This past January, at the height of the conflict between the Ethiopian Army and Islamic militias inside Somalia, Ethiopia was allowed to purchased Soviet-era weapons from North Korea in violation of sanction agreements – with U.S. assent. [NYT]
The New York Times reports that the administration allowed these transactions because the Ethiopian campaign coincided with its own goals of combating Islamic extremism in the region.
But this undoubtedly brings about a range of ethical concerns – the foremost being whether the U.S. government is sacrificing moral standards in its foreign policy to further its own interests. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time…
The history goes back further, but let’s start with Vietnam, when the U.S. backed dictatorial, anti-Communist and intolerant Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem for the presidency of what was temporarily South Vietnam. That Diem was not the best leader for the people was apparent, but we propped him up anyway because of his venom for the “Reds.”
Fast-forward to 1983, with the Reagan administration helping out Saddam when the U.S. perceived Iran as the enemy – we provided him with cash flow and looked the other way when Iraq was using chemical weapons against its neighbor and its own people.
Also in the 1980s, still scared about the spread of communism, the U.S. helped train and fund the Taliban (and indeed, Osama bin Laden himself) in order to fight Soviet invaders.
In each of these instances, the administrations have ignored the immorality of organizations or states in order to advance a war against a perceived common enemy – and so it becomes clear that it’s never really about right and wrong or good and evil, but about means to an end.
But inevitably, global situations change, and friends become enemies. It’s in these moments of quick transition that a history of “looking the other way” comes back to bite.