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American Moral Principles and European Giggles

Considering the usual political leanings of The Washington Times, the op-ed "We are Americans" (March 19, 2007) by Nat Hentoff is a bit surprising: He writes about CIA renditions and points out:
A 1998 U.S. statute, part of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, states: "It shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite or otherwise effect the involuntary removal of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture." I have heard administration semanticists maintain that this law applies only to prisoners we hold in our own jurisdiction, not to suspects kidnapped off the streets of another country. I sometimes think there may be courses for officials of this administration in how to conjugate what George Orwell called "newspeak" words and meanings turned inside out.
Consider what our Secretary of State said in the Feb. 5, 2005, London Daily Telegraph: "There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles." Not only Europeans have ceased extolling at our claiming moral and legal principles despite the CIA's "extraordinary renditions," our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and the CIA's own "black sites." So it was that when, on Feb. 6, nations signed an international treaty protecting terrorism suspects from being forced to disappear from any country's streets and kept in secret detention, the United States was not among the signers. There were no giggles at that evasion of our past pledges to the world.
Is Secretary Rice's comment condescending? Is it arrogant? She assumes an air of superiority, does not she? Or is European cynicism the problem?
I think, some relaxed giggling at moralistic rhetoric is more appropriate than accusing the US government of hypocrisy because several European governments supported the CIA renditions in one way or another. Many European politicians make moralistic policy statements, although the policy results look different.

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Lars Peterson on :

Regarding: "American Moral Principles and European Giggles" I am German and have been living in the United States for 8 years now. It might not be proper for Europeans to giggle, but what exactly are those "American Moral Principles" American officials are talking about? It would be interesting if someone could lay them out and explain them to the people of the United States and, of course, to us Europeans. Thanks you.

Don S on :

Nat Hentoff is a first amendment absolutist, unlike many of the Johnny-come-latelies who have jumped upon this particular bandwagon. I honor him for that but cannot go as far as he does. What does being a First Amendment absolutist mean in the context of the Afghan War? Miranda Rights or something very much like them for captured combatants, for one thing. Surely extending the full suite of Geneva Convention rights to a group of 'combatants' who fight for a group which does not observe the Geneva Convention. Sorry, I can't go that far. As for the treaty he Hentoff cites? That was a PR stunt created to push Bush's face in the mud. The French govenment was the main sponsor of it, and I dount they have any intention of abiding by it themselves based upon past history. The French have been at least equally complicit in 'renditions' as the US has been. Hypocracy.

2020 on :

"We are not European, we are American, and we have different principles [of moral]." Condy says - but did she explain? I'm quite sure these are not only different principles, but never ending chains of ever more different principles. At last it means: Let us have our way or you are not with us. Then the circle starts again: If you aren't with us, you are against us... In international diplomacy, such a quote from an American Secretary of State should be more than [i]interesting[/i]. What is everybody doing wrong what America is doing right?

Don S on :

Well, one differing principal I have noticed is that Americans try to stand by our allies, whereas central europeans stand against their allies and with the enemies of their allies. 'Actions speak louder than words'? Not in continental Europe they don't. Many words, vanishingly few actions. Words are cheap and give one the illusion of doing good at no cost. Actions are expensive in money and blood and commit one to things one might not like to do. One question though: If you cannot be troubled to back your ally - why should your ally trouble to back you when you need it?

Anonymous on :

"Americans try to stand by our allies" What is "trying"? What is "standing by our allies"? Only joining WWII after you were attacked rather than years earlier, when Britain needed you? Abandoning the South Vietnames, when you got tired of the war you helped to escalate? Encouraging the Shiites to rise in the first Iraq war and then leaving them? Good job!

Zyme on :

"Only joining WWII after you were attacked rather than years earlier, when Britain needed you?" They were even "quicker" in WW I :D

Don S on :

"Only joining WWII after you were attacked rather than years earlier, when Britain needed you?" It's always interesting observing the complete ignorance many Europeans have of this kind of history. So here gores: High points of US-UK relations prior to WWI: 1776: Declaration of Independence creates the US. England disagrees, sends many troops to put down the 'revolt'. 1783: Treaty of Paris. The US defeats the UK with the help pf France. 1812: The War of 1812. After a long period in which the UK became ever more agressive in stopping US ships and kidnapping sailors, the US declares war on the UK. 1863: There is a major cry in the UK for war after the US stops a 'neutral' ship and arrests Confederate commissioners travelling to the UK and France to attept to bring those countries into the Civil War on the side of the slavemasters. Cooler heads prevail (notably Prince Albert, Abraham Lincoln, and William Seward of the US), and war is averted. What about this history could lead anyone to believe that there was an alliance between the US and the UK in 1914? There was no formal alliance between the UK and France in 1914, merely an understanding on certain matters (the Entente Cordiale). The UK entered WWI not because france or Russia went to war but because the Germans violated a treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality. Similarly the US went to war in 1917 not because of any alliance with France or Britain but because of German efforts to persuade the Mexicans to attack the US and because of German submarine warfare. There was no permanent alliance with the UK even after WWI. So what similarity can anyone find between the US 'failure' to support a non-ally (the UK) before December 7th, 1941 and the German failure to support an ally of more than 50 years standing ion 2002-2007?

mbast on :

Don: "If you cannot be troubled to back your ally - why should your ally trouble to back you when you need it?" Pat Patterson: "What might be in the back of the mind in some parts of Europe is the knowledge, not merely the suspicion, that the US, under the Democrats or Republicans, would honor its commitments. As such most Americans are probably pleased when those it regards as allies helps but is not generally surprised when they don't." Problem is, this whole "Europeans are all a self-serving treacherous lot" argument is based on the assumption that sending more troops into Afghanistan(or making intelligence available or whatever military operation you might be thinking of) will actually help anybody. It won't. It'll only make matters worse. Read my lips (ok, you can't, I agree, but bear with me ;-)): the military is NOT an instrument for nation building. Just sending more troops simply will not work. All it'll do is provide a great big target for the Taliban to shoot at and for the general Afghan population to hate. If you don't believe me look at the situation in Iraq. Or look at what happened to the oh-so-powerful soviet army during their Afghanistan war. Or look at what the French went through in Algeria and Indochina. Or the US in Vietnam afterwards. Or take any of quite a number of examples in history: you cannot control and rebuild a country like that. Why should we Europeans send our troops into a hopeless situation when even the American population itself isn't too keen on sending more American soldiers to the meat-grinder? This whole thing is not about honoring obligations because there is no moral obligation to send more troops into Afghanistan. On the contrary, there is a moral obligation NOT to send them if we don't have at least a faint hope that it'll help stabilize this mess. Which, in all honesty, we don't, if we don't push a civilian effort to rebuild the country. THAT is where the Europeans have a moral obligation.

David on :

Tacit support of torture and rendition is deplorable, but not the moral equivalence of actually carrying it out. Guantanamo is America's shame - now part of our legacy and a symbol of our nation's diminished stature in the world.

Zyme on :

One important european principle would be its unification process. I think Merkel is right in trying to establish a european army of states that are willing to merge in this regard. I don´t think this will work with the bigger countries, but this way we might integrate several smaller neighboring countries, thus increasing the size of our standing army while sharing the costs. And when it becomes clear that a common army throughout the EU realm is impossible, this would be the perfect excuse to agree to Scholl-Latour, who demanded today a nuclear armament in Germany as the only real working deterrence in times of a nuclear proliferation. (http://www.focus.de/politik/cicero-exklusiv/tid-5412)

Pat Patterson on :

America's tardiness to both World Wars is certainly debatable but what treaty obligation did America have with any of the European Powers leading up to either war? The one treaty the US does have with Europe is via NATO and the US is still honoring that commitment.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I agree. Don, however, seems to think that Germany is not honoring its commitment to NATO. NATO did invoke article 5 after 9/11, but I don't think this is an obligation to fight an insurgency in S Afghanistan or to invade Iraq. What do you think about this? My opinion is that all countries follow their interests and help their allies, when it is in their interest and they consider the threat to the ally existential and/or believe that the support mission can be successful. The insurgency in S Afghanistan is neither an existential threat to the US nor are we likely to succeed in defeating the insurgency given the limited resources and many more reasons. Besides, the 9/11 hijackers were not Afghans, but Arabs, primarily Saudis. The hijackers learned to fly plans in the US (not in Afghanistan) and some hijackers lived in Germany. So, I don't see how NATO membership requires Germany to fight an insurgency in Afghanistan. In fact, I believe, that the focus on Afghanistan distracts us from the bigger risks of international terrorism, sleeper cells, etc. Al Qaeda terrorism is a global movement.

Pat Patterson on :

My comment was directed to Anonymous and Zyme in regard to the refusal of some European nations to honor their NATO obligations by hinting that this refusal is justified by the tardiness of the US to enter the World Wars. Let's for the moment assume that Park Inn Berlin had been attacked on 9/11 and then Germany invoked the relevant articles in the NATO Treaty. How popular would the US be in Germany if NATO, acting on a request from Chancellor Merkel, on the advice of senior officers in the Bundeswehr, requested that the US make satellite and AWACS intelligence available to the 25,000 or so German combat troops deployed in Afghanistan. But the US delayed this deployment and argued in Congress for 90 days. After which the US agreed to send this aid but only if the Germany promised not to use any of this information to kill Al Qaeda or Taliban combatants? What might be in the back of the mind in some parts of Europe is the knowledge, not merely the suspicion, that the US, under the Democrats or Republicans, would honor its commitments. As such most Americans are probably pleased when those it regards as allies helps but is not generally surprised when they don't.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Pat It depends on the link between the Park Inn attack and Afghanistan. Besides, I am still wondering whether you think that Germany has to send troops to S Afghanistan to meet NATO obligations after 9/11.

Pat Patterson on :

Simply put yes, under Articles 4, 5 and 6(1). Especially as as the UN has extended its original resolution, 1267, to cover the longer than anticipated military campaign. There are several mechanisms that Germany could adopt to call its troops home, they can withdraw from NATO next year, but as yet have behaved honorably and legally in keeping its commitments to NATO and the UN sanctioned activities in Afghanistan. Now the Germans may view this predicament as being akin to the crew of the Pequod being invited to join him as he and Moby Dick dive beneath the waves. Yet America is not Rome, disagreements are solved or papered over. No German citizens will suffer the fates of the Pequod or Latium.

Pat Patterson on :

The "he" I was referring to is Ahab. the one with the whale bone pegleg not the one with the Ark.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Pat "Simply put yes, under Articles 4, 5 and 6(1). Especially as as the UN has extended..." NATO described 9/11 as an attack against the alliance. Has NATO ever said that this attack requires fighting an native insurgency in Southern Afghanistan? Is there any such hint in the NATO treaty calling for fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan in response to an attack by a truly global terrorist organisation, which is primarily Arab. All 9/11 hijackers were Arabs. Why aren't we invading Saudi Arabia because of their citizens involvement in 9/11? After all NATO declared 9/11 as an attack against the alliance.... Besides, I don't understand why you mention the UN. I don't see the relevance of UN resolutions for NATO defense obligations.

ADMIN on :

Please note that by default the comments in this blog are threaded rather than linear, i.e. some of the latest responses to comments are not at the bottom, but in the middle of the thread right behind the comment they respond to. At the top of the comments section you have the option to change the view from threaded to linear (=chronological), which enables you to see the latest comments at the end of the thread.

Pat Patterson on :

Saudi Arabia never claimed responsibility for the attacks while Al Qaeda consistently never denied responsibility. UN Resolution 1267 ordered Afghanistan to turn over Bin Laden in 2001 for the attacks in NYC and the earlier attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Here's the relevant passages of 1267, "It[Afghanistan] must cease providing sanctuary and training for international terrorists and their organizations, take effective measure to ensure that the terrority under its control was not used for terrorist innstallations and camps for the preparation or organization of terrorist acts against States or their citizens and cooperate with efforts to bring indicted terrorists to justice." But the main justification for continued involvement and essentially authorizing to stay and rebuild Afghanistan was later in the text, "Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan..." NATO has chosen to operate under the aegis of this resolution and can argue that their continued presence is in keeping with the the UN's authorization of force. As well as the NATO articles. And like most thing thought up by committee its very blandness and vagueness can be used to prove contrary positions. The UN, feet dragging till the end, essentially said that the US, rather NATO, could go play in Afghanistan but to pick up afterwards.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"Saudi Arabia never claimed responsibility for the attacks while Al Qaeda consistently never denied responsibility." a) Saudi Arabia is not that stupid. Still they gave aid, comfort and manpower to the 9/11 cause. b) Al Qaeda is not just in Afghanistan, but in many places. Again, no Afghan gave flying lessons to the 9/11 pilots. Why invade only Afghanistan? Why is Germany accused of violating NATO obligations, when Germany prefers to fight Al Qaeda outside of Afghanistan? "UN Resolution 1267 ordered Afghanistan to turn over Bin Laden in 2001 for the attacks in NYC and the earlier attacks in Kenya and Tanzania." This old Afghanistan has not complied. Therefore this old Afghanistan does not exist anymore. Tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands Taliban and others were killed by daisy cutter bombs. Isn't that enough punishment for failure to comply with the UN resolution? What else do you hope to achieve in Southern Afghanistan? How is fighting the native insurgency going to make the US safer? I agree with your last two paragraphs, but that's all about voluntary decisions and UN resolution. I just care about the issue of German obligations to the US based on the attacks of 9/11 and NATO invoking article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, declaring 9/11 an attack against the alliance. Basically, I think Germany does not share the burden of the fighting in Afghanistan. That is unfair towards NATO allies, but it is not a violation of Germany's treaty obligation after the 9/11 attacks, although many Americans claim that it is and feel abandoned by Germany. If anybody convinces me that US and European security is strengthened by fighting against the insurgency in Southern Afghanistan, then I will support the calls for more German involvement.

Pat Patterson on :

I think that its probably too late to convice you of further involvement in Afghanistan. All the facts and arguments have been rehashed and reworked for the last 5 years and its doubtful that there is a convincing argument that would persuade either side. But unlike the US, where its anti-war movement is selective according to the party in power, Germany has a large, and politically entrenched, anti-war movement that thinks all military action is illegitimate and has to be considered. Thus the polictical tendency is to do the minimal or nothing, regardless of the legality or morality of the situation. But then against popular opinion, which is much more critical in a parliamentary democracy, Germany has cooperated both officially and unofficially with US actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT(what a stupid acronym) the mistrust of its elites by the citizens will grow. If Al Qaeda are primarily acting in Iraq and Afghanistan where then is Germany fighting them outside of the borders of those two unfortunate areas? Even Madeline Albert correctly noted that a nation's military needs to fight once in a while. And sending only reconaissance jets and commando units with restrictive ROE will not prepare the military. Another simple question would be that of the two nations, say Germany and Romania, which one would make a better ally? The one with the twelve years of combat training throughout the world or the barracks army?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"If Al Qaeda are primarily acting in Iraq and Afghanistan" That's a big "if." "where then is Germany fighting them outside of the borders of those two unfortunate areas?" Germany taking on Al Qaeda closer to home. New terrorism database. Phone tapping. Investments in communication technology. Intelligence sharing etc. Is it enough? No. Should Germany do more in Afghanistan or closer to home? Limited resources should be invested where they most needed, i.e. closer to home. Fighting some native insurgency in Afghanistan protects neither the US nor Europe from Al Qaeda, which has a safe haven in Pakistan and elsewhere. So what is the point of fighting against some mountain tribes in Southern Afghanistan? "Even Madeline Albert correctly noted that a nation's military needs to fight once in a while." Ex Secretary Albright said that? I wonder what the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? She also said that a few hundred thousand dead Iraqi kids are an acceptable price to pay for containing Saddam... "The one with the twelve years of combat training throughout the world or the barracks army?" The US military has a lot of combat experience, but seems to be in a weaker shape now then before the Iraq war. Thanks to the Iraq war, neither Iran nor North Korea are intimidated by the US. Before the Iraq war, the US was called a superpower or even hyperpower. Now, after four years of the Iraq war, there is much less respect about the US military might. Many people think the US will cut an run from Iraq. Therefore, I think the Iraq war has done more damage than good to the US reputation.

Pat Patterson on :

Sorry to post a response so late but the comment regarding the types of army was in reference to the combat training, in brigade and larger formations, that Canada, Britain, Romania and Poland are getting. Versus the use of small units by Germany, small units that are expensive and rarely provide knowledge or institutional memory that would help the larger formations. Madeline Albright's comments were in regard to the use of smaller units ofAmerican combat troops in Serbia instead of Gen. Powell's theory of overwhelming force. but since I haven't found the quote it must remain instructive and apocryphal only.

Don S on :

"Thanks to the Iraq war, neither Iran nor North Korea are intimidated by the US." And these two nations were 'intimidated' before the Iraq War, Joerg? I don't think so! North Korea was so imtimidated that it made a treaty and then kept working on their a-bomb. Iran? Intimidated? Are we talking about the same country who took a batch of US diplmats hostage in 1979 and held them for more than a year?!!!! They weren't intimidated before and they are not intimidated now. No change.....

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