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Hullabaloo


Thursday, March 20, 2014

 
Organized hypocrisy

by digby

Roger Simon has written a funny piece about the right wingers' admiration and desire for manly, man Vladimir Putin:
Our next president needs to be tough, resolute and no-nonsense.

Our next president needs to be a person of clear intentions who will not cower in the face of our enemies or send mixed messages.

Our next president must be dauntless, determined and daring.

Our next president must be strong.

If you have been reading editorials or listening to commentary, whether from the left or right, you know who that person is: Vladimir Putin.

Read his rave reviews:

Rudy Giuliani said recently of Putin: “[H]e makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader!”

Sarah Palin: “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans.”

Charles Krauthammer: “Putin fully occupies vacuums. In Ukraine, he keeps flaunting his leverage.”

On the left, there is this from The Washington Post editorial page: “While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. … As Mr. Putin ponders whether to advance further — into eastern Ukraine, say — he will measure the seriousness of U.S. and allied actions, not their statements.”

Action! Strength! Might! Muscle! That is what we need.
He also notes certain other members of the cognoscenti like Fareed Zakaria and Tom "Suck on this" Friedman who are making the case that this whole thing points to the need for America to strong defend something, lest we be seen as weak and feckless.

And then there are those who are agitating for a military intervention:
Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich co-authored an opinion piece recently that was titled: “Obama’s Ukraine Policy: Scream Loudly, Carry No Stick.”

They wrote: “The fact is anything short of providing arms and intelligence to the sovereign Ukrainian government is unlikely to deter Putin. Clearly, we do not need American boots on the ground in Ukraine, a step we would both oppose.”

Everyone goes all weak in the knees when it comes to U.S. “boots on the ground.” But why? U.S. boots on the ground created working democracies in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, didn’t they?

OK, bad examples.

Yeah. As are most of our military adventures of the last few decades, with or without any boots on the ground. It's an amusing piece except for the fact that this is another case of deja vu all over again. And these things rarely end well.

I keep hearing about sovereign borders and international laws and norms and how we must uphold these principles even though we quite easily ignore them when it suits our own interests. And what is most often set forth as the rationale for doing this is that old saw "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue."  In other word,s we must pretend that we believe in these things despite our own clear flouting of them in our own interests in order to preserve the fiction that these norms are worthwhile. And every time I hear this, I think, who in the hell is buying that bilge?

I guess there are a few patriots around in the US who sincerely believe that we only flout the norms and laws and treaties because we're good and they're evil. But I doubt anyone else in the world believes that. Hypocrisy is no tribute to anything --- it's a double standard that makes you look like an idiot with no standing when you beat your chest making moral pronouncements by which you personally refuse to abide.

But even that wouldn't be so bad if people didn't see through the real reason for this "rules are for thee but not for me" reality of the situation:  it's Realpolitik dressed up with smarm and insincerity. And in the case of the mighty US of A, it amounts to little more than a pretty obvious definition of "national interest" that says that we are so powerful and so rich that we can do whatever we choose, when we choose to do it --- even invade countries that haven't attacked us, spy on foreign countries and their leaders, control resources and basically run the world as we see fit  --- but we will do all that by making a lugubrious moral case that we only do these things for the betterment of all mankind. Basically,  "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, honey..."

Once you prove that you only care about your own national interest, however you define that, it's inevitable that some people will see all these international institutions and carefully created norms and rules for what they are --- a convenient beard for the actions a country takes on its own behalf. Leaders of other nations are looking out for what they perceive to be their national interest as well and they know that where our nations don't have a practical conflict in those terms,as with Crimea, they are likely to get away with it. Realpolitik.

I can see that a lot of people don't like that state of affairs. They want the world to work on the basis of widely accepted norms and rules which groups of signatories will enforce when they are breached. That's the promise of the UN and it's the promise of dozens of treaties and agreements among allies. But it's a little difficult for me to understand how so many of the same people who think those norms are important and must be defended think that American hypocrisy, particularly in the wake of Iraq, doesn't make that whole argument hollow and, frankly, ridiculous. If we are operating on the basis of Realpolitik, which we clearly are, then we should admit it and we should stop with the sanctimony and admit it. Once we do that, then maybe people can start making the real argument as to why we should be intervening in various places on the merits instead of these phony abstractions.

11 years ago liberals were all shaking their fists at George W. Bush about the invasion of Iraq. But one of the more fatuous arguments against it was the fact that he was unable to strong-arm the UN or many of America's traditional allies, into joining the invasion. It was a convenient argument, but a cheap one. The invasion of Iraq would have been wrong whether the UN agreed to it or not. It was clear from the record that the people running the US had wanted to invade for a very long time for a variety of reasons, none of which were acceptable within the one important global understanding we had in the wake of WWII:  you don't invade countries that haven't attacked you (or aren't obviously and imminently preparing to.) These people had been looking for a good reason to invade Iraq and they finally just did it using the smoke and dust from the World Trade Center to make it happen. That would have been wrong whether every other country in the world signed on to it. Leaning on that as our reasoning was weak. (And I admit to using it more than once....)

And in any case, regardless of the merits, there is a price to be paid for actions like Iraq and the price is that in the future, when you start proselytizing about international law and sovereign borders, nobody listens. Your hypocrisy is not seen as a tribute vice makes to virtue, it's seen as a self-serving pile of rubbish that you ignore and then trot out to beat other people over the head with when they follow your example.  The hypocrisy renders the whole argument completely useless at best and a ready excuse for manly men who don't wear mom jeans to do as they wish,  at worst. (I can't believe I'm having to make a case that hypocrisy is not a good thing and makes you less believable, but that's where we are.)

I think most people in this country and around the world, if not in the American chattering classes, understand very well that the US is hypocritical and they logically take that into consideration when they evaluate their own options and actions. (But considering the massive global challenges we face, I guess I just have to wonder how we can hope to survive them much less build cooperation with this level of official cynicism and mistrust. A little humility might be something to think about if anyone cares to rebuild the notion that international institutions actually mean something.

Liberals used to decry Realpolitik and demand that the US abide by its principles.  Now it's called "Organized Hypocrisy" and many of them celebrate it for its pragmatism. We are all realists now ...


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