Monday, November 14, 2005

Better to be respected than liked

What do those words mean to you? A few years back when I first started blogging, a liberal friend from New York liked discussing politics with me via email. He worried in one exchange that Europeans wouldn't like Americans if we went to war with Iraq. Being liked was not a good reason to go or not go to war, I thought, so I quickly shot off a one sentence reply: better to be respected than liked.

This upset him and he sent me an abusive 100-word essay on how I belonged in what he called the League of Fascists with Stalin, Hitler and Saddam. I'm not entirely sure what he gleaned from those six words that made me so evil. I get that people don't like war, they don't like change. They generally prefer the status quo even if that means threat to national security (which turned out perhaps not as great as we thought), genocide, lack of human rights, etc.

Jay Tea has an essay on John McCain's bill that would outlaw torture. One of McCain's reasons, writes Tea, is that it will make us a better liked nation.

I'm highly skeptical of that. Writes Tea,
Being "liked" is a worthless goal in foreign relations. As Winston Churchill said, nations don't have permanent friends or permanent enemies -- only permanent interests. We would be far better served to find those common interests and build our relationships in a sense of enlightened self-interest, rather than bonhommie and camaraderie and the "aren't we all just fine, upstanding fellows" sentiments.
I think he's probably correct. And I think among those common interests, would be a ban on torture, for instance, as agreed upon by interested nations in the Geneva Conventions.

But that won't ever stop torture, as evidenced by Abu Ghraib, which as Tea points out, was investigated, prosecuted and made public by the Army.

So what of al Qaeda? They didn't sign onto the Geneva Conventions. President Bush says the policy of his administration is to not use torture. Would a law banning torture just be superfluous, a public relations law to get Europe to like us?

Anyway, I thought my friend from New York was being really mean to me when he wrote those things, so I ceased communicating with him, feeling it was better to be respected than liked. And in that case, I was right. It does feel better.

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