In the week of World Press Freedom Day the New York Times carried one of its holier-than-thou and unintentionally ironical editorials, this time titled «Donald Trump Embraces Another Despot». Seeing the headline, the world could be forgiven for asking which one it might be, this time, and eventually the Editorial Board revealed the target of their displeasure to be President Duterte of the Philippines, an unpleasant morsel of filth who had just been invited to visit the United States by President Donald Trump, who is also an unpleasant morsel of filth.
In the run-up to identifying Mr Duterte as the object of its disapproval, the Times observed that «for the most part American presidents, Republican and Democratic, have believed that the United States should provide a moral compass to the world».
A moral compass? That rang a bell, because one person who used this phrase recently was the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the egregious Nikki Haley, who declared at her confirmation hearing that she will «speak up against anything that goes against American values», because «we have always been the moral compass of the world». What nonsense.
Many Americans have been horrified at the way in which their leaders have spun America’s moral compass over the years, and it is barely credible that anyone could utter such a phrase with sincerity.
Past presidents may have paid lip-service to such ideals, but few have pursued policies that would in any way indicate that the United States of America was providing a global moral compass. Post World War II, Washington’s ethics were blasted into pieces by the Pentagon’s evil fandangos in Vietnam and surrounding countries, where the effects of its massacres, bombings of cities and towns, and use of the chemical Agent Orange are still being suffered.
Ironically, the New York Times carried a piece in 2014 titled Agent Orange’s Long Legacy, for Vietnam and Veterans, which stated that «the war has not ended for many of the 2.8 million [US] servicemen and women who went to Vietnam. These ailing veterans are convinced that their cancers and nervous disorders and skin diseases — not to mention congenital maladies afflicting some of their children — are a result of their contact with Agent Orange». The writer claimed that «Often enough, that linkage has not been established incontrovertibly», which is a contemptible get-out, but the swinging moral compass went off the wall when he averred that the «Vietnamese accept almost as an article of faith that America’s aerial and ground spraying poisoned their environment, perhaps for decades to come, and is to blame for severe birth defects that afflict hundreds of thousands of their children. Whether that is indeed a reality has not been definitively established».
The poison of Agent Orange has indeed continued, as evidenced by many reports, one of the latest being on 4 April 2017 that «on a hill above his home, former soldier Do Duc Diu showed me the cemetery he built for his twelve children, who all died soon after being born disabled. There are a few extra plots next to the existing graves for where his daughters, who are still alive but very sick, will be buried». And it was Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon who bore responsibility for the vile despoliation of a region and the deaths of so many of its innocent citizens.
Moral compass? You’ve got to be joking.
Then the Editorial Board excelled itself by pronouncing that the Presidents of the United States have been «encouraging people to pursue their right to self-government and human dignity and rebuking foreign leaders who fall short».
The list of countries whose people have been actively discouraged by US Administrations from «pursuing their right to self-government» is long and depressing, and when there was movement to support people who want democracy the usual result was catastrophe. That this statement was made during Press Freedom Week was indeed ironic, because it was also reported that «Washington is working to push through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others in the pipeline, ahead of President Donald Trump's trip to the kingdom this month». He is visiting a dictatorship where, as his own State Department acknowledges, «civil law does not protect human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press». Moral compass, anyone?
President Duterte is a gross violator of human rights and entirely without any moral sense. As noted on CNN, he is «the thug President of the Philippines — our ally. Here’s a man who has bragged about committing murder . . . and who just happens to be presiding over an anti-drug operation that by some estimates has involved the extrajudicial killing of some 7,000 people».
But there have been and continue to be many similar despots around the world whom the United States and the New York Times have supported for years. Take the truly evil Park Chung-Hee of South Korea with whom President Kennedy «reaffirmed the strong bonds of friendship traditionally existing between the two countries» and who lasted through Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and even the faintly morally-conscious Carter, until Park’s assassination in 1979. Where was the moral compass in these hideous years in which Park was a valued ally of the United States?
Then there was the brutal Suharto of Indonesia (1967 to 1998; Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the First, Clinton) about whom in 2015, fifty years after Suharto’s most appalling massacres, the New York Times carried a piece acknowledging that «with American support, more than 500,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian Army and its civilian death squads. At least 750,000 more were tortured and sent to concentration camps, many for decades». Reagan liked Suharto and in a speech went so far as to spin his moral compass back-to-front and say that «tonight we welcome good friends back to the White House» because he considered his dictator guest to have «clear-sighted recognition of where the interests of both our nations lie».
Of course Suharto recognised American interests — just as present-day dictators recognise them and know that although Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Tweeter-in Chief, Donald Trump, should, as Haley proudly announced, «speak up against anything that goes against American values», they’ll do that selectively. They adopt this approach because although US values are Constitutionally and morally at variance with those of all the Gulf dictatorships, for example, they are subject to modification in interpretation as they go up the gently-sloped moral ladders of the Congress and the Administration.
There are never any public rebukes for the Gulf dictators, in spite of the State Department recording that they are intolerant bigots with no regard for human rights.
Washington declares Saudi Arabia to be «a strong partner» in spite of it being noted in the report on human rights that its citizens have no «ability and legal means to choose their government» while there are «restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and the freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and pervasive gender discrimination and lack of equal rights that affected most aspects of women’s lives».
It would be refreshing if the New York Times Editorial Board were to get hold of America’s moral compass and encourage the President to rebuke the monarchy of Saudi Arabia for its long-standing, embedded and comprehensive contempt for the rights of Saudi citizens.
By all means criticize Trump for cosying up to the savage Duterte — but spare us the claptrap about moral compasses.