Friday, August 1, 2014

Should Smaller Countries Rely on the Beneficence of the United States?

If there is any lesson to be learned from the way Jean Laffite was treated by representatives of the United States goverment at Galveston, it is this: A very small country cannot expect to survive long if it chooses to become a satellite of the United States.

There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that in the tit-for-tat of diplomatic negotiation, the United States tends to make concessions to countries whose behavior and goals it sees as problematic and even threatening, while taking for granted that well-behaved satellites will stay in line.

My father, back when he still hoped that Israel would stop relying on US assistance,  explained it like this:

the entire article can be read in facsimile here:

When Uri goes to school, the teacher, Bracha, tells him that discipline, quiet and order are the keys to success. If Uri asked for my advice, I would tell him to ignore the teacher and do whatever he feels like. I know what the teacher learned in her pedagogical seminar: take the wildest boy, give him a position of authority, give him responsibility, imbue him with importance,  and he will help you to rule over the class. You will be able to handle the obedient children either way. Uri knows all that. He does not need my advice.
I'm not saying that it has to be this way. It is possible to manage a class, a family, a country or the world another way, too. The teacher, the head of the family, the government of the country,  the international authority can do so. But it's not up to Uri. He can only study the responses of Mrs. Bracha and learn that it is not the one who obeys her who is rewarded. In the area of international relations, it is not in Israel's hands. Israel can only determine that it is not in its best interest to obey international powers, even if their intention is for the good. The international powers have interests that are in conflict with those of Israel; at times the great powers do not even understand what is their own best interest. For its own sake, and at times even for the sake of the great power whose commands it disobeys, Israel must break out on its own.
 This same advice holds in every relationship, even the intimate ones. Those who are most secure in our love and most sure of our allegiance to them are the ones who tend to take advantage of us. Often family members show greater deference and concern toward strangers they are wary of than to those whom they trust and rely on. In a romantic relationship, the person who is most committed is the one with the least leverage. In business negotiation and at the diplomatic conference table,  it is the least well-behaved participant who has more of a chance to get what he wants.

In Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain, we learn this lesson over and over again. From the opening pages, where Theodosia's love for Jean leaves her unable to demand anything for herself, not even that he break his ties with the treacherous General James Wilkinson, to the many different moments when Jean offers his allegiance and his services to the United States only to be told that they would rather do business with Spain or Britain, to the final negotiations by Pierre for a safe conduct pass, which is only granted when Pierre hints that Jean could just hand over Galveston to Spain, we see how it all works. The one who loves the most is rarely found on top, and the United States gives in to empires it is afraid of and not to the friends that are helping it to resist them.

Could it be otherwise? Could unconditional love ever be rewarded? Could a pater familias, a governor or a ruler ever punish the disobedient and reward the good? Could justice be swift and unerring, and could there ever be someone we can count on not to betray our trust once we give it?

We do see that in the actions of Jean Laffite as he governs his own family, his captains and his  own little country. But Jean Laffite was not a world power, and he was fighting too many enemies on too many fronts, while not having enough allies he could count on. If the United States had feared Jean Laffite more, it would have respected him better. Because they knew they could always count on his loyalty, they were able to completely disarm him. In the long run, this was not in the best interest of the United States.

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