Source: Consortium News
Official Washington's hearty disdain for anyone who cites U.S. hypocrisy toward the Ukraine crisis can be traced back to a propaganda strategy hatched by the Reagan administration in 1984, dismissing any comparisons between U.S. and Soviet behavior as unacceptable expressions of "moral equivalence."
This "moral equivalence" concern stemmed, in part, from the prior decade's disclosures of U.S. government misconduct -- the Vietnam War, CIA-sponsored coups and other intelligence abuses at home and abroad. In that climate of heightened skepticism, U.S. journalists felt it was their job to show some skepticism and hold U.S. officials accountable for their behavior.
So, to counter this P.R. problem, Reagan administration officials developed a propaganda "theme" that, in effect, asserted that the U.S. government should not be held to the same human rights standards as the Soviet government because the United States was morally superior to the Soviet Union.
According to documents recently released by the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the Reagan administration established a "Moral Equivalence Working Group" in 1984 reporting to Walter Raymond Jr., who had been a top psychological warfare specialist at the CIA before being moved to Reagan's National Security Council where he oversaw a wide-ranging program of domestic and foreign propaganda.
Though the working group's core complaint was something of a straw man, since it would be hard to find anyone who equated the U.S. and USSR, the Reagan administration made clear that anyone who continued to apply common moral standards to the two governments would be accused of "moral equivalence."
This framing proved effective in tarring U.S. journalists and human rights activists as, in essence, Soviet apologists. The "theme" was most famously expressed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick at the Republican National Convention in 1984 when she decried anyone who would "blame America first."
Link to the Present
As an Associated Press reporter, I encountered this "moral equivalence" attack line when I questioned State Department officials about their hypocrisy in applying strict human rights standards to Nicaragua's Sandinista government while excusing far more serious abuses by the Contras and other U.S. allies in Central America.
Neocon intellectual Robert Kagan, who then was a senior official in the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America, warned me that I was edging dangerously close to the line on "moral equivalence."
Ironically, Kagan's wife, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, is now at the forefront of U.S. support for the Ukrainian coup, which relied on neo-Nazi militias to overthrow a democratically elected president, though the official U.S. narrative is that this was a "democratic" uprising. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Neocons and the Ukraine Coup."]
Over the past three decades, the argument against "moral equivalence" has changed little, though it has morphed into what is now more commonly described as American "exceptionalism," the new trump card against anyone who suggests that the U.S. government should abide by international law and be held to common human rights standards.
Today, if you make the case that universal rules should apply to the United States, you are accused of not embracing America as an "exceptional" country. As a result, very few mainstream observers in Official Washington even blink now at the U.S. government taking contradictory positions on issues such as intervening in other countries.
Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are "justified" as are drone strikes and aerial bombardments of countries from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to Libya. It's also okay to threaten to bomb Syria and Iran.
Supporting the overthrow of sovereign governments is also fine -- for the United States but not for anyone else. Just during the Obama administration, the U.S. government has backed coups in Honduras, Libya and now Ukraine. U.S.-endorsed secessions are okay, too, as with oil-rich South Sudan from Sudan.
Yet, when the geopolitical shoe is on the other foot -- when Russia objects to the violent overthrow of Ukraine's duly-elected President Viktor Yanukovych and, as a result, supports a secession referendum by Crimea on whether its citizens want to join the Russian Federation -- Official Washington cries out in moral outrage.
Suddenly, we see mainstream American journalists searching for some clause in Ukraine's constitution that prohibits secession, though these journalists had no problem with the violation of the same constitution's procedures for impeaching a president, rules ignored by the coup regime with barely a peep from U.S. news outlets.