Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Devaluing American Citizenship

There have been two instances of American citizens being detained against their will recently...and both provide an interesting lesson for us on how small pieces of the puzzle fit into a larger picture.

On August 1 in Iran, three hikers who were visiting Iraq as tourists apparently strayed or were forcibly taken across the border between Iran and Kurdistan in an area where the border isn't very clearly marked.

They're being interrogated and have been described on Iranian state-run TV as 'spies.'

At the same time, two reporters working in North Korea were released after ex-president Bill Clinton made a special trip over there to negotiate their freedom.They'd been imprisoned since March 17th.This is being hailed as a 'diplomatic victory', and in a sense it is. But in a very real sense these incidents underline how much the inherent protection of a US passport has deteriorated.

From the earliest days of our Republic, the protection of American citizens abroad was sacrosanct. This is a carryover from our direct predecessors, the Romans, who made Roman citizenship something to be desired and sought after because of the inherent rights and protections it entailed.

In it's earliest history, America actually fought two wars over this principle, the War of 1812 with Britain and our War with the Barbary pirates.

In 1849, the US Navy sent a whole squadron to Smyrna and gained the release of an American citizen who had been seized and imprisoned by local officials.In fact, all through the 19th century, the US Navy and Marines were dispatched to protect the lives and property of US citizens or to take retaliation for violence and theft suffered by them in places like Panama, Nicaragua, Columbia, Fiji, China, Columbia, Mexico and Korea, among others.

In more recent times, US forces performed the same sort of missions in Grenada, Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, Albania, and even in Italy. In 1985 US Navy pilots intercepted an Egyptian airliner and forced it down in Sicily because it was carrying the Arab hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro who had shot wheelchair bound American citizen Leon Klinghoffer during the hijacking and tossed him overboard on the direct orders of Yasir Arafat.

Since the beginning of the Clinton Administration, that kind of hands on response to US citizens being threatened, mistreated, robbed, imprisoned or murdered abroad has become rare to the point of non-existence. As a matter of fact, the last real instance happened on President Obama's watch oddly enough. After his initial restraint on pirate hijackings off the coast of Somalia merely intensified the hijackings, Obama finally allowed our navy to rescue an American hostage and take out 3 of his pirate captors - although there remains some question about the president's actual part in this.

It might also be noted that however it went down, the forceful response appears to have worked.You don't hear much about American ships being hijacked off Somalia these days.

Ahh, I can already read your mind...'Rob, how can you compare a bunch of raggedy ass pirates with North Korea and Iran?'

Simple. They share the same mentality.As a matter of fact, a forceful response works even better because the Mullahs and the Norks have more to lose.

You can attempt to negotiate and buy people like this off, and the US has certainly done it in the past. We attempted to buy off the Barbary Pirates originally. And recently we saw American journalist Roxana Saberi released from Iran after being convicted of a trumped up spying charge..after which five Iranian Qods force operatives captured fighting against our troops in Iraq were released in exchange. It remains to be seen what the North Korans got for releasing their hostages, but I guarantee you they didn't do it for free.

The problem doing deals with people like that is two fold. Aside from increasing their contempt for you, understandings like this never work in the long run and it simply encourages not only more of the same but an escalation.

These things follow a common pattern. What starts out as trivial insults gradually morphs into disrespect, than into hostage taking and blackmail, and finally into actual hostility and military assaults.

People like the Norks and the mullahs don't understand 'diplomacy' and nuance.They understand strength and real world consequences...just like the pirates.

Even countries not prepared to let things degenerate into open hostilities get influenced by this aura of disrespect and normally maintain an attitude of contempt toward a country that seems not to be able to protect its citizens. Anyone who's traveled in Mexico lately can tell you that, and I can testify personally that it didn't used to be that way at all.

Iran's a good lesson. Keep in mind that the Islamic Republic started out their 'relationship' with America by getting away with doing something no other country in history had pulled off - the forcible taking of our embassy and imprisoning of our diplomats.That was a clear and unmistakable act of war.

Anyone who doesn't recognize that their success at doing this with impunity has influenced their subsequent behavior,(and the behavior of others) I honestly think hasn't been paying attention.

Another point - while it still works in many situations, it isn't necessary to risk blue water ships for gunboat diplomacy in our modern era.It was Soviet leader Kosygin who said in 1979 that if the Iranians had taken a Soviet embassy, their people would have been released in 48 hours or Tehran would have been reduced to a blackened crater.

I think the mullahs would have understood that the Soviets were serious if they had been on the receiving end of a choice like that from the Soviets - or from us, for that matter. Instead, we got Jimmy Carter.

North Korea is a slightly different case. The reason North Korea is being allowed to behave in the manner it does is simply because of their relationship with China, not any military strength they possess. But that knife cuts both ways. China owns a lot of our debt, but we also own a lot of China's money and the key to the continued growth of their economy. There's a mutual dependence here, and thus mutual levers to make things happen. I doubt China's going to go to war over the likes of North Korea, and a forceful response would likely go a long way to discourage the Norks from future transgressions. Instead, we continue to essentially reward them for their thuggish behavior.

A point could be made that anyone stupid enough to go to North Korea is simply looking for trouble, but once again it all comes down to that little green passport and what it symbolizes. And that symbolism speaks volumes - disrespect and mistreat a country's nationals, disrespect and mistreat a country. We seem to have lost sight of that principle.

Our government's disinclination to protect its citizens abroad, our open borders and a tendency in some elite circles in America to defer to multiculturalism and 'the international community' seems to be part of a general failure on the part of our government to be willing to assert our national sovereignty.

That's something that's going to have increasingly serious consequences down the line unless it changes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AMen to that.

Remember how the romans behaved when they found out that Paul was a roman citizen? They tremled because they had simply BOUNDED him without a sentence.