President George W. Bush has brought the crusading spirit and morality back to foreign policy. He has emphasized the importance of spreading democracy and American ideals in many of his speeches, including his inaugural address. However, the actions of the military and his administration have not matched the president’s rhetoric. The administration has reduced American credibility as a moral leader while decreasing stability abroad. This is the opposite of any sane foreign policy goal.
In Iraq, Abu Ghraib has proven to be the tip of the iceberg as military investigators have recommended courts-martial for 17 soldiers involved with deaths of Iraqi prisoners. Military officials have ignored their own investigation, deciding not to prosecute the soldiers. Of 24 cases opened against U.S. soldiers involving dead prisoners, 18 have been closed. In one of the closed cases 11 soldiers were implicated in the death of an Iraqi man who died due to blunt force injuries and asphyxiation. Although military investigators determined there was enough evidence to support negligent homicide charges against at least two of the officers involved, all were exonerated of charges. The United States, champion of human rights and democracy, has a military not held accountable for widespread human rights abuses.
This obvious hypocrisy has had some effect on military recruiting. As the war drags on with a higher American body count and more human rights abuses coming to the surface, fewer people wish to be part of the U.S. military. The Army enlisted 27 percent fewer new soldiers than expected last month, which has led to a change in policy – lowering standards and targeting more recruits with drug abuse and criminal convictions in their past. We now spread democracy by sending our criminals and drug addicts to the Middle East, where they can commit crimes without fear of prosecution.
Bush continues to destabilize the region as he reverses a 15-year-old policy, agreeing to sell F-16s to Pakistan. There is a reason we have not sold Pakistan guns in 15 years – it is an undemocratic state feuding with another of our allies, India. To balance this out, Bush has decided to sell F-18s to India. The result is an ensuing arms race between India and Pakistan, which may be beneficial to our economy, but provides both countries with more ways to deliver their nuclear weapons. To make matters worse, Pakistan’s attitude toward democracy does not promote freedom by any definition. Rape of women goes virtually unpunished, while a woman accused of adultery faces possible stoning. Religious freedom is nonexistent and the military acts with complete impunity. Due to Pakistan’s importance in the War on Terror, Bush has ignored atrocities and violations for years. Now the president has agreed to improve the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons of a country that defies the fundamental tenets of democracy.
Bush's march for freedom has been detrimental to peace and democracy at home as well as abroad. The Patriot Act was just the beginning of civil rights violations in the United States in the name of increased security. Muslims living in America have been arrested without regard for due process and for having barely tangible connections to terrorists. They are then sent to non-democratic states, such as Syria, where they are tortured and interrogated in ways that violate U.S. law.
Although U.S. officials do not commit the abuses, their hands are in no way clean, and this practice legitimizes torture and the non-democratic governments that use it. Catching terrorists is an important goal, but it is unacceptable to both ignore civil rights on our soil and to sanction torture abroad. This despicable policy of torture by proxy illustrates the importance of human and civil rights to this administration.
It is unfathomable that the U.S. government can implement such policies while continuing to spout rhetoric on American ideals. Not only are the actions of the Bush administration morally deplorable, they are extremely counterproductive to our foreign policy goals. We are losing credibility as the guardian of democracy while helping to destabilize the Middle East. Peace and freedom will never be attained if they are forced by an outside party that is viewed as hypocritical and immoral.
There are moral policies that we could implement to promote stability while emphasizing a commitment to the spread of true democracy. We should hold our soldiers strictly accountable if they violate human rights. We should not sell arms to states that are as clearly undemocratic as Pakistan, and we should not instigate an arms race between our allies. Finally, the civil and human rights of anyone in our country, even those connected to terrorists, should be sacrosanct and completely non-negotiable. The United States is the world’s economic leader and only military superpower. Bush should not use this power and position as a blank check – it should be an opportunity for the United States to be a moral leader in our actions as well as in the president's speeches.
Ben Turner is a Tulane college sophomore majoring in international development and international relations. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.