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.