Hypocrisy as a Moral Indicator
I'll offer two questions to start: What does hypocrisy mean? And how does it involve our foreign policy?
I came across a Noam Chomsky work in "Masters of Mankind," a compilation of some of his essays and lectures on the double standard of law. He delivered this speech to New York University in 2004 and I think it needs to be revisited.
The pressing issue of the time was the Iraq war, the violent reality of the U.S. invasion, and the lack of a justification after the WMD narrative collapsed. Chomsky begins with the canonization of George W. Bush by the media and the assumption of good faith on behalf of the United States.
[Western intellectuals] praised themselves and their leaders for introducing a "noble phase" of foreign policy with a "saintly glow," as they adhered to "principles and values" for the first time in history, acting from "pure altruism," following the lead of the "idealistic new world bent on ending inhumanity," joined by its loyal partner who alone comprehends the true nobility of the mission, which has now evolved even further into the "Bush messianic mission to graft democracy onto the rest of the world" — all quoted from the elite press and intellectuals.
For many, this narrative is bigoted at best and murderous at worst. For others, though, especially those in power, this continues to serve as the informative thought process when making consequential foreign policy decisions.
Chomsky dives into the 1970s, beginning with what should be called a genocide of Vietnamese and Cambodian residents, by quoting Henry Kissinger.
Perhaps the simplest account is the orders that Henry Kissinger transmitted, in the usual manner of the obedient bureaucrat, from President Nixon to the military commanders: "A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves."
At this, Chomsky brings up the famous Nuremberg trials that succeeded the defeat of the Nazi regime and talks about the meaning of a crime. Western powers, during the Nuremberg trials, omitted certain charges from the prosecution of the Nazis because it wouldn't have held up to this simple principle: "Nazi war criminals were absolved if the defense could show that their US counterparts carried out the same crimes."
A war crime, to the West, wasn't necessarily what was written in international agreements. Rather, it carried the additional weight of something that the West itself doesn't do. A violation of norms rather than written law.
Leading Nazi officials will be indicted and placed on trial in Nuremberg, Germany... for the following crimes: (1) Conspiracy to commit charges 2, 3, and 4, which are listed here; (2) crimes against peace—defined as participation in the planning and waging of a war of aggression in violation of numerous international treaties; (3) war crimes—defined as violations of the internationally agreed upon rules for waging war; and (4) crimes against humanity—"namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of domestic law of the country where perpetrated." (Charter of the International Military Tribunal)
The Nazi regime was prosecuted for its aggressive wars, mass genocide against Jews, and the imprisonment and persecution of millions more. These were violations of European norms, at the time, which is the only reason it wasn't tolerated. The Nazi regime wasn't prosecuted for things like The Blitz, its infamous bombing campaign of Britain, because the Allies were just as guilty of that, executing similar operations in cities like Dresden.
This presupposition of Western moral dominance has consequences around the world. Chomsky notes a headline from Iraq, "If Iraqis ever see Saddam Hussein in the dock, they want his former American allies shackled beside him."
One moral truism that should be uncontroversial is the principle of universality: we should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others—in fact, more stringent ones. This should be uncontroversial for everyone, but particularly so for the world's most important citizens, the leaders of the enlightened states (used ironically), who declare themselves to be devout Christians, devoted to the Gospels, hence surely familiar with its famous condemnation of the Hypocrite.
Chomsky is presumably speaking about Matthew 23, where Jesus calls out the Pharisees, one of the most powerful messages in the new testament.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others...
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
This chapter has long been one of my favorites. It offers a difficult-to-attain yet self-evident principle of the golden rule and a way to strive for self-betterment without perfection. It should be a moral standard for the entire world.
Chomsky goes through some historical events that indict that United States as the biggest hypocrites in the world. He references the sanctions placed on Syria for occupying Lebanon while 1) the U.S. welcome its presence and 2) Israel was violating the same exact sovereignty, to a higher degree. He quotes Steve Zunes: "Lebanese sovereignty must be defended only if the occupying army is from a country the United States opposes."
This lecture was delivered in 2004, a year and a half before the 2006 Lebanon war. It's eerily telling.
The best example yet might be the U.S. harboring of international terrorists like Orlando Bosch, who orchestrated the Cubana airline bombing. Later, the U.S. invaded, occupied, and bombed Afghanistan for what it claimed was the harboring of Osama Bin Laden. Would we accept Cuba invading, occupying, and bombing the United States because we refused to extradite Bosch?
I could spend weeks detailing all of the CIA bombings in the middle east and Latin America, the funds to violent death squads, etc. But the underlying idea is the same: why don't we apply our standards of aggressive war to other nations?
Because it's untenable, irrational, and insane.
Imagine if Iran was currently manufacturing possibly one of the worst famines in modern history. They would be immediately sanctioned to zero or violently expelled from Yemen.
Better yet, if Iran imprisoned 2 million Israelis in a ghetto 125 square miles wide. They would face immediate bombing and eventually regime change.
Instead, it's our own allies committing these atrocities. We don't sanction them or threaten war: not even close. We actually fund their violent oppression with billions in military aid.