On America’s Spent Moral Standing

You’ll be hearing these two assertions repeated, made by someone who voted for the Iraq War in the 21st Century, a lot in coming days (see after 0:50).

You just don’t, in the 21st Century, behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext so it is a very serious moment.

[snip]

That’s not the act of somebody who is strong. That’s the act of somebody who is acting out of weakness, who is acting out of a certain kind of desperation.

I guess someone in the Obama White House believed that if we call Vladimir Putin weak after he’s just called our bluff, it will get him to back down, even as Putin knows we have no great options against him.

But it all shows one of the downsides of having so badly spent our moral standing already this century. Whatever the objective of these statements, whether in other circumstances they might have worked, they just come off as a joke. Especially coming from Kerry.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

43 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    And spent not just in the 21st century. Can we forget the millions killed in Southeast Asia by yet another trumped-up war? The untold thousands tortured and disappeared in Latin America by the US-backed Operation Condor? The years backing apartheid? US intervention in the “democracies” of post-WWII Italy and France? The backing of the Chilean and the Greek fascistic coups? The recruiting of former Nazis and their allies in covert war against the USSR? The US-organized invasion of Cuba (Bay of Pigs)? The “war at home”, exemplified by the actions of Cointelpro and Operation Chaos?

    Please do not bury the history which shows that what has been past is not dead, but incredibly and frighteningly alive.

  2. rugger9 says:

    There are more than a few problems besides the hypocrisy (and not just for Iraq). Due to earlier ethnic engineering under the Czars, the Crimea is mostly Russian, and is the sole reliable warm water port.

    In addition, the Montreaux Convention precludes our ability to send in a carrier battlegroup (it prohibits transits of capital ships for nations not bordering the Black Sea and limits the transits for ones that do. It’s why the Russian Ship Moskva was classified as a “cruiser” even though it was a helo carrier). Even though Turkey is in NATO we’re still the de facto naval arm for strike purposes.

    No CBG, no amphib, no way to get there to throw Putin out, even without allowing for the fact that the current residents want Putin there.

    No good way out of this right now.

  3. orionATL says:

    yeah.

    spent moral standing -and then some.

    bankrupt of moral standing!

    and let us have a moment of silence for the death of heroic-memory of those american leaders so full of themselves and the great physical power they could yield

    that they openly sneered at “moral leadership” as a pointless, panty-waist concern.

    how doez it go:

    “those meatheaded, dais-mounted, word-warriors who forget history…”

  4. Frank33 says:

    Remember Benghazi! Susan Rice was instructed by the CIA and General Petraeus what to say to the American people. And what she was instructed to say by Petraeus and Vickie Nudelman was all LIES.

    John Kerry was also instructed on what to say about the Ukraine Freedom Fighters, and it is all LIES. The Secret Government only tells the American people LIES. Kerry should have stayed on his yacht, the ISABEL, as he was during the most recent Egypt crisis. Kerry’s spokesliar Jen Psaki claimed that Kerry was “working all day”. Yes, he was working all day, aboard his yacht. And Kerry should have let Susan Rice, or Jen Psaki catapult the LIES from our Secret Government.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/john-kerry-chills-exclusive-nantucket-retreat-article-1.1391014

  5. ffein says:

    His words kind of took my breath away — I guess he figures we and the rest of the world have amnesia.

  6. bell says:

    thanks for this emptywheel.. i couldn’t agree more.. thanks too for ruggar9’s comments..

  7. orionATL says:

    well,

    the 19th century is mentioned,

    and the 21st century is mentioned,

    but the 20th century don’t get no mention.

    whahapuned?

    korea, cuba, vietnam, cambodia, laos, grenada, lebanon, panama

    de facto: iran, guatemala, greece, italy, chile, el salvador, nicaragua, iran again.

    – help fill in the blanks in our milindcplx’s missing 20th century history.

  8. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    Jeff Kaye is spot on. I would like to add one other item, however. America routinely violates international law when it uses drones to bomb and kill civilians inside sovereign states with which we are not at war. The Bible sums it up best: Judge and ye be judged. By that standard America has flunked the test and has no moral credibility in lecturing Russia on its behavior until it cleans up its own act. And, by the way, how does our “illustrious” Secretary of State square his current position with NATO’s actions in, and occupation of, Kosovo?

  9. Frank33 says:

    @P J Evans:
    I hardly watch any commercial television, and certainly not Fox. No broadcast tee vee ever shows anything about the Secret Government or our Corporate Overlords. They only praise the One Percent. Even though the majority of the American people oppose the wars, corporate tee vee conceals this. Do you watch corporate tee vee? You sound like you do.

    But our govenment, pretending to represent the people of the United States seems to be secretly attempting to overthrow the governments of Venzuela and of the Ukraine. And Vickie Nuland was recorded verifying US meddling in the Ukraine. The purpose of these clumsy coups are for the benefit of corporate interests, such as Monsanto.

    To repeat, Susan Rice lied to the American people because Vickie Nuland and General Petraeus ordered her to lie to the American people. Susan Rice says she does not regret her lying to the American people. Jen Psaki also lied to the American people about John Kerry and his yacht the “Isabel”.

    The FDA has lied about General Electric and the dangers of the X-ray computerized tomography. The FDA used the NSA surveillance tools to attack whistleblowers who did reveal how dangerous GE’s machines are.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/29/health/policy/29fda.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    And discussion about the radiation from Fukushima, remains a forbidden topic by the corporate shills.

    And today John Kerry makes a fool of himself. Are you a sycophant who believes the nonsense of “The People’s View”? You sound like you do. Do I blame Obama? No, he is merely weak and fearful of might happen to him as happend to John Kennedy. But if you want an intenet food fight bring it on.

  10. scribe says:

    @Emptywheel – you ask:
    “Curious to hear from people who actly know abt these things what we shld make of the relative silence of Germany.”

    I think there are two things at work here.

    1. Every couple of years, right around Christmastime, the folks of Central Europe – Germany included – get to teeter on the razor edge of “OMG, it’s the middle of darkest winter* and we might freeze to death b/c the Russians and the Ukranians (or the Russians and the Belorussians some years) are having a pissing contest about gas transit fees a-f’g-gain and Russia might turn off the gas we use to heat our homes.”

    Not that this – the Russians having a hand on Western Europe’s throat – wasn’t predicted back in the 80s when the Siberian gas pipelines were proposed and first being built. It’s just that the wisenheimers in policy positions quieted the populace’s fears and said it would all be all right and the Russians would never do that, and they made the sale.

    2. Not so much any more because of the passage of time and death of those who lived it, but the names of those places in Ukraine and Crimea and so on still send a shiver down the collective memory of the Germans. And not in a good way. They’e wanting, I think, to make it all go away. In Germany, this generation’s fathers and grandfathers walked, froze, fought and died all across Ukraine in the most brutal of wars – both on the front and behind the front in guerilla conflict – and the memories are still there. The Soviet Army took the worst the Germans and their allies could dish out, endured it, and turned to kick their butts all the way from the Caucasus and Stalingrad (now Volgograd) all the way to Berlin. To get a sense of how far that is, it’s 1850 KM (about 1150 miles) by road from Volgograd to Lviv, near the current Polish-Ukranian border, about as far as DC to Dallas. IIRC, there were about 5 sides in the guerilla conflict behind German lines in Ukraine 1941-44: Germans, Soviet/Communist Ukranians and/or Russians, Poles, Ukranian nationalists/Nazi collaborators, anti-Soviet non-Ukranians, and the occasional Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians, Rumanians, Moldovans and who knows what other ethnicities and loyalties. Brutal only begins to describe it.

    So, they’re unwilling to say anything to make it worse.

    * Sun comes up about 0830 and sets by 1630.

  11. Frank33 says:

    @P J Evans:
    Oh it is “conspiracy theories” that make you object to facts that you do not approve of. My comments had no conspiracy references other than the conspirators in the US Government. And I put in links about the FDA. Here is another link about a Corporate Conspiracy by General Electric against FDA scientists.
    http://my.firedoglake.com/jbade/2014/03/02/video-this-is-how-spying-is-destroying-this-country/

    Eighty thousand documents were mistakenly posted against an FDA scientist. They, the corporate polluters and spies are very stupid.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQDf8t9Hy0

    And how about some more conspiracies, JTRIG, PRISM, COINTELPRO, Operation Paperclip, the Japanese Unit 731 the Vietnam War, The Irak War, the Afghan War, the Secret Wars and Enemies that remain classified. And Susan Lindauer was imprisoned in a military prison for a year with secret charges, and secret prosecutors. Somebody is running a lot of conspiracies. Open your eyes.

  12. jerryy says:

    How long will it be before Congress decides to take more money from domestic programs and waste it by spending on even more military-related and spying-related programs since the current morass obviously was not enough deterance …

  13. par4 says:

    You can’t spend what you never had. Moral standing is a lie we tell ourselves to cover up the true nature of the history of this country. Treason,slavery,genocide and theft on a continental scale. Any debate on this should be held in the “Indian Treaty Room” at the White House.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Kerry has been given, and gladly taken up, a poisoned chalice. He drinks from it with his usual lack of humor. No country has invaded, toppled or destabilized, or tried to invade, topple or destabilize more regimes across the globe in the past one hundred years than the good ole USA. Everyone outside the United States, presumably Mr. Kerry’s audience, knows it.

    William Blum has the best summaries of this historical record; Chalmers Johnson, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky critique that record knowingly. It’s not just the usual suspects like Korea, Vietnam or Indonesia; Haiti, Guatemala, or the Dominican Republic; Panama, Chile or Brazil. Its not just the Congo, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Iraq and Iran. The list includes good friends and neighbors: Wilson’s Britain, De Gaulle’s France, Whitlam’s Australia, Moro’s Italy. We’ve been trying to overthrow Castro’s Cuba for over 50 years.

    The head of foreign affairs for the United States ought to know that record. His speech writers ought to know it before they give overcoming that small handicap their best shot. And more people in America ought to know it so they can better choose who they put in power, what they let them say, and what they let them do without accountability.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Kerry’s speech writers would be better off using a different tack. Mr. Putin is not weak. He is a martial arts master; he has survived, led and leads one of the world’s most competitive and brutal bureaucracies. He knows he’s not weak. He won’t be affected by such a routine Madison Avenue/K Street ploy as that. Next thing you know, State’s anonymous sources will claim that Mr. Putin pushes drugs, launders money or has sex with underage slaves. Even if true, governments only haul them out when they think those on hypocrite watch won’t catch it. Ask Mr. Noriega.

    Perhaps Mr. Kerry isn’t speaking to Mr. Putin. Perhaps he’s speaking to the American public, which refuses to believe that such behavior and worse is routinely accepted among our friends and enemies (and ourselves) when they do what we want or can’t stop. Or simply do what we do but can’t admit. Who would believe that America or the sainted UN, for example, ever uses murder or repression to extract a few pounds of coltan or tantalum? Which raises the issue Mr. Kerry avoids: economics. Next to arrogance and pride, its’ the reason governments do much of what they do.

  16. emptywheel says:

    @scribe: Yea, that’s sort of what I was thinking about.

    There is some interesting timing here: Ukraine election in May, and end of winter both being factors. The west is, best case scenario, pushing very dicey timing, trying to get a new leader elected in Ukraine before the austerity gets to bad, and trying to stave off any really big reaction from Putin until winter warms up.

  17. scribe says:

    @emptywheel: One more thing I thought of while making soup. I’ll call it the Schroeder Effect.

    Recall that when Merkel beat out Schroeder to be Chancellor almost a decade ago, now, Schroeder was not all pissed about it. He left office and, pretty much the next day, started working for one oligarch or another mostly on gas pipeline deals to bring it from somewhere in Russia to Western Europe, preferably through routes that don’t have to pass through Ukraine, Belarus, and/or the Baltic States. I read he makes a living at this. A nice living. Other pols took notice and figured if he can do it, I might want to do that, too.

    So they’re not going to get all wound around the axle about it, at least not in ways that can cut into their potential for future income.

  18. Peterr says:

    @scribe: Good stuff, scribe.

    Three other items that are going on with respect to Germany that I’d add:

    (1) The fallout from the Snowden revelations of US/UK spying within Germany continues, and this ferment makes it very difficult for those politicians who might want to speak out in support of the US to do so. The anti-US and anti-UK anger is still very present, and no doubt makes it harder for Merkel & Co to say anything that might be seen as pro-US.

    (2) Merkel’s government is a “grand coalition” of her CDU/CSU and their main parliamentary rivals, the SPD. It was put together largely because no one wanted to partner with “Die Linke” (The Left Party), but neither Merkel nor the SPD were particularly happy about the arrangement even as they were hammering out what it would look like.

    Now relations between the CDU/CSU and the SPD have gotten exponentially worse, with a burgeoning mess arising out of a child pornography investigation that included and SPD member of parliament which has cost one cabinet member his post and poisoned cross-party relationships all over Berlin.

    This mess has no doubt made it very difficult for Merkel and her government to speak with a single voice, as they don’t trust each other farther than they can throw each other.

    (3) The German foreign minister sat down with Der Spiegel last week for an interview, before the invasion of the Ukraine. It opened like this:

    SPIEGEL: Mr. Steinmeier, you played a part in negotiating the political agreement between Ukraine’s government and its opposition. What was at stake?

    Steinmeier: We sat and negotiated for over 20 hours. When we arrived, black smoke was already rising above Independence Square, and you could hear gunshots. We were constantly hearing about the rising death toll. Everybody knew that our negotiations were the last chance for a political solution. I think it made people more prepared to make the necessary compromises.

    SPIEGEL: Did Russia try to thwart your efforts?

    Steinmeier: Russia backed our roadmap. President Putin sent an emissary to Kiev on Thursday — he negotiated during night and was very constructive. The Russian delegate helped build bridges while putting together the text. It was also in Russia’s interest to end the bloodshed.

    SPIEGEL: It had seemed, previously, that Vladimir Putin was encouraging the conflict.

    Steinmeier: A week ago I had a long conversation with Putin about the situation in Kiev. He agreed with me, that the worst thing that could happen to Ukraine was for the tug of war between the East and the West for the country to continue for the next ten years. Mrs. Merkel has also kept in touch. Anarchy and civil war right next door — that is definitely not in Russia’s interest. And as a “failed state,” Ukraine would topple towards the East — and become a burden for Russia.

    Re-reading it today makes me wish that they’d be able to get another interview with him to see how the invasion has changed his view of things.

  19. Mary McCurnin says:

    @jerryy: fiat money, honey. They could print the money needed by the hungry in this country and still kill people abroad. The anti-humans that run us have only meanness in their souls and watch as the children of the poor become increasingly hungry. It is their aim. It is their goal.

  20. Peterr says:

    Well this is interesting . . . From Deutsche Welle:

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about escalating tensions between Moscow and Kyiv on Sunday night. The conversation came after threats from Western leaders to levy sanctions on Russia and even the suggestion it could be ousted from the G8 over deploying troops into Ukrainian territory.

    “The chancellor called upon [Putin] again to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” deputy government spokesperson Georg Streiter said in a statement following the phone call between the two leaders.

    Even though Putin defended his decision – directing Merkel’s “attention to the unrelenting threat of violence…to Russian citizens and the whole Russian-speaking population [in Ukrainian territory]” – he also agreed to work with her to curb the diplomatic crisis.

    “President Putin accepted the German chancellor’s proposal to immediately establish a commission of enquiry as well as a contact group, possibly under the direction of the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] to open a political dialogue,” a statement from Berlin said.

    The chancellery did not provide further details about the proposed “contact group.”

  21. TarheelDem says:

    There certainly seems to be an effort to inflame the situation instead of calm it down. Russia needs security that this is not a move to evict them from Sevastapol and that the ethnic Russian minority will not be subjects of persecution and ethnic cleansing by the right-wing nationalist parties. So far they are not getting that from the US statements; that is, the US is operating as a belligerent instead of a broker. What you would expect from Nuland-Kagan is an attempt to shut Russia out of Sevastapol entirely to prevent the sort of threat that stopped the attack on Syria and caused the beginning of negotiations.

    Will the Nuland-Kagan direction infect other parts of US policy. With a President who is not knowledgeable about foreign policy, a lot of it gets reverse delegated by the political appointees and the top layers of the foreign service.

    Can’t possibly have peace break out anywhere anymore; it would cause an economic catastrophe to a nation dependent on a single industry.

  22. TarheelDem says:

    Kerry’s talk comes before a trip to Kyiv in which what is said privately might be more cautious. Ukrainian commitment to continued lease of Sevastapol and protection of minority rights might defuse this if Kerry can get it. (If the US really wants to defuse this.) If Russia pushes, Ukraine might have to settle for loss of Crimea and federation of Crimea with Russia. If Russia is being provocative it insists of restoration of previous regime. My bets are that Putin wants Sevastapol and stability on the southern border. The question is whether NATO is still fighting the Cold War.

  23. scribe says:

    @Peterr: Your points are solid, Peterr. I’ll add a bit.

    The Edathy affair cost the CDU minister his gig more, it would seem, because he got advance leaking of the inquiry and started to use it inside the Bundestag than b/c of the inquiry itself. There was talk last week in German media that the police were going through the Bundestag records, including computer system, tosuss out who said what to whom when.

    The upshot of the inquiry was that it appeared the images were borderline but not kiddie porn within the meaning of the law. Edathy himself quit his seat. It was curious that he was singled out, mostly because he had been a parliamentary thorn in the side of the German law enforcement establishment. He exercised oversight a bit too aggressively, it would seem.

    The Grand Coalition took literally months to assemble. Recall the election was last fall – the government was not formed until a month or so ago. They never trusted each other and the fighting over which party would get which ministry was something to behold.

    I don’t think the NSA fallout is much driving the government’s reaction, at least in private. You are correct that the public remains furious about this but, in reality, their opinion doesn’t count for much. The German government is in too many ways just a meat puppet for the US and Merkel and the senior pols know it.

    I would not be surprised that Putin’s idea of respecting Ukranian intergrity would be something along the lines of that which obtained during the Soviet era. Recall that Ukraine and Belorussia both had their own representation in the UN during the entire Cold War, given to those entities because they had suffered so much during the German invastion. They were, formally, separate nations with their own territorial integrity . So, don’t be surprised if Putin tries a stunt like that.

  24. orionATL says:

    @Peterr

    more very informative coloring in.

    it doesn’t surprise me at all that putin does not want a fight, figurative or literal.

    what does surprise me, and took me by surprise, is that the u.s. is fuccin’ around in ukraine at all.

    in what way do we belong in this fight ?

    negotiating, i could understand; playing cia-ball, i absolutely can not.

    what could be our reasons for doing so?

    a georgia tit-for-tat?

    the 21st century version of the white man’s burden, democracy-man slips into a phone booth and …?

    or is this part of the plan for obi-one to regain lost domestic standing?

  25. Peterr says:

    @scribe: The quote from Putin in that DW piece I quoted above reminded me very very much of the language coming out of Berlin in 1938 with respect to the Sudetenland. “We’ve got to protect the German-speaking people in Czechoslovakia . . .”

    I wonder how Merkel heard it.

  26. orionATL says:

    here’s a very, very contemporary war-cum-leaders to use for crystal ball gazing:

    the georgia-russia war over ossetia of ’08 (that’s 21st century ’08).

  27. orionATL says:

    @TarheelDem:

    these are two absolutely first rate articles.

    parry’s article gives me a view of neo-con continuation in the obama era of their own foreign policy, plus a view of the key role in obama foreign policy of a collaboration between obama and putin for stability’s sake –

    (together with a well-deserved spanking of wapoop for its deliberately oblivious war-mongering).

    the farrell and finemore article provides an open discussion of the central role of hypocrisy in american foreign policy of late (together with a pointed cartoon) and hypocrisy’s gotterdammerung with the disclosures of manning and snowden.

    must reading.

    tx.

  28. john francis lee says:

    Bernhard at Moon of Alabama links to billmon‘s “Fairly concise summary of why US/EU meddling in internal Ukrainian politics ended up being such a bad idea …”

    U.S. and E.U. to pro-West Ukrainians: “You fucked up, guys. You trusted us.”

    Former Bush deputy NSA:

    “There’s nothing we can do to save Ukraine at this point.”

    For more than a decade, US and EU elites encouraged Ukrainians to think their future was with the “West,” despite clear Russian signals that any attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO would be deemed an attack on Russia’s core security interests.

    Ignoring Russia, the US/EU continued to speak (and act) as if Ukraine’s eventual integration into the western alliance was inevitable.

    Western allies offered the dream of EU membership (and EU living standards) and a false promise of generous economic aid on condition Ukraine reject Russian assistance. When offer wasn’t accepted by Yanukovych, they encouraged pro-West Ukrainians to rebel. US and EU manipulated Ukranian political factions to get government they wanted – one that would impose neoliberal “reforms” and austerity.

    But now, having raised the hopes and expectations of pro-West Ukranians and provoked an aggressive Russian reaction … They say

    “there’s nothing we can do to save Ukraine.”

    Stupid, shameful, craven and destructive. Bastards.

  29. konst says:

    This is like a “the emperor has no clothes” moment updated to the 21st century with most people in the US have no idea of where Ukraine is or any geography or history.

    Related to this I remember reading something about Zbigniew Brzezinski and his hatred of Russia, encircling Russia with pro-EU/US puppet regimes, and the wars for control of gas and oil in Eurasia. I haven’t read the book he wrote on the subject though.

  30. thatvisionthing says:

    @orionATL: Scott Horton (radio) had a list comparing our wars versus Iran’s since WWII. Iran had one in its column. We had —

    http://scotthorton.org/stress/2014/02/01/since-world-war-ii/ (has links in original)

    China 1945-46

    Syria 1949

    Korea 1950-53

    Guatamala 1954

    Tibet 1955-70s

    Indonesia 1958

    Cuba 1959

    Congo 1960-65

    Iraq 1960-63

    Dominican Republic 1961

    Vietnam 1961-74

    Brazil 1964

    Congo 1964

    Guatamala 1962

    Laos 1964-73

    Dominican Republic 1965-66

    Peru 1965

    Greece 1967

    Guatamala 1967-88

    Cambodia 1965-70

    Chile 1973

    Argentina 1976

    Turkey 1980

    Poland 1980-81

    El Salvador 1981-92

    Nicaragua 1981-1990

    Cambodia 1980-95

    Angola 1980

    Lebanon 1982-84

    Grenada 1983-84

    Philippines 1896-1986

    Libya 1986

    Iran 1987-88

    Libya 1989

    Panama 1989-90

    Iraq 1991

    Kuwait 91

    Somalia 92-94

    Iraq 1992-96

    Bosnia 1995

    Iran 1998

    Sudan 1998

    Afghanistan 1998

    Serbia-Kosovo 1999

    Afghanistan 2001-24

    Venezuela 2002

    Pakistan 2004-…

    Iraq 2003-11

    Somalia 2003-…

    Yemen 2009-…

    Iran 2005-…

    Libya 2011

    Syria 2011-…

  31. Don Bacon says:

    Kerry and Obama have the undeserved reputation of opposing the Iraq war, when neither did in the Senate, and Kerry didn’t as presidential candidate either.

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