February 10, 2004
Tariq Ali, Editor, New Left Review, and political commentator
Dana Robert Dillon, Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation
Adrian Karatnycky, Counselor and Senior Scholar, Freedom House (moderator)
The chance to hear an outsider's critical viewpoint of US foreign policy brought an active audience to the Asia Society on February 10, as it launched a new series, Democracy and Dissent as part of the Asian Social Issues Program (ASIP). Audience engagement was palpable as Tariq Ali, editor of New Left Review and a known critic of US foreign policy, proposed that the war on terror is a military blunder, and that the US should have launched a diplomatic turnaround to address the underlying cause for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States: our backing of Israel, our foreign policy towards Iraq and our support of oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. As he noted in his wide ranging talk at the Asia Society, one of many lectures that he is giving on Eastern campuses this week, when the British Cabinet was nearly annihilated by the Irish Republican Army bombings in Brighton, the British government did not go to war against the IRA nor bomb Catholic-majority cities. It started negotiating with Sinn Fein, which years later resulted in a cease fire. Comparisons are not exact, he agreed, but policies akin to the British action should happen in order to stop the flow to terrorist organizations of Arab youth, disaffected by the imperialism and foreign policy double standards of western countries.
The program, which was originally conceived to discuss the use of the War on Terror as a silencing tool of repressive governments in Asia, was expanded by Mr. Ali to include his position on US foreign policy in general. Dana Dillon, of the Heritage Foundation, offered an unexpected viewpoint as well, by not arguing against the thesis that the US's War on Terror is being used by Asian political leaders to their own benefit. In Indonesia, for example, weak and politically influenced judicial systems already permitted gross abuse of civil rights and President Megawati did not need the War on Terror as an excuse to jail her political opponents. Dillon’s thesis was that law enforcement reform (meaning police, judiciary and correctional) was necessary in Indonesia and Southeast Asia to win the War on Terror and protect civil rights. The United States could contribute to law enforcement development by shifting priorities in Southeast Asia from military aid to law enforcement development programs.
Moderating this discussion was Adrian Karatnycky from Freedom House, which monitors the progress and decline of political rights and civil liberties in 192 nations by examining the electoral process and freedom of expression and belief, among other indicators. While no countries were named, Senior Scholar Adrian Karatnycky noted that in Asia, an equal number (17) of countries are listed as either Free or Not Free, with a further 11 being listed Partly Free.
Audience questions showed a wide mix of political opinions. Discussion ranged from the roots of Palestinian violence (one questioner asked Tariq Ali his reaction to studies linking poverty and disillusionment to repressive Middle East governments) to the role land rights protection can play to empower the poor in Southeast Asia and next steps for the US in Iraq.
Asia Society will follow this event with other discussions that focus on the Patriot Act and the effect of the War on Terror on Asian-Americans and Muslims within the United States.