Recent statements by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, admitting that they were going to use the economic crisis to get other things done, are at least surprisingly honest. But they are also hypocritical. Remember when some of these same people criticized George W. Bush for using the 9/11 tragedy to invade the unrelated nation of Iraq?
It is true that the super-secretive Bush administration was less honest about its bait and switch subterfuge than Obama and his team appear to be, but Bushs ulterior motives occasionally showed through. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, shortly after 9/11, did once write a memo to then-President Bush declaring that, If the war [on terror] does not significantly change the worlds political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.
Liberals would also argue that using the economic crisis to pass new education, energy, and health initiatives, which they deem to be positive, is of a much different magnitude than using a horrendous terrorist attack to invade an unrelated country for no good reason and get even more people killed. Of course, many neoconservatives still tell us that all the chaos, mayhem, and death in Iraq were for a positive good. But even if new education, energy, and health initiatives have a positive effecta dubious propositionthe question is whether the debt-ridden government can afford them during a severe economic meltdown. Different politicians, same chicanery.
Other hypocrisies abound overseas. President Obama recently broached the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban, in the same spirit as the Bush administration bought off the Sunni guerillas in Iraq. Yet the United States has implied that Pakistani government officials were wimps for doing the same thing. U.S. government officials and politicians frowned on Pakistan acquiescing to Islamic law in the former ski resort country of the Swat Valley, not too far from Pakistans capital city, in exchange for a truce with Islamic militants.
And what about all of that U.S. rhetoric supporting democracy? All of a sudden, Hamid Karzai, the democratically elected president of Afghanistan, is on the outs with the United States. Unlike the Bush administration, the Obama team seems to have distaste for him and is doing everything it can to undermine him. This spurning of democracy is nothing new, however. The Bush administration foolishly pushed for elections in Palestine in 2006, was somehow surprised and horrified when the Islamic militant group Hamas won them, and has shunned and put the screws to the group ever since then. Thus, given the historical tendency of the United States to favor pragmatism over democracy, Karzai needs to watch his back or he could end up overthrown, much like Ngo Dinh Diem was in South Vietnam in 1963.
And speaking of Palestine, how can the U.S. fund and support both sides in the same war? With billions per year in military and economic aid, the United States funded and supported Israels costly destruction of Gaza in the recent war, only to offer Gazans $900 million to clean up the mess. Is any one of these expenditures a good use of U.S. taxpayer dollars at a time of skyrocketing budget deficits and an economic crisis on the home front? I think not.
Also, the U.S. was recently dismayed by British reestablishment of contact with the political arm of Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group in Lebanon that is an enemy of Israel (Britain continues to eschew the groups military wing). Meanwhile, the United States is making diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria, Hezbollahs main benefactors.
Finally, instead of prosecuting terrorists as heinous criminals, the United States has conducted a war on terror, which created offshore prisons outside U.S. law and shunned legal niceties such as habeas corpus, civil trials, and international prohibitions against torture. As part of this war and lack of legal due process, the U.S. government created a prison at Guantánamo that has held lots of people who were probably innocent and tortured even the guilty, making convictions in civilian courts more difficult. Now after unilaterally creating this abomination, to help close the facility, the United States is pressuring other countries to take potentially dangerous detainees. Shouldnt the U.S. have to take all of these people since the Bush administration caused the problem in the first place? Like banks that made risky and stupid loans, if the U.S. government is bailed out of this situation, wont it be more likely to adopt more reckless policies in the future?
Hypocrisy in government is nothing new and is certainly not more prevalent in one party or the other. There just seems to be a lot of it around lately.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
Full Biography and Recent Publications