Human beings are finely tuned hypocrisy detection machines. Even as children, we are acutely aware of the glaring injustice of being told to eat our broccoli by a parent with none on their plate. “Not fair!” We shout. We try to bargain. We prefer French Fries. Surely they will understand.
“Eat your broccoli,” they say. And we do. We eat our broccoli. But we’re not happy about it.
To move away from a dinner table framework to more straightforward language: for any maxim to be morally valid it must be universally applicable. To move back: everyone has to eat the broccoli. We’re all adults at the table of nations, and some of us are gobbling up fast food and pointing around the table, lobbing accusations.
The United States is not eating its broccoli. I’ll explain.
In a joint statement released by the White House, the United States and the European Union “condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran” since last year’s June 12 presidential election. In the face of ongoing human rights violations, the United States and the European Union are now said to be considering further sanctions. Now I am not here to argue that the Iranian regime is friendly to the human rights interests of the people of Iran. The people of Iran are oppressed, and they deserve freedom, just like everyone else.
But let’s take a few moments to examine the claims put forward here. Firstly, let’s examine the timing of the release of this statement. Earlier that day, Iran announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would begin producing twenty percent enriched uranium inside the country. Iran says it’s for peaceful purposes, the West (the U.S.) claims they want to develop nuclear weapons.
I say–well, who are we to say anything about matters of peace and war? How have we obtained the necessary moral weight?
Does the United States open up its vast arsenal to international inspection? Have we signed on to the international ban on land mines, signed by more than 150 countries? I am a bit fuzzy, but which country engaged in an unprovoked act of war against a country halfway around the world? Which country is the world’s largest arms dealer?
Maybe if we were concerned about the proliferation of weapons, we should strengthen the international institutions designed to regulate them. The United Nations and the International Criminal Court are imperfect, to be sure. There is no panacea to ending war and injustice. But the threatening language employed by the United States isn’t just hypocritical; it’s counterproductive.
Let’ say that you are the leaders of Iran. You and the United States haven’t been the best of friends since you decided to throw out their stooge in 1979. It’s been awkward. Then, they go and set up shop right next door to you. Even though you and your neighbor had your differences, this isn’t what you had in mind. Every once in a while, the United States shakes its fists at you about your human rights abuses, though they find it in their hearts to forgive their friends for the same crimes (see for example: Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Israel…) Now if you are the rulers of Iran, you might be a little worried. It isn’t unrealistic to suppose that if the whim strikes them so, maybe they will send in a few cruise missiles and Shock and Awe and Absolutely Demolish your ancient urban centers. This will almost certainly ruin your day.
Can you appeal to the United Nations? Well, that might not work out. You have seen that appealing to international law doesn’t really stop the leadership of a country who believes that they should have free reign to invade any country on the planet at any time.
Can you hope to repel the superior conventional military of a country that spends as much as the rest of the world combined on thinking of new ways to kill people? Probably not.
Now how would you stop them from realistically threatening you? What sort of deterrent would do the trick? What sort, you think, what sort?
<Insert obvious answer here.>
Now, to go back: I want Iran to eat their broccoli, too.
The world does not need more nuclear weapons. Obama said he wants to begin reducing the number. He wants it to be zero, he has said. I agree. The world doesn’t need a human designed short cut to the apocalypse. Well, I should say, another one. We seem to be doing just fine with climate change.
The broccoli though–of course it doesn’t taste good at first. Our taste buds have gotten used to the easy ways of the French Fry, and we will have to acclimate them to the deeper goodness of the green vegetable. We all need to eat healthy. All of us. And until the United States, and by extension, its Western allies, ceases to rely upon military force as its primary foreign policy instrument, there will be discontent at the table. Iran needs to eat healthy, but so do we, and so does everyone else.
Here’s to broccoli.