The Reverence for Life

The President’s foreign policy address at West Point was interesting in that he advocated a judicious use of military force. But proxies can be just as devastating and proxies of proxies uncontrollable. Thousands upon thousands are dead in Libya and we now have the general (Khalifa Haftar) who found shelter and further training in Langley (1990 onwards after a betrayal by Muammar Gaddafi) rampaging across the country, while marines wait offshore. The blowback from Libyan chaos has already led to a well-armed Boko Haram causing new chaos in Nigeria.

In Syria, hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions are homeless to no avail. One wonders if that is not muscular enough. Those who continue to claim a red line was crossed there (despite contrary evidence that the chemical incident was a false flag attack) seem to ignore the expected Russian response at that time to any bombing — anti-aircraft missiles, as reported last Friday in the downing of a helicopter in Slavyansk killing fourteen including a general.

One cannot think of more dysfunctional goals than replacing or attempting to replace regimes that used to be fellow combatants against al-Qaeda and the fundamentalists — I am thinking of Iraq, Libya and Syria where ordinary lives were infinitely better before interventions. And if history is any guide, democracy is no protection from vengeful disciplinarians: witness Mossedegh’s Iran, Allende’s Chile, Guatemala, Ukraine, even Syria where informed observers believe Assad would win a free election.

Worse still, the hammer of the President’s foreign policy metaphor seldom works in the long run — long-term suffering and unexpected consequences are often most likely. Amnesty International’s reporting of cursory trials and indiscriminate and prolific use of the death penalty in Iraq now is just one example. Hundreds have been killed in Ukraine and everyone knows the horrors perpetrated by the installed regimes in the other examples.

And what has been gained? In Ukraine, Vladimir Putin employed a strategy that any chess player knows instinctively: the threat of force can often be more effective than its actual use. He seems to have gotten what he wanted and has also clearly established a boundary NATO will be loathe to cross.

Moreover, he has seized the moment. The general discomfort at U.S. muscle-flexing facilitated his sealing two deals, which had been under discussion for quite a while: on the Eurasian economic network starting with Belarus and vast-resource-rich Kazakhstan, as well as the huge 30-year, $400 billion gas deal with China which earlier had been balking on price. In an exception for oil and gas contracts, the latter does not use the dollar threatening its role as a reserve currency — our saving grace preventing its collapse.

Stationing the military or special forces in 124 countries of the world, and the enormous cost of maintaining and purchasing increasingly sophisticated equipment comes at a price — education, social programs, even services for veterans (as Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation this week and the veterans hospital scandal caused no doubt by a shortage of funds exemplified).

In the foreign policy address, the two extremes laid out within which the President has positioned himself is a gap so wide, it provides a broad avenue for muscle-flexing as well as a rhetoric of peace.

My question is, whatever happened to what another Nobel Peace Laureate, Albert Schweitzer, (who built leper colonies in Africa to help the afflicted) referred to as “the reverence for life”? To him it meant having the compunction not to harm or destroy life.

Arshad M. Khan is a retired professor. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Arshad M..