Framing the Debate
These ever-moving goal posts on this ever-shifting moral playing field was defined by the Reagan administration's propagandists in the mid-1980s, coincidentally in the iconic year 1984, according to documents at the Reagan Library. I found in Raymond's files a "concept paper" for a conference to address "moral equivalence," attached to a memo dated Sept. 4, 1984. The paper read:
"The Moral Equivalence Working Group ... has for some time been examining ways to counter the common (and for US, very damaging) concept of the 'moral equivalence of the superpowers,' i.e., the notion that there is no moral distinction to be made between the US and the USSR, particularly in the areas of foreign and military policy. ... Moral equivalence is a particularly insidious problem because it permeates almost every level of public discourse both at home and abroad."
The "concept paper" offers no specific examples of anyone actually engaging in this "moral equivalence," but it insists that the problem is widespread among elites and could be detected when people, for instance, compared the U.S. invasion of Grenada to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The paper reads:
"This is not to suggest that moral equivalence is in fact a majority perception. There is reason to believe that it is primarily an elite problem and that the broad mass of people has a sounder instinct on the inherent moral differences between the US and Soviet systems. However, given the dominance of morally equivalent thinking among elites, particularly in the media and in academia, public resistance to moral equivalence is provided with little informational or intellectual support."
The paper then proposes a high-level conference sponsored by the neoconservative Center for Strategic and International Studies with the goal of analyzing "the Moral Equivalence misconception" and devising ways "to combat the problem," including addressing "intellectual fashion and ways to have an impact on it."
Over the intervening three decades, the U.S. government's propaganda efforts against holding the United States to the same moral standards as other countries have proved remarkably successful, at least within U.S. opinion circles.
It is now common for mainstream journalists to accept the principle of "American exceptionalism" in both implications of the word: that the United States is a wonderfully exceptional nation and that it is exempted from international law.
Indeed, it is rare for anyone in mainstream journalism to assert that the United States should conform to international law, i.e., respecting the sovereign borders of other countries. Yet, the same opinion leaders express outrage when Russia intervenes in Ukraine in the wake of a neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup on Russia's border.
No longer do mainstream U.S. journalists and academics try to apply the same rules to Washington and Moscow. The "problem" that Reagan's team detected in the 1980s has been solved. Today, American hypocrisy is the accepted "group think."[For more of Consortiumnews.com's exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see " Crimea's Case for Leaving Ukraine ," " The "We-Hate-Putin' Group Think "; " Putin or Kerry: Who's Delusional? "; " America's Staggering Hypocrisy "; " What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis "; " Ukraine: One "Regime Change' Too Many? "; " A Shadow US Foreign Policy "; " Cheering a "Democratic' Coup in Ukraine "; " Neocons and the Ukraine Coup. "]
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