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Moral Blindness among the Statists

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A new controversy stirred up by President Trump has propelled the moral blindness of liberals, conservatives, and the mainstream press into the forefront of American political discussion. Trump’s latest controversy involved a response he gave in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, as follows:

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him.

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean I am going to get along with him. He’s the leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. Will I get along with them? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: He is a killer though. Putin is a killer.

Trump: There are lots of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers in America.

Trump: Take a look at what we have done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: Yes. Mistakes are different then –

O’Reilly: A lot of mistakes, okay? But a lot of people were killed. So, a lot of killers around me, believe me.

That exchange sent people all across the political spectrum (except libertarians) ballistic. “Moral equivalence!” they cried. “Blame America,” they lamented. They were outraged that Trump would dare to compare killings carried out by U.S. officials with killings committed by Putin.

Here is how the New York Times put it in an editorial:

[Mr. Trump drew] a moral equivalency between the United States and Russia. There is no doubt that the United States has made terrible mistakes, like invading Iraq in 2003 and torturing suspects after Sept. 11…. There are limits to American power and sometimes decisions to employ military force have resulted in “unintended consequences.” American drone strikes against extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance, have sometimes killed civilians.

Noted conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg was as outraged as the editorial board of the New York Times. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, he accused Trump of “throwing America under the bus.” Echoing the words of the New York Times, he wrote,

Why does Trump insist on such absurd moral equivalency? The remarkable thing is that there are plenty of ways Trump could rebuff criticism of Russia without impugning the United States or compromising his apparent desire for a rapprochement.

Liberal columnist and cartoonist David Horsey expressed the same types of sentiments in an op-ed and cartoon in the LA Times, accusing the president of being “anti-American” and “unfit to be president.”

It would be difficult to find better examples of the moral blindness that characterizes liberals, conservatives, and the mainstream media.

Notice, first of all, how all three of them conflate America with the federal government. That’s because in their minds, the federal government and the country are one and the same thing. For them, any criticism of the federal government is criticism of America. Or, to be more precise, criticism of the U.S. government, for them, constitutes “blaming America.”

In actuality (and for libertarians), the federal government and the country are two separate and distinct entities, a phenomenon reflected by the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the country from the federal government. Thus, for libertarians, one can recognize, criticize, and condemn wrongdoing by the federal government without criticizing, condemning, and blaming America. In fact, for us libertarians, defending the country oftentimes entails publicizing, criticizing, condemning, and opposing wrongdoing by the federal government.

But the problem with liberals, conservatives, and the mainstream press goes much deeper than an inability to separate out the federal government and America within their minds. For them, the federal government, and specifically the national-security establishment part of the federal government, has become their everything — their daddy, their mommy, their provider, their protector, and their god.

That’s why they take such umbrage whenever anyone, including the president, dares to suggest that their federal parent or federal god has engaged in wrongdoing. Children don’t like people criticizing their parents and religious types don’t like people questioning their gods. In fact, Trump should be thanking his lucky stars that he implicitly limited his remarks to high government officials who ordered the killings rather than U.S. soldiers who actually carry out the killings. If he had criticized the troops instead, the wrath of hell would have been visited upon his head because statists consider the troops to be the innocent angels of their warfare-state god who kill people in overseas lands thousands of miles away only for reasons of honor, nobility, freedom, democracy, and, of course, to keep us safe.

Notice that there are no moral absolutes here. All that matters is that “America” (actually the federal government) is not as bad as Russia. So long as the federal government isn’t as bad as the Russian government, then everything is okay.

What about just wrongdoing itself? What about the killing of all those people in foreign lands?

For the statist, that’s irrelevant. What matters is that “America” isn’t as bad as Russia.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Notice that when these people think in terms of the U.S. government — and specifically about the Pentagon, the troops, the CIA, and CIA agents — they talk in terms of “mistakes.” It’s always the Russians (or the Chinese, the Iranians, etc.) who engage in intentional wrongdoing. When the U.S. government does something wrong, it’s just a “mistake.”

Were the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, many of whom were from Muslim families, during the 1990s an innocent mistake? Of course they weren’t. Those killings were intentional. Year after year, U.S. officials saw those children dying and deliberately ignored the pleas of people all over the world to lift the U.S.-enforced sanctions that were killing them. When two high UN officials, Hans von Sponeck and Dennis Halliday, resigned in protest against the U.S-produced genocide, that had absolutely no moral effect on U.S. officials.

Indeed, when UN Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright told Sixty Minutes that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it,” did that reflect an innocent mistake? Of course it didn’t. It reflected that the killings of those Iraqi (and Muslim) children were knowing, intentional, and deliberate. In fact, it’s was the intentional killings of those hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children that was a principal motivating factor for the 9/11 attacks.

Notice something else — how these people refer to the invasion of Iraq as a “mistake.” Really? What type of mistake? Are they saying that it was a mistake because it’s turned out to be such a disaster for Pentagon, the CIA, and the rest of the federal government? Or are they saying that it was a mistake because President Bush, the Pentagon, and the CIA supposedly innocently thought there were WMDs in Iraq?

What the statists ignore are the 10 years of sanctions before the invasion — the ones that killed all those Iraqi children. Their purpose was to bring about regime change in Iraq. Does anyone really think that U.S. officials had abandoned that aim before they invaded Iraq? The circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that Bush and his people used the fear arising from the 9/11 attacks and a bogus WMD scare to justify their regime-change operation in Iraq, the operation that 10 years of deadly sanctions had failed to achieve.

Indeed, what authority did the U.S. government have to invade Iraq to look for WMDs in the first place? No authority whatsoever. The matter of WMDs were the subject of UN resolutions, which only the UN had the authority to enforce. The U.S. government had no authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions. Thus, when U.S. officials ordered the invasion of Iraq, they knew that U.S. troops would necessarily be killing lots of people without moral or legal authority — and in direct violation of the Nuremberg principles against waging wars of aggression.

Moreover, the sham of the “Iraq was a mistake” argument is that the U.S. government remained in Iraq for years after they realized that they had supposedly make a “mistake” about the WMDs. If concern about WMDs had been a genuine mistake, wouldn’t they have said, “We have invaded your country and killed, tortured, and maimed so many people, and all because we have made a terrible mistake. We are very sorry and we are now returning home”?

Instead, the troops remained occupying the country, continuing to kill people for years, on purpose. Those who resisted the unlawful invasion of their country were automatically considered “bad guys.” Statists tripped over themselves to thank the troops for their “service in Iraq,” without bothering to notice that their “service” consisted of intentionally killing people who were opposing the unlawful invasion and war of aggression against their country.

Perhaps I should also mention there was never a congressional declaration of war on Iraq, which the U.S. Constitution requires? That made the invasion of Iraq an illegal war under our form of constitutional government. That wasn’t a mistake. Waging an undeclared and illegal war of aggression against a country that had never attacked the United States and then occupying the country for some 10 years, killing tens of thousands of people in the process, was done on purpose.

What about the U.S. interventions in Libya, Syria, and Yemen? Were those interventions innocent mistakes too? What about all the U.S. bombings and assassinations that have killed countless people in countries whose governments have never attacked the United States and that produced one of the biggest refugee crises in history? Another innocent mistake? Indeed, what about the fact that U.S. troops are back in Iraq killing people? Just another innocent mistake?

As I have long pointed out this is what the national-security state way of life has done to the American people — it has destroyed their consciences — their sense of right and wrong. It has made them morally blind, unable to recognize the wrongdoing of their very own government and, in fact, made them ever-eager to come to the defense of their federal god whenever it engages in wrongdoing.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.