In November 1938, Gandhi wrote about what Jews should do to resist Nazi tyranny. He explained, “If I were a Jew born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon…The Jews of Germany can offer Satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa.” Even after the horrors of the Holocaust were widely known, in 1946, Gandhi stated, “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jew should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife….It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany.”
Today, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who literally wrote the book on American inaction during foreign genocides, attempted to use Gandhi tactics on Russia, Syria, and Iran. She exclaimed, “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?”
The media quickly declared Power a hero, a truth-teller. But the fact is that of course Russia, Syria and Iran have no shame. Why would they? Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cares nothing about human rights – he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. Iran is the leading sponsor of global terrorism. And Vladimir Putin is happy to invade surrounding states, jail offending dissidents, and kill his most ardent opponents.
So what is Power even talking about?
Here’s the sad truth about shame: it only works on people who have a moral compass. You cannot shame a Hitler; that’s why Gandhi was wrong. You cannot shame a Putin or an Assad or the mullahs. They don’t see anything wrong in murdering innocents to advance their political agenda. Those innocents aren’t innocent, in their view, so long as they’re standing in the way.
But the left keeps on pushing shame as an actual foreign policy strategy. They trotted out Michelle Obama holding up a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria. SPOILER ALERT: it didn’t work. After Russia invaded Ukraine, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted #UnitedforUkraine. SPOILER ALERT: Russia didn’t withdraw from Ukraine.
Evil people aren’t stopped by virtue signaling. They’re stopped with action. But the Obama administration is so used to shaming its domestic political enemies into kowtowing that they think they can apply the same tactics on foreign policy.
Instead, they’ve actually helped breed shamelessness domestically, too. The overuse of political shame has caused opponents to react with brazen shamelessness – we’re not going to be told what to do, and if you think we’re humiliated, you’re dead wrong. Donald Trump’s rise is a symptom of that fact. Shame, overused, becomes useless – it actually breeds lack of shame.
And it breeds new alliances, as shameless people sympathize with one another. Trump can look at Obama and point out that Obama’s a hypocrite, attempting to shame Putin while simultaneously allying with him. Why not just skip the shame altogether? Ironically, Obama’s hashtag diplomacy and tacit apathy has only bred outright alliance with dictators, not the opposition necessary to stop them.