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U.S. Double Standards for Friend/Foe

By Ivan Eland
October 24, 2007

Editor’s Note: Is it fair and balanced for the Bush administration to help Turkey deny responsibility for the historical genocide against the Armenians, while whipping up war fever against Iran because its president expresses doubts about the historical accuracy of the Nazi genocide against the Jews?

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland urges the U.S. government to adopt equal standards for assessing human rights violations, including its own:

The Bush administration is attempting to soothe the Turkish government’s apoplectic reaction to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s label of “genocide” on Turkey’s slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, which occurred almost a century ago.

The administration fears that an enraged Turkish ally, already threatening to invade northern Iraq in order to suppress armed Turkish Kurd rebels seeking refuge there, will also cut off U.S. access to Turkish air bases and roads used to re-supply U.S. forces in Iraq.

The administration essentially wants to allow the Turks to continue to deny a historical fact that preceded even the existence of the current Turkish system of government.

Similarly, the United States has never been too enthusiastic about criticizing Japan’s denial of having used Chinese and South Korean women as sex slaves (so-called “comfort women”) during World War II.

More generally, the United States never really says too much when the current Japanese government regularly tries to whitewash in school textbooks the atrocious conduct of the Imperial Japanese regime before and during World War II. Again, a principal ally who does not face up to important historical facts is not reproved.

Yet the administration is still repeatedly bringing up Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s December, 2005 denial of the historical fact of the Jewish holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.

That’s because the U.S. government chooses to get along a lot less with the Iranian government (than it does with the governments of Turkey and Japan); because Israel, Iran’s nemesis, is a U.S. ally; and because the administration can win points with its domestic Israeli lobby.

In the same vein, the administration is supposed to be supporting the expansion of democracy overseas—that’s why the United States invaded Iraq, right?—but does so only in less friendly countries, not close allies.

The United States has pressured weaker Arab countries near Israel to hold elections and make democratic reforms, for example, among the Palestinians and Lebanese, but it has not pressured Israel to remove the second-class citizenship of the Arab population living within its borders.

The administration has aided opposition forces in Iran, even though the groups don’t want the support, while making only half-hearted attempts to democratize its autocratic allies in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Of course, the United States doesn’t really need to coddle despotic regimes just to win their lukewarm support for the “war on terror,” their promise not to attack Israel, or their agreement to pump oil which their own economic interest would cause them to sell on the world market anyway.

But neither does it need to meddle in the internal affairs of adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.

But if the United States were to have the same standard for all countries—both friend and foe—and join the international community in identifying and strongly condemning all documented cases of genocide, other war crimes, and repressive behavior by all countries, then perhaps there would be a chance that history might not be repeated.

First though, the United States needs to clean up its own act. Other countries may have acted terribly in the past, but U.S. citizens should not be blinded to the sins of their own government.

Since World War II, in terms of numbers of military adventures, the United States has been the most aggressive country in the world. And many such interventions cannot be blamed on the need to combat international communism.

Even after the United States’ major foe—the Soviet Union—collapsed, the U.S. expanded its informal empire and stepped up military activities across the globe. The United States bombed Serbia and Kosovo; invaded Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice); and intervened in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia.

Furthermore, the United States has kidnapped people and illegally rendered them to secret prisons in countries where torture is perpetrated, or simply had the CIA or U.S. military do the honors.

These prisoners have been denied both the rights of prisoners of war and the rights of the accused that the U.S. Constitution guarantees—for example, their right to challenge detention using a writ of Habeas Corpus. It’s likely that a substantial portion of these inmates are innocent.

If the United States is going to criticize other countries’ behavior, both historical and current, it should eliminate the double standard at home and abroad, and clean up its own act first.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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