Look. It’s not that difficult, okay? Point one: Politicians don’t often say what they mean. Point two: Politicians don’t often mean what they say. As a corollary of the first two points, point three: Policy is rightly judged by deeds, not words.
Simple, right? I mean, everybody knows this, right? That is, everybody except most mainstream commentators, expert analysts, and the “intelligentsia” in general.
This really shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. I’m constantly astonished — on a daily basis — in reading news and analysis in which this perfectly elementary truism seems beyond the mental grasp of the commentator.
Which is not to say that people are stupid; just that they tend to be willfully ignorant.
One would think that after thousands of years, political analysis would have evolved some. After all, the prophets in the Bible understood this. That’s why they were able to rightly judge where the people’s and their leaders’ collective courses of action were taking them. It wasn’t that they could foresee the future with magical powers. They just used a little common sense. They were the political analysts of their day.
Of course, there were true prophets and false prophets. The false prophets were the guys who were very popular and whom the leaders loved and the masses swooned to, because they said everything everybody wanted to hear. Good times.
Now, the true prophets were generally outcasts of society. They couldn’t be found at press dinners. They didn’t blog for the mainstream journals. They weren’t invited to be a talking head on cable news programs. People generally just didn’t want to hear what they had to say. It was just too goddamned depressing.
So, how could the people know the true prophets from the false? Simple. “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16).
See, unless you want to take up your argument to the contrary with Jesus, you’ll have to accept that my points 1-3 above are valid. So let’s continue with some case studies and apply this most elementary of principles.
Let’s take a classic example from Iraq. In the early 1980s, the world had read about how Iraq had begun using chemical weapons in its war against Iran. Ronald Reagan publicly condemned the use of poison gas and criticized Iraq. This is typically rendered as “U.S. opposition to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons” or something to that effect. End of story, right?
Well, not exactly. See, Ronnie appointed a special envoy — a certain Mr. Donald Rumsfeld — to travel to Mesopotamia to develop a cozy relationship with the dictator. Rummy first went there in 1982. The purpose of that visit was to discuss the establishment of a business relationship. The Reagan administration removed Iraq from the list of state sponsors of terrorism to accommodate the new “tilt” towards Iraq.
As a further result, the State Department eventually authorized the sale to Iraq of things like anthrax and botulism, and other fun stuff like that.
Following Ron’s criticism over Saddam’s use of WMD, Rummy traveled to Baghdad again. After shaking hands with his good buddy Saddam, Rummy explained to Saddam that it was necessary for public relations for Ron to have said all that about U.S. opposition of the use of chemical weapons — but never mind, that’s just for public consumption, and doesn’t really mean anything. Our relationship is solid, and we will continue to do business with you and support you in your war against Iran.
So, if we judged the Reagan administration solely by its rhetoric, one could easily arrive at the conclusion that the U.S. was against Saddam’s use of WMD.
However, applying the truism we learned above, one can easily see that such rhetoric was practically and effectively meaningless, and the U.S., in deed, actually supported the dictator’s use and development of such weapons.
Saddam went on to infamously gas the Kurds in Halabja. The administration of George H. W. Bush subsequently increased its support for the regime (until Saddam misunderstood his marching orders in 1990 when he invaded Kuwait).
You will know them by their fruits.
Let’s take a more contemporary example: Obama administration policy towards Israel. A typical account is that the Obama administration has shown more of a willingness to get “tough” on Israel, to confront Israel and to “pressure” Israel to moderate its behavior.
An oft-cited example of this is the administration’s statements early on that Israel’s policy of constructing settlements in the occupied West Bank was, uh, not constructive. That is to say, it wasn’t conducive towards establishing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
A first elementary observation about this example of the administration getting “tough” on Israel is the fact that no administration officials ever could bring themselves to describe the settlements as “illegal” — which they are, as an uncontroversial point of fact under international law.
That might have been the first hint that the Obama team was merely engaging in meaningless rhetoric, but this escaped mainstream commentators, without exception, to my knowledge — a remarkable feat of self-censorship (as a further demonstration of this common phenomenon, consider the New York Times earlier this week: “Israel, which captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, considers the entire city its capital.” The Times neglects to mention that, uncontroversially, as a point of fact under international law, as reflected in numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions, Israel’s annexation and occupation of Jerusalem is illegal).
A second clue might have been the fact that at the same time Obama was getting “tough” on Israel, his administration also announced that it would under no circumstances consider rolling back U.S. support for Israel.
See, the U.S. supports Israel financially ($3 billion or so annually), militarily (F-16 fighter bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, cluster munitions, etc), and diplomatically (using its veto power to block U.N. resolutions critical of Israeli actions, etc.).
That message was well received, and perfectly well understood by the Netanyahu government in Israel, which proceeded apace with further illegal settlement construction in the West Bank. As I write this, more Palestinian homes are slated for illegal demolition to make way for more illegal Jewish homes.
You will know them by their fruits. See, as the Netanyahu regime well understood, the rhetoric was absolutely meaningless, since it was backed up in deed by continued support for criminal Israeli policies — support that continues to this day.
Other fruits the Obama administration has born have been blocking Security Council adoption of the findings and recommendations of the U.N. Goldstone report, which found that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel’s ’08-’09 assault on the Gaza Strip (in which Israel used U.S.-provided arms to kill 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including women and children), and the blocking of an international investigation into the killing of 9 Turkish peace activists by Israeli commandos when Israeli forces illegally stormed a humanitarian vessel in international waters that was carrying aid to Gaza.
Further example of the fruits of the Obama administration abound. Yet the mainstream consensus remains that the Obama administration has “shifted” from previous ones because of its willingness to get “tough” on Israel in support of Palestinian rights and a two-state solution, and bla, bla, bla.
Iran gets a lot of media coverage these days. That’s because it’s bad. Very bad. Just atrocious. Yet, despite it’s horribleness, the Obama administration, in all its benevolence and mercy, has been willing to negotiate with Iranian leaders.
Well, that’s that standard tune, anyway. The evidence for this view is that the Obama administration early on announced that it would be willing to engage in talks with Iran. Well, that proves it, no?
The answer to that depends on whether we judge Obama’s Iran policy on words or deeds. See, Obama has repeatedly said that the U.S. recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. That’s the “in word” part. The “in deed” part is that he has repeatedly sought to punish Iran for enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
Yes, yes, he claims the reason for the punishment is because Iran is enriching uranium in order to be able to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But this rhetoric in turn must be weighed against the facts that: a) the U.S. offers no credible evidence to support this claim, b) as the IAEA has repeatedly pointed out, there’s no solid evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, c) Iran is only enriching uranium to, at most, 20 percent, whereas to build a bomb, it needs to to enrich to 90 percent or more, d) if Iran wanted to enrich to weapons-grade, there is a virtual consensus among expert analysts that it would first need to kick out IAEA inspectors and withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which recognizes and guarantees Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes — such as its enrichment to 20 percent for its medical research reactor in Tehran.
One could go on, but it would be superfluous. Suffice to say that, while Obama rhetorically recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium, in actual deed, his administration, like the Bush administration before him, effectively denies Iran’s right to do so as guaranteed under the NPT.
Conversely, to further demonstrate the point, one would be hard pressed to find any actual deeds by which the U.S. demonstrates its recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the NPT. Anyone? Anyone?
So, getting back to Obama’s offers of “talks”, what would there be to “talk” about? Well, for Iran, obviously, they would want to talk about uranium enrichment. They would want to find a way to preserve their right to enrich uranium while also making the international community satisfied that it is only doing so for peaceful purposes. Perhaps, for example, with some enticement (by which I mean giving something in return, not threats or ultimatums), they might be found willing to implement the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which would allow inspectors greater access to its program.
But the starting point for the proposed “talks”, from the perspective of the Obama team, would be Iran’s cessation of uranium enrichment. In sum, the Obama administration, rhetoric aside, rejects Iran’s right to enrich uranium, and the assumption is that any “talks” would be geared towards “negotiating” with Iran to get it to surrender said right. Period.
In other words, the Obama administration in fact refuses to negotiate, preferring instead to issue this ultimatum backed by threats and punitive actions (in a continuation of Bush administration policy) and calling that refusal to negotiate “diplomacy”.
You can call your pet dog “Duck”, but you won’t get it to quack. Orwell might have had other things to say about it.
When words and deeds contradict each other, you will know their actual policy by their fruits. Needless to say, what government officials say is their policy is very often very different from what their actual policy is. But, then, it just wouldn’t do to actually tell the public what the actual policy is, because then people might not like it so much and do something to try to change their government’s policies. It would require too much work for leaders to advance their intellectual and ideological arguments to try to persuade the masses that their policies are actually good for the nation and/or the world at large, so they just lie instead.
Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention point 4? As a corollary of points 1-3, point 4: government officials lie. A lot. Constantly, in fact.
That concludes Foreign Policy 101. Your homework is to find further case studies demonstrating these most elementary of principles you’ve just learned, and share them with your peers. Choose an issue and do something to try to affect change. Some of you might want to pull your heads our of your asses first, though, particularly if you work as a professional journalist for the mainstream media. Okay, class dismissed.