Column: A look in the mirror

careyWith some state and local issues put to rest, at least temporarily, by the Nov. 5 election, it is a good time to look at a foreign policy question of great importance. The question is, how can we fairly judge whether a particular national action or policy is effective and ethical?

A prominent U.S. government official threw out a proposition for reaching such judgments on Oct. 31. I say “threw out” advisedly, since she inserted it into a long address before a national organization.

The official is Samantha Pow­er, our chief representative at the United Nations, who recently took over that post from Susan Rice, now in the national security business. Her audience was the Anti-Defamation League’s National Commission Centennial Meeting. Her text comes from the State Department, so the seemingly out-of-context remark was clearly intentional.

The immediate context was as follows: Power was saying “that the administration is grateful for the strong public support that exists, including from the Jewish community, for the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, talks to which we, as you know, are deeply committed. As the president said in Jerusalem earlier this year, peace is not just necessary; peace is possible.”

Power then switched gears abruptly with this: “More broadly, we must recognize that there are times when just and humane goals can only be achieved by means that are not, in themselves, strictly humanitarian.”

Let us now inquire whether two undeniably non-humanitarian U.S. policies can be justified under Samantha Power’s test as seeking “just and humane goals.”

The first U.S. policy to put to the test is the embargo on Cuba. The second is the use of drones to kill perceived enemies.

Every year, Cuba makes a vain effort to at least slow down our U.S. embargo on Cuba, through a General Assembly resolution condemning the embargo. The resolution always passes handily, but the embargo remains. There has, however, been an easing up on U.S. travel to Cuba. That used to be impossible for U.S. citizens. But now organized groups of tourists go there frequently. I even know a man whose wealthy family fled Cuba, but who is now able to make return visits unmolested.

This year’s attack on the embargo is the subject of a Cuban “declaration of the tenth forum against the embargo, adopted by Cuban civil society organizations and regional and international organizations based in Cuba,” published as a UN document under the symbol A/68/549.

Here is an excerpt: “2. The embargo constitutes a gross, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of the Cuban people. The embargo generates deprivation and suffering for the population, limits and delays the country’s development, and violates our fundamental rights as well as the human rights of the people of the United States.”

I suppose U.S. cigar lovers may be inconvenienced by their inability to obtain Cuba’s finest—and Cuba is a beautiful island for tourism—‑but, other than that, it is hard to see why the Cubans are commiserating with us.

Embargos not being “strictly humanitarian,” we can ask ourselves whether regime change in Cuba is a “just and humane goal,” as Ambassador Power put it. Another application of the Samantha Power test is to ask ourselves whether our non-humanitarian use of drones to kill is excused by having a “just and humane goal” of decimating the Taliban, Al Qaeda et al.