The United States helped protect the last Middle Eastern tyrant thought to use chemical weapons.
That dictator was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Because he was fighting Iran in the 1980s, the Reagan administration fed him secret intelligence. And because his country bought U.S. crops, farm-state politicians fought off sanctions.
Now, amid allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria, the Obama administration is preparing a case for military action. Moral assertions will be paramount, as in Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration Monday that “our sense of basic humanity is offended.”
History, though, offers a harsher perspective. From Iraq and Syria, to Rwanda and Armenia, morality as a motive in U.S. foreign policy is more contingent than absolute.
“It’s quite selective. The government knew of the fact that Iraq was using chemical weapons, and did not deter them,” Joyce Battle, an analyst at the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan research center, said in an interview Tuesday. “But when it’s thought to be in U.S. interests, the government will adopt a moralistic stand when it wants to justify its policies.”
Put another way, foreign policy calculations are invariably cold-blooded, notwithstanding moral declarations. Stirring words can be worn like a new cloak during a campaign, then set aside for action.
~ from In Foreign Policy, the Moral High Ground Is Only an Occasional Destination by Michael Doyle ~
Look, I'm not some utopian purist. I understand that, for most of us, morality shifts based on what we want. We stand by our principles as long as it is convenient. If a principle runs into conflict with ethics or morality, we have a propensity to twist the latter into a pretzel in order to create a rationalization that the principle hasn't been violated at all.
Since average folks behave this way, it is not surprising that governments follow suit.
I guess what bothers me is the dripping sanctimony of my nation's leaders. They act so damn pious when most thinking people understand what is really going on. I just wish they would drop the over-the-top bullshit from time to time.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear a US leader say, "We have decided to attack such and such a country because they aren't bowing to our [supposed] national interests. It really has next too nothing to do with their recent behavior. They could slaughter their own people nilly willy or attack their neighbors, so long as they don't do anything that harms our corporate interests or tilts the balance of power away from our geopolitical position."?