The US’s real credibility problems


As the congressional debate on whether to authorize military action against Syria gets under way, we will hear endlessly from the war hawks who have predictably started salivating at the prospect of more killing by the US military about the need to uphold US ‘credibility’ and that in the highly unlikely event that Congress votes down the resolution and the administration abides by their decision, US credibility will be seriously damaged. As numerous commentators and commenters to this blog have pointed out, ‘credibility’ has now become narrowly identified with the willingness of the US to carry out a threat, whether or not that threat was wise or even reasonable.

But the real threat to US credibility lies in the fact that the US government has proven itself to be serial liars so that no one should take at face value anything they say. And as Samuel Knight points out its moral credibility is in much worse shape.

Our integrity deficit is fueled by a dearth of moral authority. A working paper commissioned by the United Nations in 2002, for example, concluded that depleted uranium – allegedly the cause of widespread birth defects and illness in Iraq – should be considered among “weapons of mass destruction…with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” and, therefore, banned by the Geneva convention and other treaties. The same paper also drew similar conclusions about the legality of cluster bombs, anti-personnel mines and other weapons the United States army continues to use. Not to mention, Israel used white phosphorous in the densely populated Gaza Strip in an allegedly criminal manner in 2009, and President Obama didn’t bat an eyelash. Nor did the President appear keen on holding the past administration’s criminals to account. Suddenly we care about international law?

Katie Miranda’s Grumpy Cat provides the proper commentary on the hypocrisy that lies behind Obama’s statements on Syria.

But it is not just about international law, which the US threw out of the window a long time ago. It is that the US claims to occupy the moral high ground, and that it has the obligation to uphold moral standards even when they are not backed by law. This is an argument that it is forced to make out of necessity since the law is often not on its side. So we have manufactured ‘moral’ reasons like the need to stop the Communists from taking over a country or to save people from their own leaders and other supposedly humanitarian grounds for military action.

Since the government of every country falls short of the high moral ideal, there is never a shortage of reasons for attacking a country, as long as no one points out the rampant inconsistencies in the application of these reasons. And it is to avoid such awkward questions that we must not be reminded of events that happened more than a couple of years ago. This is why the US media never seems to ask its leaders why the reasons given now for some military action now were not invoked in similar situations in the past or why reasons given in the past don’t seem to be applicable now. That would not be polite and would result in the journalists not being invited to Washington parties ever again, which is the fate they seem to fear the most.

In order for the propaganda system to work, the US government and its compliant media need to view history as beginning just two years or so ago and that anything that happened before that can be ignored, and they act aggrieved when people bring up earlier events that expose its hypocrisy. But as Paul Waldman says, the rest of the world tends to have longer memories and can recall all the other conflicts that the US has been involved in. Here is an even more comprehensive list and you get a strong sense of how the US seems to be a nation that is perpetually at war.

Comments

  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Few typos there Mano if you’d like to fix them :

    “In order fort he propaganda ..” -presume you meant “In order for the propaganda ..”

    “..which is the fate they seem to feat the most.” = Presume you meant “which is the fate they seem to fear the most.”

    The Syrian issue is a dreadfully horrible lose-lose situation whatever anyone does now short of the unrealsitic surredenr or peaec agreement by one or all side. Of course that whole region is pretty badly messed up by the extreme ideologies and hatreds the Jihadists (and a few brutal dictators) have for everyone different to and thinking differently from them.

    What would you like to see happen there?

    Assad get away with using chemical weapons (a type of WMD – a category that does NOT btw Include white phosphorous as nasty as its use may be?

    Or the Al Quaida linked heart-eating Jihadist “rebels” take over and bringing their own particularly gruesome brand to misery and savagery to the place?

    Or what?

    (I really do not know and am curious what your answer to this is. We disagree a lot on this issue I know but still like to hear your viewpoint.)

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    And, yes, of course, I now see typos in my comment here. Oh well, y’all get the gist of it I hope.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for pointing out the typos. I have corrected them.

    As for my preferences, I have never been a fan for the idea that the US must ‘do something’ about events in other countries because the US has a terrible history of using that phrase to intervene make things worse because its motives are not the benign ones it states, and it almost always ends up making things worse and creates immense hardship for the people there. And it is in that resulting instability that groups like al Qaeda flourish as can be seen in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Pakistan, all countries in which the US is involved, some more covertly than others.

    I have little patience with the argument that white phosphorus (and agent orange before it) has not been declared to be a WMD, as if that makes it ok to use it. The US has a long history of protecting its own lethal weaponry (white phosphorus, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, all of which create immense suffering) from international treaties. That does not make its hands clean. It is the usual shell game: the US ignores international law and invokes moral law when it suits them (like invading countries) and invokes international law and ignores moral law it when it suits them (treaties on what constitutes WMD).

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    No worries. Thanks for your reply.

    As for weapons of war, yes and no in my view. Its true that the the US hasn’t got clean hands (and has used some awful military devices but WMDs are a separate category – things like chemical weapons or nuclear work at a whole other level above the usual atrocities of war. In some ways being killed by a machete is arguably worse than being killed by an atomic bomb for the individual – but at a national level, at an effectiveness and destructiveness level the A-bomb is so much worse..

  5. lorn says

    A working paper, as opposed to a finished product? The paper admits DU is “allegedly the cause of widespread birth defects and illness in Iraq” but then go on to work this as if the link was well established. Sounds more like an article of faith than something a person leaning toward logic and science would cite. The debate has not been concluded. Some nations have drawn their own conclusions on DU, Germany doesn’t use the stuff but it isn’t protesting very loudly about those who do.

    Of course, as with all things moral or military, there are gong to be tradeoffs. The debate on how much good gained justifies the use of how much evil in getting there is eternal. If you want to knock a hole in heavy armor and make sure a tank is not easily reusable, independent of any alleged toxicity, DU is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you don’t feel particularly threatened by armored vehicles, the alleged liabilities come forward and its benefit become incidental. DU development was motivated by the potential threat of several thousand armored vehicles and hundreds of thousands of troops invading West Germany. It was a way of stopping a tank with one shot in a way that kept it from being quickly repaired and reused.

    Cluster bombs and mines are still up for debate as to actual cruelty, indiscriminate nature, and desirability of remaining legal. The US has not signed anything that says it agrees with not using them or admits to any alleged inherent inhumanity. I think most people agree that might be used in ways that are more likely to increase suffering without any countervailing benefit but that is true of most anything.

    The use of WP by Israeli forces was seen by some Palestinians as inhumane, lot of ink was spilled belaboring this point, but, again, accusations do not establish standards in international law or morality. The debate hasn’t even begun on this particular issue.

    You then double down on the moral outrage based entirely on accusation and personal offense and claim that Obama should both have a strong opinion on the issues, and that his lack of outrage matching your own amounts to a moral defect. Who set you up as moral arbiter to humanity? You are welcome to your opinion but I fail to see how you can claim any moral authority. Clearly there is some diversity of opinion on these subjects.

    You are wrong. You have overstepped your authority by claiming that failure to agree with you is a moral failing instead of just a disagreement over inconclusive evidence. Claiming something is morally wrong is not the same as establishing your opinion as a viable and working, mush less higher, standard. And failing to comply with your personal opinion, or the writers of a UN working paper, does not in and of itself constitute any sort of moral failing. Your rush to claim that your opinion is, in effect, superior to others, fails to acknowledge that there remains a wide diversity of opinions among intelligent and well meaning persons. None of the issues you cite are anywhere close to being settled.

  6. Compuholic says

    Germany doesn’t use the stuff but it isn’t protesting very loudly about those who do.

    vs.

    DU development was motivated by the potential threat of several thousand armored vehicles and hundreds of thousands of troops invading West Germany

    Do you see a potential problem in your argument?

    […]independent of any alleged toxicity

    I’m sorry but the toxicity of uranium is well established. Uranium is certainly not the most poisenous material but it is not up for debate wheter it is poisenous or not. 1 gram is approximately the LD50 dose for inhalation. Considering that the penetrator of a tank weighs a couple kilos (and a good part of it goes up in smoke on impact) you will have enough uranium dust to kill several hundred people.

    In fact the government and the army are well aware that it is dangerous. (http://www.apd.army.mil/jw2/xmldemo/p700_48/main.asp).

    If the decision is made to re-use the contaminated vehicle due to operational necessity, then the vehicle should be decontaminated at the first opportunity. Personnel using the contaminated vehicle will wear full MOPP gear and be monitored for radiation exposure as soon as practical.

    You have overstepped your authority by claiming that failure to agree with you is a moral failing instead of just a disagreement over inconclusive evidence

    Oh I’m curious. How would conclusive evidence for a moral failing look like?

  7. says

    He has a 5-part series about Afghanistan and how the US built it in the 50s, then destroyed it in the oughts — amazing amazing stuff, written with typical Curtis quirkiness.

  8. Tony! The Immorally Inferior Queer Shoop! says

    StevoR:

    Of course that whole region is pretty badly messed up by the extreme ideologies and hatreds the Jihadists (and a few brutal dictators) have for everyone different to and thinking differently from them.

    You continue to display a tremendous lack of historical knowledge if you think the sole (or even main) reason for the instability in that region is due to Jihadists. But then that is no surprise given that you feel the Jihadists are out to get you.
    Moreover, that you believe the actions of the Jihadists stems from opposition to different thinking is laughable. Stop opining about things you know nothing about. The situation in that region is far more complex than you understand. Your opinions remain tremendously bigoted and narrowly focused. Read more. Warmonger less.

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