National Priorities and Interventions

In this week’s reading of Iran Awakening, Shirin Ebadi discusses the relationship between Iran and the United States over a period of history in great detail.  What most interested me was how and when the United States chose to intervene in Iranian politics and daily life.  “In 1953… Kermit Roosevelt… arrived in Tehran to reassure the skittish shah and direct the coup d’etat” (5).  In this case, the United States was in full support of this intervention, but it was not because it would benefit the Iranian people.  Mossadegh “nationalization of Iranian oil” would negatively affect the United States (5).  Therefore, directing a coup d’etat in Iran became a priority for the United States.  This scenario, and many others that Ebadi describes in the text, leave me with two questions and many conclusions.  What makes something a national priority in the United States and how are these priorities organized?  How does the United States decide when to intervene in another country and when is intervention actually necessary?

Shirin Ebadi in 2003: one week after winning the Noble Peace Prize.

As we have discussed numerous times throughout the semester, national priorities are often those that act in the best interest of Americans, specifically the elite.  Although national priorities should focus on helping others, even those who cannot afford to compensate the United States, this has proven not to be the case.  For example, when 800,000 people were being slaughtered in Rwanda, the United States did not intervene.  However, if Rwanda had something we were interested in attaining (for example, oil), the United States would surely have offered their assistance.  In Iran Awakening, Ebadi tells us of the time when the U.S. Embassy in Iran was seized and the staff members were taken hostage.  She, along with many other Iranians, was expecting American intervention.  The United States did intervene, but not with hard power.  Instead, they froze “Iranian assets in the United States” (43).  I understand that the United States, and most other countries, base their decisions and priorities off of what would have the best impact on their own country.  However, this is no way justifies violating and ignoring human rights violations.

Ebadi makes a very interesting statement in her memoir about women’s rights and national priorities.  “In their hierarchy of rights, women’s rights would forever come last” (56).  Although she is speaking primarily about Iran, I feel that this statement is applicable to many countries around the world.  A country’s priorities are often centered around the economy and national security.  These are both very important, but there cannot be positive change in these two areas if women are considered inferior to men.  Data shows that economic development is often tied to gender equality.  If a country focused more on women’s rights, the economy would naturally improve.  Gender equality is also closely related to national security.  Violence against women is a widespread problem.  As I discussed in an earlier post, many criminal justice systems blame the victim of sexual assault rather than the perpetrator.  Honor killings occur all around the world, but disproportionately in the Middle East.  For women in Iran, there is a great chance that they will be the victims of sexual assault at some point in their lifetime.  Interestingly enough, these crimes don’t seem worthy of becoming a national priority.  In Iran, this inequality is treated as a fact based on the Islamic Penal Code.  However, the United States claims to be built on ideals of freedom and equality.  These issues do not merit enough attention to lead to an intervention because there is no direct advantage for the United States.  Even within the United States’ borders, these crimes go unnoticed and unpunished every day.  Why is it that women’s rights are not considered a priority?  I understand that governments have a lot to be concerned with, but fundamental human rights need to be prioritized.

Another question I found myself asking was about the relationship between the Global North and the Global South.  Does the Global North have a responsibility to help the Global South?  Each country is responsible for the people living within its borders, but often times the rights of these people are not being met to the right standard.  For example, eighteen percent of Americans live below poverty, one in four women will be sexually assaulted, and maternal mortality is on the rise.  One would assume that these issues would qualify as priorities for the American government, but these issues are often put on the back burner.  Instead, the government focuses on maintaining the United States’ position as a superpower and improving the country’s reputation on a global scale.  (I am not saying that any of these things are not important, but I do feel that certain issues need to be prioritized over other, less important issues).

On this map, the blue countries make up the Global North and the red countries make up the Global South.

When discussing American intervention in other countries, it is important to understand the different motivations for intervention.  Is the United States intervening because they genuinely want to help the people, or are they intervening to move forward their own political agenda?  I believe American intervention is always problematic in the latter case and sometimes problematic in the other.  For example, the American government often claims that the war in Afghanistan is being fought to protect the women and children.  This, in and of itself, sounds wonderful, but this is a complete lie.  American motivation to intervene was not related to protecting human rights at all.  However, if the United States had chosen to intervene in Rwanda during the genocide, their motivation would have been completely understandable.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mohammed Adawulai
    Mar 29, 2010 @ 04:54:32

    keeping them honest. you are mostly right. i do not expect the US to always intervene in other countries affairs when it has so many problems to deal with at home: don’t ask don’t tell, sexual assault in the military and within the civilian society, women’s right among many others. what i do expect of the US is that each time it interferes with another country’s affair, such an intervention should be mutual and positive. for america to remain a true leader, this must become true.


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