets of "time" that exist going back to ancient Greek civilization: chronos and kairos. Chronos is what we in the Western world think of as time- sequences of moments strung together in an ordered, constant fashion; kairos is more of a moment of timeless possibility, like an instant when something may be anytime between now and the end of eternity. Kairos allows for broad metaphorical statements without action because of how the metaphor works. Metaphors in other cultures with millennia of history are symbolic narratives, images, abstractions and concepts relating to the possibilities of the human experience and our societal fulfillment at any given time.
This is some deep stuff!
America and Western civilization as a whole have moved towards a more neo-legalistic society. I say neo-legalistic because the original legalism in my mind is that of China in the 5th century BC.1 Such a sociopolitical methodology focused on the law and utilization of the law to maintain and maximize a state's power. It required strict interpretation, strict adherence, and strict punishment. Thus, to me, the neo-legalism that the Western world embraces is one that focuses on the immediate, the literal, and the "obvious" meaning of a situation. It lacks the subtlety and nuance that the rest of the world has. Embracing the metaphor is to imbue the world with deeper meaning. If we in the West are to better understand the words and actions of other countries, we must view all situations through the lens of the metaphor. Taking a neo-legalist view, a literal view, will only lead to misunderstanding and the erosion of unalienable Rights amongst people of the world.2
Freedom Around the World
The freedom we have in America is quite possibly the greatest instance of freedom on the entire planet. This is due to our nation's history, one based on distrust of authority, recognition of individuality, and a democratic republic government that is meant to support a myriad of ideological thoughts and opinions. We moved into the 20th and 21st centuries by way of recognizing the Truth of change; our stances and perceptions of the world constantly evolve and, with it, so do the laws of our political system.
President Bush in the turn of the 21st century made it policy to spread democracy around the world.3 Democracy was meant to combat tyranny; the idea of freedom was supposed to be the greatest weapon against terrorism for freedom was supposed to make other nations and terror organizations cease their desire to harm American interest.4 The best hope for peace in the world, according to President Bush, was the expansion of freedom throughout the world.5
I would agree with President Bush if other nations and terrorist organizations were somehow beholden to the populace. Bringing freedom to a nation, relieving them from whatever oppressive regime they might have been part of, does not automatically yield a free people that will cease their dislike for America or other sovereignties. It can create power vacuums and result in more instability than ever before. The root cause of terrorism and other worldly atrocities lies not in lack of freedom, but rather in the culture conflicts that have existed for centuries.
"Freedom" is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I believe the ideals of America to be those of real freedom. But I understand that there are voluntary restrictions to freedom that individuals and societies might impose on themselves due to the culture of the region. You cannot go into a different culture and forcefully try to change it, not in any kind of "quick fix" fashion. Thinking otherwise is a recipe for disaster. It shows a lack of respect for the people of the culture, for the history of the culture, and for the other culture, itself. Even admitting this goes a long way. Americans cannot follow this rule because we are the land of the free, embodying freedom and all that it means with the cultural upbringing that supports rule through our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. This means no one race, religion, ideology, or anything becomes superior to the others. The checks and balances of our government coupled with the people's education-based awareness and regular elections ensure that a fairly stable, fairly safe "status quo" is maintained. We constantly seek to improve upon this.
Bringing the freedom of America to the rest of the world in the 21st century requires tremendous foresight. Freedom breeds opportunity- that's its purpose, it's what the concept intrinsically demands: potential for anything and everything. Unfortunately, this means potential for both good and bad. We've seen this in Iraq, in Egypt, in Libya, and elsewhere in the Mid East. We've also seen this in sub-Saharan Africa in the various coup attempts, civil unrest, and attempts at restoring stability.6 Freedom in a nation is more than just allowing democracy; the infrastructure must be in place to ensure its success. Without the necessary infrastructure for police, military, and even lobby/special interest influence, newly freed countries and societies can find themselves facing the horrors of those with money and/or weapons who would also seek domination through their new-found freedom.
Attempts at freedom requires protection of that wishing to be free. It also requires an understanding of the moral, cultural, and financial realities of the situation. As such, I've divided my foreign policy into two main sections:
The first section details out just what it means to engage in war. Presidents since Vietnam have all failed to understand the nature and purpose of war in their policy making. There's a very clear and distinct lack of strategy. Instead, President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton, even President Reagan began to confuse strategy for policy. Strategy is very different. I explain in that section.
The second section addresses foreign policy initiatives I'd wish to see taken up. They include addressing the terrorism problem, dealing with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Israel, Russia, China, North Korea, African nations, and others to varying degrees. The ideas I put forth may sound strange, but they are all grounded in the idea that non-violent change is much easier to bring about via stability than through chaos and that America's failures of the past can be corrected through more diplomatic means.
- See Legalism in Chinese Philosophy from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- I understand why the Western world has taken this approach. Our laws and legal system give us due process, a fairness that theoretically prevents incarceration or capital punishment to those innocents. In order for such a system to work, we must have a more objective "letter of the law" in contrast to an interpretive "spirit of the law" approach. Only SCOTUS can really interpret the law, providing clarification to legislation that Congress might have passed since Congress cannot amend laws on-the-fly to address "incorrect" interpretation; that would require a whole new vote to see if all representatives agreed with said interpretation or not. We must understand that other countries do not follow US law and any attempts at forcing them to adhere to US law or US behaviors could lead to cultural conflict and, thus, crippled foreign relations.
- See Bush pledges to spread democracy.
- See U.S. Condemns Violence in Sudan and Condemning Escalating Violence in South Sudan and Equatorial Guinea: Concerns Regarding Arrests and Extrajudicial Restrictions on Movement and Welcoming the Start of Military Operations Against the FDLR and let's not forget the current state of Somalia- a vast improvement from where it was, but still has a ways to go. There's been a lot going on in Africa.