United States Fails to Stand for Peaceful Change

The Palestinians and other Arabs have long used violence to try to reclaim land taken from them by Israelis. The approach has long been a failure, but anger has long supplanted rationality, thus leading to periodic violent spasms in Palestine for almost a century. Now a potentially more effective weapon is being brandished: peaceful actions to undermine Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians are campaigning for a voluntary boycott of goods and culture coming from Israel and West Bank settlements and for disinvestment from there. For example, both international and local artists and celebrities are refusing to do shows in these locations. Simultaneously, the Palestinian Authority is seeking recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Israel is very worried about both initiatives. And it should be.

Largely peaceful protests toppled the autocratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia. If peaceful dissent can work against authoritarian thugs in those countries, it has an even better chance of working in democratic Israel. Democracies—or at least a significant portion of their populations—can more easily be shamed into change than can dictatorships. For example, in the end, apartheid in democratic (for whites) South Africa ended because of the shame induced by peaceful opposition rather than by the success of the armed rebellion. Israeli celebrities joining the Palestinian boycott and the activities of Israeli peace groups have demonstrated the premise in Palestine.

Yet the United States regularly decries violence in Palestine but then is not supportive of peaceful means of Palestinian protest either. For example, it is taken as a given that, this fall, the United States will veto in the United Nations Security Council any resolution for Palestinian statehood.

This U.S. stance—coupled with its tepid and belated backing of the Egyptian and Tunisian opposition and its support for the violent overthrow of oppressive leaders, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gadhafi in Libya—sends the wrong message to those seeking liberty around the world. By its support for violent outcomes, U.S. policy encourages more bloody revolts around the world, and the accompanying loss of life and property, without necessarily increasing the chances for democracy.

Instead, the United States should quit interfering in the internal turmoil of other nations—especially avoiding the provision of weapons and military expertise to movements that violently oppose governments unfriendly to the U.S.—and should instead steadfastly declare rhetorical support for peaceful transitions to democracy and respect for individual rights.

The latter does not mean that the United States should actively “promote” democracy and human rights in other countries using U.S. personnel, contractors, or government funds. Such U.S. efforts are usually an ineffective sinkhole for taxpayer dollars and may very well be counterproductive if the U.S. superpower is seen as meddling for its own gain—as is often the perception.

In conclusion, current U.S. policymakers should follow John Quincy Adams’ long-forgotten advice rejecting the lure of American intervention to promote democracy abroad in favor of rhetorical support and leading by example:

She [America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart….

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

Ivan Eland

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

Ivan Eland
The Independent Institute

Published by the LA Progressive on July 27, 2011
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.