Outrage's Double Standard

The Abu Ghraib prison abuse story is a disgrace and a terrible blow to perceptions of the US in the middle east and most importantly among Iraqis dealing with the aftermath of the destruction of Saddam?s regime. As in all things, it is important for good people to speak out against abuse and wrongdoing, and it is valid to criticize US troops who commit crimes in the course of the occupation?indeed we should hold all those who claim to represent us (or ?America?) to a high standard of behavior.

But I can?t help but think there is a double standard being applied to ?hawks? with regard to the current scandal?most leftists and even a great deal of the hardcore antiwar libertarians have been mum or dismissive about Saddam?s crimes (with thousands dying every month in Abu Ghraib, among other torture centers) both before, during, and after the war, and yet were outraged when stories of abuse from US troops came to light.

But when ?hawks? go and point out that the US authority?s behavior isn?t like that under Saddam?s regime, and the reason it?s outrageous is because Americans are better than that and don?t normally do that, why, all of a sudden we get even more outrage. Cries of ?Rationalization and Equivocation!? follow, claiming that conservatives? arguments are ?degenerating? because? some are pointing out why people should be outraged at the US (because, Americans are better than that, or should be)[1]. That kind of outrage doesn?t make any sense to me, and is itself somewhat outrageous.

Why is it that only US behavior is worth the vocal condemnation? Can anyone seriously claim there are no substantive differences in degree or type of abuse between the US occupation and Saddam?s regime? If not, then why is it beyond the pale for someone to point that out? During the cold war, among the left was a similar blithe dismissal of Soviet atrocities and wrongdoing in the world during the cold war, instead focusing on any US crime as evidence of our collective perfidy and lack of moral rectitude. This was often used as a defense of the Soviet Union, employing moral equivalency to suggest the US stand down and do the ?I?m very sorry? dance for daring to defy world communism?or at the very least, cease criticizing the Soviets? actions. When Soviet communism fell the true and incomparable horror of the Soviet system was revealed?leaving little doubt who the true rationalizers and apologists for evil were. I?m afraid we?re seeing the same double standard today- silence or shrugs for the evils of governments and organizations outside the US (because we expect them to be evil, I presume), with vitriol and condemnation saved only for US government actions. I would hope that libertarians, having seen that vicious double standard used against us in the fight against communism, would think twice about employing a similar double standard today.

Evil is evil, bad behavior is bad behavior, and while differences in degree of evil or bad behavior are not excuses for it, it remains that such differences do exist. It is no crime or diminishment of crime to point out that Americans aspire to a higher standard than brutal tyrants and have generally met it. But further, this high standard of behavior applied to US forces and government actions should be applied to everyone, rather than ?rationalizing? and ?equivocating? away bad behavior from foreigners.


fn1. Of course, Rush Limbaugh's comments (noted in the piece) are indeed gross and ridiculous, and among all the examples listed as "degenerating arguments", his is the only one listed that fits such a description.

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Well, okay. But I think it

Well, okay.

But I think it pretty much goes without saying that Saddam's crimes were despicable and inhuman. Nevetheless, I've still condemened him on my site several times. But I'm not going to preface every critical post on Iraq with "Saddam was a very terrible, brutal inhumane dictator who murdered and raped his own people, but...."

I think all of that goes without saying.

The difference is that we've known about Saddam for decades, and we expect such behavior from him.

I expect more from my own country.

If the pro-war crowd had merely stuck with "these crimes are despicable, but they aren't representative of the U.S. military," I'd have commended them, and agreed with them.

But pointing out that there are bad people out there who treat others worse than our soldiers treated the Abu Ghraib prisoners isn't enough. We fought Hussein because we're better than him. If it turns out that we raped Iraqis in Saddam's own rape rooms, we have a lot to answer for, even if the acts were anomalies (and I believe they were).

Lileks decided he needed to make a gay-baiting joke about the photos, and declare that in "jumping the shark," Abu Ghraib was no long worthy of our concern. Hume implied the same thing, that the American public would soon "tire" of the stories, which he suggested were political in nature.

I don't think those are legitimate responses.

And Limgaugh's comments are beyond reproach.

I understand that you've

I understand that you've condemned Saddam in the past and that he's evil, etc, and so you don't want to keep prefacing all statements with "Saddam is evil, but..." However, isn't it kind of the same thing with the hawks you're criticizing?

I suppose my problem still remains- the pro-war folk did say that the crimes were despicable but they're not representative of the US military. Then they pointed out why it is that we're better than Saddam- by saying that there are bad people out there that treat others worse than our soldiers treated the Abu Ghraib prisoners.

All of that is true. So then why is that a degeneration? Should it have been the other way around? That they first said "well, others are bad too", and then said "naa, its horrible but not indicative of US forces in general"? I'm not getting why its bad to point out what you've pointed out in the past, too- that Saddam was an evil bastard and we're better than he is. Short of actually saying "its OK that we abuse some prisoners because we dont do it as much as others or Saddam" (ala Limbaugh), and using it as an excuse, I don't see the problem, other than, like you, they're didn't re-iterate the broader point
before making the second one.

My reading of the Lileks piece was that "jumping the shark" of the story was not that the story should be ignored, but rather that since Biden whipped out a tired old phrase from 30 years ago, the story will be similarly turned into a rehash of partisan political talking points. In which case people will tune out, and not much more will come of the story. I didn't see, aside from a bad joke, Lileks implying that we shouldn't care about the Abu Ghraib. Maybe I'm way off base, but having read Lileks online for a few years now, I've never gotten the impression (ala Limbaugh) that Lileks approves of a double standard for US troops (we're better so we can get away with it).

And of course a lot of the coverage of Abu Ghraib has had political overtones (Biden gleefully intoning "what did he know, and when did he know it" clearly communicates the 'watergate' gotcha mentality going on). The overt politicization and partisan response both to and within the coverage of Abu Ghraib (Seymour Hersch is certainly no disinterested spectator after all) is going to turn off huge portions of the voting populace- and the danger then will be that it won't be seen as a non-partisan disgrace that needs to be dealt with, but a standard Red-Blue partisan issue. Prisoner abuse and other crimes in the occupation must be seen as the horros they are, not as partisan pieces (to be agreed with or disagreed with depending on your 'colors'), and thats the very real danger we have here.

"But further, this high

"But further, this high standard of behavior applied to US forces and government actions should be applied to everyone, rather than ?rationalizing? and ?equivocating? away bad behavior from foreigners."

Yeah, it should. However, given the fact that most Americans rationalize and equivocate bad behavior from domestic police, how likely d'ya think it is? Look: most folks have been rationalizing theft ("taxes") and murder ("law enforcement") for their entire lives. They aren't gonna stop now, just because some US soldiers got caught torturing ("interrogating") folks.

Look at Radley Balko: "I expect more from my own country." Why? Who let Lon Horiuchi walk free after blowing off Vicki Weaver's face? Who burnt those Branch Davidian kids until they looked like so many marshmallows in a campfire? Why d'ya expect any better behavior from the US Army than from the BATF, Radley?

What possible rational reason could anyone have for expecting better behavior from American government employees than what they have consistently done time and again?

Good points, John, but a

Good points, John, but a difference here is that the context of occupation has forced people to be aware of the issue- and this time, there are no fig leaves of "well, the gov't has to do its job" or "these were criminals, they got what they deserved"- due to the context, we may have a "teachable moment", where we can say that abuse like this will not be tolerated, period, and US gov't agents will be held accountable, which may spill over to domestic policy.

Yeah, yeah, I know that's dreaming, but, there's always a chance it could work.... But so long as the Democrats continue to drop the ball on pretty much anything related to principles or ideas, we will see nothing good come of this, I fear.

Thanks for pasting the

Thanks for pasting the comment in the correct thread, Brian.

Thank you Brian!

Thank you Brian!

Ok, moron that I am I just

Ok, moron that I am I just posted about this in the comments section below. Sigh.

Not going to repeat it here, except for one point: I cannot stand the notion that we should have one standard for Americans and another for non-Americans. If torture is wrong at Abu Ghraib it is wrong in Saudi Arabia, wrong in Cuba, wrong in North Korea, wrong in the Sudan, etc. Silence is complicity.

(update - I've pasted your comment here from the other thread, to straighten things out. -Brian)

In many ways I think the right keeps the left honest and the left keeps the right honest.

What happened at Abu Ghriab is disgusting. Totally and utterly appalling. There is no justification for it. Let the process continue beyond apology. Let the wheels of justice turn.

What I find equally appalling is the silence that greets the slaughter in the Sudan, the camps in North Korea, the prisons in Cuba. In this, I find the some members of the media complicit. I do not think that is too strong a word. If pictures from Saddam Hussein?s prisons were featured prominently on the front page of American papers throughout his, shall we say rule, would we have gone to war? Would the world have exerted real pressure on his regime in every other way imaginable to topple him?

Silence kills. And I find abhorent the idea that Americans should have higher standards for themselves than for non-Americans. Torture is unacceptable whoever practices it.

Not going to repeat it here,

Not going to repeat it here, except for one point: I cannot stand the notion that we should have one standard for Americans and another for non-Americans. If torture is wrong at Abu Ghraib it is wrong in Saudi Arabia, wrong in Cuba, wrong in North Korea, wrong in the Sudan, etc. Silence is complicity.

I think "expectations" is a better word than "standards". Most people, including myself, expect the US govt to act better than Saddam, even if "better" means only marginally better.

I'm glad you have a healthy

I'm glad you have a healthy amount of scepticism, Brian. Just remember how the Waco hearings went down, is all.

My prediction: all we know now, and the worse (whaddaya think happened to the women prisoners?) that's almost sure to come, is going to blow over in a few months, tops. In the United States.

I don't want to speculate about what the Moslem world is going to think, or for how long this'll fester there. Or what's going to happen, later.