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Let’s Not Repeat Obama’s Misguided Foreign Policy of Moral Equivalence

By: José Azel - Jan 31, 2017, 2:13 pm
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Raul Castro (CapitolHillCubans)

EspañolWhen Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind.” The Romanian-born, American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, and Holocaust survivor dedicated his life to speaking in defense of victims of oppression reminding us that: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

These lessons were lost in the way the Obama administration consistently advanced a foreign policy of moral equivalence refusing to draw attention to the totalitarian nature of regimes such as Iran and Cuba. These regimes systematically violate civil rights, brutally suppress political opposition and conspire against the interest of the United States and the Jewish nation.

The Cuban regime remains an anti-American ally of Iran. For the past three decades, the Castro brothers have supported the Ayatollahs’ foreign policy in the Middle East and throughout the world, but particularly against Israel.

A policy of moral equivalence suggests that no moral difference exists between the actions or tactics of all sides in a conflict. For example, apologists for terrorist groups in the Middle East suggest a moral equivalence between terrorists and the Israeli military. The logic of moral equivalence is that no party in a conflict is worse than the other. This view of moral equivalence underlined the foreign policy doctrine of the Obama administration, demonstrably in its dealings with Cuba and Iran.

In Cuba, the Obama administration’s U.S-Cuba policy embraced the oppressive regime of General Raul Castro with only perfunctory comments regarding human rights violations in Cuba or the Castro brothers support for Iran’s anti-Israeli policies. With Iran, in its eagerness to conclude a deal, the administration seems to have disregarded the legitimate security concerns of Israel, our military and political ally.

For an encore, in its last days in office, the Obama administration refused to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. This resolution, seemingly about Israel’s settlement policy, patently endorses the Palestinian politico-legal narrative about the disputed territories.

Following the vote, Secretary of State John Kerry, defending the United States abstention, delivered a laboriously one-sided speech denouncing Israel for its settlements policy and ignoring the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Secretary Kerry’s speech also overlooked that Israel is the only liberal democracy in the region and discounted Palestinian support for anti-Israeli terrorism.

To support Israel against its enemies is perfectly consistent with American liberal values. Failing to oppose a United Nations Resolution that weakens Israel is a damaging foreign policy ambiguity.

The doctrine of moral equivalence is often disguised as a doctrine of neutrality or fairness. Yet, it is neither fair nor neutral. Moreover, when oppressors and oppressed are treated with moral equivalence the stage is set for unexpected consequences that may turn catastrophic.

Because it was claimed that all sides in the Bosnian War (1992-1995) committed war crimes, supporters of moral equivalence argued that one party in a conflict is not worse than the other. But, according to a Bosnia War report by the United Nations, the Serbian forces were responsible for ninety percent of the war crimes. Croatian forces were responsible for six percent, and Bosniak forces for four percent; hardly a case of moral equivalence.

Treating oppressive regimes like Cuba and Iran as morally equivalent with the freedom loving people of Israel or Cuba suggests the United States has abandoned the core American principle of being the voice of liberty for oppressed people.  Elie Wiesel would reproach this moral equivalence:  “Indifference is the epitome of evil.”

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.