July 10, 2005
Its common these days for the United States to be accused of being inconsistent, and supporting tyrants, even as America overthrows one in Iraq. Alas, the "America supports tyrants" thing is basically a myth. As with any nation (going back several thousand years), the United States has always supported any foreign government that was willing to refrain from attacking American citizens or American economic and diplomatic interests. The U.S. government was generally praised for its statesmanlike behavior when it supported some dictatorships. Remember the U.S. establishing relations with Yugoslavia and China? Ideology was rarely a factor here. To do otherwise just produces lots of headaches, and threats to American citizens overseas. Critics often point to the many times American agents (CIA or otherwise) have interfered with foreign governments, or even overthrown them. This practice long predates the founding of the United States. After all, it was French interference that helped us get out from under British control during that time. Its become less fashionable, over the last half century, to conduct diplomacy that way, but that does not change the fact that gunboat diplomacy was an accepted practice for thousands of years. You can change your methods, but you cant change history. American interference in Yugoslavia (Kosovo) in 1999, and Iraq in 2003, were both cases of this ancient practice, both were meant to deal with troublesome tyrants, and both were widely criticized by other nations (many because they knew they also qualified for similar humanitarian treatment.) Note that the last time Iraq was invaded, was 1940, when Iraqs decision to side with the Germans, caused Britain to send a few divisions to march on Baghdad and replace the government. At the time, this was considered prudent diplomacy.
But Kosovo (1999) and Iraq (2003) were the kind of operations that would have hardly caused much comment before the 20th century. As the old saying goes, nations dont have friends, only interests. And interests tend to change over time. During the Cold War period, most of the governments on the planet were right wing, or left wing, dictatorships. Both flavors were pretty brutal, although the leftists had a much higher body count, less effective economic policies, but better PR. Still, the U.S. would do business with anyone who would leave the United States alone. Thus we always found ourselves with friends on both sides of the Arab-Israeli wars, and many other international disputes as well. Going out of your way to not support a country that is run by a tyrant is a dangerous, and often thankless, business. Politicians and diplomats have enough problems on their plate without going and looking for more. Everyone "supports tyrants," if these thugs seem securely in control of a nation. To do otherwise just gets you condemned in the United Nations, which refused to approve of the 1999 Kosovo, or 2003 Iraq operations. It's not "supporting tyrants" that gets America in trouble, but removing them.