We are a country with a conscience. We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it.
Would that this were the case, but as we have seen over the years our country’s conscience and the foreign policy of our government often have little to do with one another. It is frequently so-called “idealists” that talk the loudest about “values” and human rights while bending over backwards to excuse every excess committed by the U.S. and our allies and clients. They are quick to invoke morality when there is a war to be started against a pariah state, but they seem incapable of acknowledging injustices and wrongs committed by our government and those aligned with us. Moralizing hawks are the first to demand accountability from the states over which Washington has zero influence, and they are typically the very last to demand the same from the states that the U.S. arms and supports. As soon as there is no pretext for attacking another state, their “moral concerns” are nowhere to be found. And there is probably no one less credible to deliver such a rebuke to Tillerson than McCain, who has consistently abused the language of “values” and appeals to moral conscience to justify the most destructive and appalling policies of the last twenty years.
The war on Yemen is a perfect example of this. John “Thank God for the Saudis” McCain has been and continues to be a leading booster of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. When the Saudi-led intervention began, he and his partner in crime, Lindsey Graham, complained that the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to help them. In addition to dismissing the civilian casualties caused by the indiscriminate coalition bombing campaign, McCain has reliably recited Saudi propaganda to provide cover for the war while completely ignoring the catastrophic humanitarian crisis that their campaign has done so much to cause. The rights and dignity of Yemeni civilians appear to be completely irrelevant to McCain, because he cannot use them to agitate for a new war. His respect for an “an international order governed by rules” goes out the window when it is U.S. clients aided and abetted by the U.S. that are breaking those rules. McCain was mocking Tillerson when he wrote the following lines, but they could very easily pass as his own argument for our policy in Yemen:
So, if you happen to be in the way of our forging relationships with your oppressors that could serve our security and economic interests, good luck to you. You’re on your own.
The trouble is that the trade-off McCain and others have been making with respect to Yemen doesn’t do anything to serve our security or economic interests. The policy of backing the Saudis and their allies would still be wrong even if it did, but McCain and others like him are so wedded to backing client states no matter what that they can’t or won’t see that doing so in this case clearly harms both U.S. interests and our values. A foreign policy guided by a concern for justice wouldn’t be one that enables coalition war crimes in Yemen, blocks investigations into those crimes, and helps despotic governments as they create the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Unfortunately, the foreign policy we actually have does all of those things. McCain is its biggest supporter, and Tillerson is more in agreement with him than either of them would like to admit.