Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Diplomacy and the Habermasean turn

The US has decided to support a military solution in resolving the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah instead of pursuing an aggressive diplomatic solution. We say the US because this is a nearly unanimous position taken by the President and the Congress. Secretary Rice’s current diplomatic trip is designed to smooth the way for the military policy as much as possible.

Step one is to convince the Lebanese government and people that the current military strikes by Israel and inevitable occupation of southern Lebanon is for their own benefit as much as it is for Israel. That is a tall order. One wonders if Secretary Rice is not fulfilling a necessary obligation of her post so as to get on with the new war as quickly as possible. The Lebanese people suffering from recent military actions probably won’t be persuaded that the actions are minimal and for their benefit. One can expect a Lebanese government hardened against US foreign policy advice and actions when the next government is voted into power.

The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and Western style democratic elections in Lebanon was hailed as the triumph of US foreign policy such as the one implemented in Iraq. The old Domino Theory in reverse was taking place right before our eyes. Now, we see the whole domino metaphor was never apt in the first place.

The credibility of US diplomatic efforts is very low. The US government does not take it seriously, and the rest of world, not being as gullible as some hope, does not take it seriously either. Meanwhile, there is big money rolling into certain corporate coffers as payment for sophisticated weaponry, big contracts for Lebanon’s reconstruction in the offing, and the hope of displacing militias to some other less strategic area in the Middle East. One looks at the map and wonders just where that other area might be.

We are confronted with another failure of imagination. The result of letting diplomacy languish in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was sure to spark another round of all out warfare. This is a situation totally lost on many Americans. We have too many Americans who believe all out war is the only solution to international political conflicts. Part of this arises from the belief that one can be for war in other parts of the world, but never have to fight in those wars or pay for them. The nature of modern technological warfare practiced at its most sophisticated level lulls people into this sort of thinking.

One cannot avoid the temptation to apply a Habermasean interpretation to events. US foreign policy divorced from any belief in the efficacy of diplomacy gives the lie to claims for a belief in liberty, equality, rationality, and truth. If these claims have any legitimacy, they have universal appeal. Diplomacy derives its power from negotiation, persuasive argumentation, and the necessity for giving reasons for one’s actions. Rationality is embedded into the diplomatic process because of this. Giving reasons for one’s actions is a moral commitment besides being a foundation of rationality and logical persuasion.

The US has lost a lot of its power to steer events because of its extreme desire to seek military solutions at the expense of diplomatic solutions. Diplomacy is not a weak willed response to international relations. Letting situations fester and languish until all out war is unavoidable, is nothing to be proud of nor anything to feel secure about. Yet too many people accept this as inevitable when they would do no such thing in their own neighborhood.

Those who have rushed to take sides and call for further escalation of the conflict have no ultimate claims for rationality or morality. The support for liberty, equality, rationality, and truth comes from the ideas central to diplomacy. If the environment for giving reasons for one’s actions does not exist, then one despairs of ever seeing any real solutions to international crises other than indiscriminate death and destruction without end.

A person may say they believe in reason, but we expect their actions to embrace those things a rational person actually does to resolve conflicts before they break out in all out warfare. If one has made no attempt to negotiate, then espousing one’s grievances is merely shouting into the wind. Just go ahead and shoot instead of wasting everyone’s time with idle banter. Claims to reason and rationality have no warrant.

These notions are part of the unfinished and much disparaged Enlightenment project. Many link the Enlightenment project to justifying the actions of the ruling class. Others feel the Enlightenment is directly linked to the excesses and injustices of capitalism. Noble ideals have always been turned to advantage by scoundrels—human nature being what it is. One need not stop believing in liberty, equality, and the solidarity created by reason because of that. As much as one might try to escape the Enlightenment project, its ideals keep returning when crises intervene to negate its progress.


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