Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Idealism, Pragmatic Idealism, or Realism

Being a first generation immigrant, I do have significantly more sensitivity and interest in US International Relations and Foreign Policy that is usually under-appreciated and does not play a very significant role in U.S. presidential elections. This time around, because of the Iraq war and much discussed Iran issue, it seems to attract a lot more attention than usual, considering the amount of sound bites across the media such as the answers by 10 leading presidential candidates to the question posed by Katie Curic of CBS evening news: What country frightens you the most, and what would you do about it as president?

When I was growing up in Taiwan, I, like many others in the so-called Free World, was awed by American’s wealth, generosity, resources, and achievements, after having witnessed the benefits of receiving various economic and military aids, being an ally (that is, protected) by U.S. As I learned more and more about America (including the Hollywood versions), I was also attracted very much to the ideals of democracy, freedom of speech, free enterprise, not to mention some memorable struggles and heroic triumphs in American history such as the abolishment of slavery.

The first event that made me start thinking beyond the rhetoric and abstraction was the DiaoYu Tai 釣魚台 islands dispute when U.S. and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty in June 1970 (end of my sophomore year in college) under which U.S. government handed over the islands to Japan unilaterally despite the long disputes and protests by both Taiwan and Communist China governments. Like many others, I joined an orderly march and demonstration by university students in school uniforms to the American Embassy few miles away. I did not really understand all the issues and history (Internet was in its infancy then). It was simply a nationalistic pride and emotional reaction to an obviously outrageous deal made by US to give away a part of OUR territory to Japan. Truth be told, these tiny uninhabited islands were invisible until ECAFE (United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) suggested in 1969 that there is possibly large hydrocarbon deposit off them.

This event was the beginning of a watershed: in Oct 1971, UN’s China seat which had been represented by the Nationalist Party led government in Taiwan (as one of the founding members and a permanent member of the Security Council since 1945) was turned over to the Communist China. Then in Feb 1972 Nixon, a long time staunch anti-communist politician, paid the first ever visit to China by an American president that led to eventually the Jan 1979 establishment of full diplomatic relation between US and China and the simultaneous severing of the diplomatic tie with Taiwan and declaration of the “One China policy” till this day. I still remembered vividly the feeling of betrayal and adrenalin flowing as the news broke out and I left my 7 months pregnant wife home in Berkeley to march down, along with some fellow students from Taiwan, the streets of San Francisco in protest and disgust.

This is not just my little personal story. Similar and other experiences have been developed and playing out again and again all over the world for a very long time since US became a dominant and wealthy nation, promoting its values such as free market democracy while exerting its military and economic powers to advance its national interests (what are they?). This is clearly seen as repeated illustrations of double standards as one can see the gaps between what is being done and what is being said. Would you trust a person who behaves that way? Let us pause for a moment and ask why is U.S. government behaving this way and how should we live with our neighbors.

To cite just a few past events for which some reasonable albeit simplistic answers can be found more readily: why is US government so strongly opposing the democratically elected Hamas party led Palestinian government? Why has so little been done about the Sudan’s Darfur crisis since it began 5 years ago when millions of people have been displaced/starved and almost half a million had died? Why was US implicated in almost all coups in Latin America countries for the last 5 decades (including the failed 2002 one to drive out Hugo Chavez in Venezuela)? Why did US limit the prosecution of war crimes and atrocities that Japan committed during WWII, including the biological and chemical warfare and human experiments in China, and remain silent about the continuing denials and revisions of history by Japanese government (Dec 13th marks the 70th anniversary of Nanking Massacre, a.k.a. Rape of Nanking, when Nanking then capital of China fell to Japan’s invasion force)?

Indeed US foreign policy may be best described as a perpetual human struggle of competing Idealism and Realism. Is it as blatant and relentless as what Noam Chomsky had self-critically portrayed in his book of Hegmony or Survival: America’s Quest for global Dominance? Or is it as romantic and simple-minded as Ronald Regan and George W. Bush had fashioned of Good vs. Evil? Or is it as predictable, intricate, and cold-calculated as Henry Kisinger had shown in his book of Diplomacy? While it may be arguably easy to talk about morals and principles in unconstrained manners at one end, and about exchanges of material support and crushing forces in striking a desired balance and gain at the other end, how and what would one do when he or she needs to make a choice and take a stand? History showed us clearly that, with its infinite memory, man will be judged by the virtue of their decisions at those critical moments.

As I matured and became “wiser”, I found myself wonder more and more what I would do if and when I was put into those circumstances. I do wish we can all be forever young mentally and retain some of our innocence and naivete. How else would we set ourselves apart, strive for a higher goal, and make the right choice when those moments come?

With a heavy heart, Merry Xmas and talk to you after the New Year!

No comments: