Saturday, 4 December 2010

Leaky Pipes

As I’m sure you’re all aware, international politics has recently suffered a crisis of honesty with the leak of numerous documents, most of which detail American diplomats bitching about world leaders to their superiors. The more interesting and sinister ones detail the private dealings of America with various other world powers to manipulate international politics. Obviously the leaks have caused America and her allies to go rushing around smothering any dissent and trying to put the man who leaked the documents into the deepest jail cell they can find, while trying desperately to retain some kind of moral high-ground – and looking like petulant children in the process.

Now I could spend all day detailing all the amusing personal comments about various world leaders; calling Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, ‘paranoid and weak’, or accusing Prince Andrew of being ‘cocky’, or calling Silvio Berlusconi ‘feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader’ for example – most of which are probably true and not really news to anyone – but that’s not really the issue at hand here. Indeed these comments are largely irrelevant and unhelpful – they are private comments made in confidentiality. They should not have been published in the first place because they do little beside provide dirt for journalists and thus muddy the water, making it harder to actually focus on the important things being leaked.

Like documents detailing how America has been launching anti-terrorist attacks in countries like Yemen without even telling the international community, while the Yemeni president covers it up by lying to his government. Or orders for US diplomats to steal sensitive information like passwords, credit card details and DNA samples from supposed allies in the UN. Or the UK continuing to store US cluster bombs, despite their illegality. Or the US offering monetary and political incentives for countries to take prisoners in Guantanamo Bay off their hands.

All of the above revelations are either illegal, immoral or both. They are indicative of America’s arrogance and disregard for international law. It is also telling that America’s obsession with their own international dominance at the expense peace, justice and morality has not begun to fade since the Cold War days. More than anything I think this whole episode has highlighted the problem with politics, both internationally and domestically.

Politics is all about gaining power. The job of an American diplomat is to try to further America’s power and influence over the rest of the world, so that the USA might continue to be a political and economic superpower. It is not to try to find the solution which promotes the most peace, justice or democracy. They are not there to find the right solution that is best for both parties and will promote international peace and good will for years to come. They are simply there to look after America’s short term interests.

Now I’m not saying that America is the only culprit here; every country enters any international diplomatic situation with its own interests firmly in the driving seat. These interests; political and economic, are to be ruthlessly pursued at all costs, even if the end result actually lands the rest of the world in a lot of trouble that will eventually cause a lot more suffering and hardship further down the line.

For examples of this we only need to look at almost any international law created since World War 2. We could look at the laws on international trade for example, that allow Europe and the USA to monopolise world agriculture, despite having much higher wages than the third world, because they can afford to play subsidies and don’t let third world countries protect their own industries with import tariffs. This means that cheap produce can flood third world countries from the developed world, undercutting local products and meaning that farmers cannot make a living out of the land, causing untold poverty and drastically slowing the development of the countries in question. No change in this situation seems likely in the future, given that the international bodies which regulate these laws, such as the World Trade Organisation are dominated by developed countries which benefit most from these unjust laws.

Politics, then, has become, or always was, nothing to do with creating a better world, trying to arrive at solutions which benefit the entire world in a non-violent, well thought-out and virtuous way. Politics is all about looking after number one. It is entirely selfish and self serving. Now those of you who know me and my political views will no doubt be wondering why I, usually so adamant that self-interest can be a force for good, am criticising selfishness. I must explain by saying that there are two kinds of selfishness; rational self-interest, which promotes one’s own interests without threatening the interests of others – indeed, it usually promotes the interests of others as well as one’s own – then there’s the kind of irrational, unthinking selfishness which is the kind that everyone criticises and it, unfortunately, predominant in politics. It’s the kind of short-sighted, ill-considered selfishness that leads to greater problems down the line, which are in turn only solved by temporary fixes which bring short term gains at the expense of long term interests.

This leads to international politics becoming based not on reason and the long term interests of the world, but based on who has the most power and from whom smaller nations can whore themselves out to; usually the USA. These leaks are mostly indicative of the countries either sucking up to the USA in order to gain political favour – like the Cluster bombs, Guantanamo Bay and Yemen cases – or attempts by the USA to manipulate world politics in their favour, like the spying case. Either way they’re all a rather chilling and deeply disturbing insight into the world of politics – a world that quite desperately needs to be cleaned up if the world is ever to become a place of widespread peace and prosperity.

Inevitably the USA and her allies have tried to cover up these leaks, shut down the website, fix the pipes and generally try to make themselves out to be the victim. In a completely flagrant disregard for anything they might have done wrong, US politicians are accusing the man who leaked the documents – Julian Assange – of causing irreparable damage to international relations and causing untold setbacks in the cause of world peace. While of course this is true, all Assage is doing is being the messenger; he is simply telling the world about all the dishonest, self-serving and largely illegal behaviour of the US and her allies. It is rather rich for the US to be accusing him of causing all this damage when it is simply the truth about their behaviour that has caused the damage.

Immediate self evaluation would be far too much to expect of a political system which has shown itself again and again to be incapable of changing without enormous pressure from voters – and even then there’s never any real change. One would hope that these leaks will at least enlighten the voters about just how shockingly corrupt and self-serving their politicians are. Whether this will cause any change, given that the only way to change the system if from within and the only way to get into the system is to be a part of the corruption and culture of selfishness in the first place, is highly doubtful. Nevertheless these revelations are incredibly important, even if they only serve to prove, once and for all, that a politician will never change his stripes and politics will always be an exercise in self-aggrandisement at the expense of virtue.

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