Gay Rights and American Foreign Policy

Never the twain should meet

by , December 23, 2011

The announcement that the US government will henceforth push the achievement of “gay rights” internationally, as a key element of its foreign policy, gives new meaning to the phrase “blowback” – and cut out the snickering! Because the self-righteousness and narcissism of American policymakers, in this instance, will have very real consequences for gay people throughout the world, and it isn’t going to be pretty.

If anything underscores the bedrock principle of what I call “libertarian realism” – the concept that the real roots of American foreign policy are determined by the vagaries of domestic politics – it is this proclamation, enunciated in one of Hillary Clinton’s more bombastic and self-regarding tirades, delivered in front of the UN “Human Rights Council.” With the President’s political base dispirited, and his reelection chances increasingly doubtful, what Democratic strategists perceive as a gay voting bloc is being energized for the battle to come. The problem is that the new US policy is going to hurt gays abroad, and, perhaps, place them in mortal peril. While the gay wing of the Democratic party organization was shouting hosannas at Clinton’s moral preening, the Chicago Sun-Times reported a different reaction coming from those gay rights advocates fighting in the trenches:

“Other activists focused on gay rights internationally were more restrained in their praise. Neil Grungas, founder of the San Francisco-based Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, which represents gay asylum-seekers, said it was critical for the administration to secure allies on every continent to avoid looking like it was imposing American values on parts of the world that view the West with mistrust or hostility.

“Recalling how large demonstrations broke out in Pakistan in June after staff at the U.S. Embassy held a gay pride celebration there, he said that Obama’s sincere commitment to improving the gay rights picture globally could inadvertently make life worse for gays and lesbians abroad.

“’This cannot be seen as a U.S.-only issue because at the end of the day that would be counter-productive,’ said Grungas, who was in the audience for Clinton’s speech. ‘In countries where U.S. moral leadership is not high and where increasingly Western values are negative … there is a real danger people can use this issue and say, ‘No, we are cleaning up here, we are going to reject this American imposition of decay.’”

Never mind what actually helps gay people in, say, Pakistan: it’s what makes Hillary Clinton feel morally pure – and helps the Democrats stay in office.

What Hillary had to say in her speech epitomizes the unhinged moral hubris of a woman who sees herself as some kind of Historic Force, destined to alter the stars in their course. The lecturing tone: for thousands of words she catalogues the abuses heaped on gay people the world over, and denounces these as violations of the most basic human rights – but what is the US government prepared to do about it? Withhold “foreign aid” from countries that hurl gays off cliffs, as in Saudi Arabia? Certainly not: the new “policy,” as described in a memorandum from the White House to all agencies, specifies no such action – indeed, it specifies no particular action, just a general statement of “principle.”

After subjecting her audience to this burst of self-righteousness, Madame Clinton then launches into an absurdly one-dimensional assault on the idea that imposing American values on the rest of the world on a sensitive subject might be in the least bit counterproductive:

“The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world. Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.”

Homosexual behavior has existed as long as history itself, and it knows no geographical boundaries: on the other hand, gay identity is indeed confined not only geographically but in time. In the Muslim world, for example, homosexual relations between men are widespread – on account of the unapproachable status of women – and tacitly sanctioned, as long as the relationships are discreet, i.e. “closeted,” in Western parlance. This means men who identify as fully heterosexual regularly engage in sexual relations with other men – to a far greater degree than is true in Western countries. The only difference is that there is no desire – and no need – on their part to “come out,” a Western ritual of political correctness that would impose gay identity on those who reject such a label for cultural-religious reasons.

The second point to be made is that gay identity, as opposed to gay sexuality, is a very recent phenomenon even in the West: its emergence as a cultural and now a political force can be traced to the “cultural revolution” of the 1960s, and the “liberation” of women, combining the prevalent hedonism of the post-Woodstock era with the cultural Marxist categories of class-race-and-gender “oppression.” Abraham Lincoln could sleep in the same bed with his favorite hunk for years and no one would have thought to call him “gay.” Spartan soldiers could bugger their comrades on the battlefield and then go home to their wives and children with nary a thought about their “sexual identity.”

Those were the Good Old Days. Today, a romp in the hay is a political act, and the non-Western reaction to this evolution is bad news for the “gay” underground in those countries. It means demagogues arising to wipe out this “Western menace,” while Western politicians capitalize on it here in the US by getting up on their high horses. This is the irony inherent in the only solid action item in the administration’s pro-gay memo: instructing US embassies abroad to facilitate applications for asylum in the US. First stir up the hornets nest – and then rush to the aid of those stung. That just about sums up the course of US “human rights” diplomacy in modern era.

No one denies that the oppression of gays – often quite horrific – in non-Western countries is deplorable, immoral, and all the rest. Yet there are many injustices in the world, most of which are beyond the power of the US government – or anyone – to correct. Certainly the US intervening in the moral life of foreign countries, about whose customs and history we can only have a limited understanding, is a prelude to other far less benevolent forms of meddling. It is only a short hop, skip, and a jump from “fighting for gay rights” rhetorically to intervening in other, less benign ways – including militarily.

American foreign policy is supposed to protect America’s interests abroad, and those interests are hardly served by alienating those non-Western countries where homosexuality is understood differently, and is in many cases illegal. Nor are the interests of gay people in those countries served by the posturing of American politicians who are simply pandering to domestic constituencies. In this case, as in all others, the best policy for the US internationally is to mind its own damned business.

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