Fred Hiatt's foreign policy "principles"

The Washington Post editorial page editor, in defending the Colombian government, illustrates the core premises of American foreign policy discourse.

Published March 5, 2008 8:45PM (EST)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt this morning wrote an Editorial praising the U.S.-supported Colombian government for its military invasion of Ecuador this week, heralding that violation of Ecuadorian soverignty as a "bold blow" against the Terrorists. Regarding the subsequent border reinforcements by the victim of the invasion, Ecuador, and similar reinforcements by Venezuela, Hiatt says that those governments are the real enemies because they are -- to quote his Editorial's headline -- "Allies of Terrorism." As always, blithe invocations of "terrorism" are the all-purpose self-justifier for the Fred Hiatts of the world.

The Colombian rebel group FARC is a systematic abuser of human rights. But so, too, is the U.S.-propped up Colombian government whose unauthorized invasion of Ecuador Hiatt is praising. [Needless to say, it's the divine entitlement of the U.S. to decide who we want to rule Colombia and then prop up that faction with hundreds of millions of dollars and all sorts of armaments].

Hiatt writes editorials like this one on an almost weekly basis -- where he rails against the conduct of a vast array of foreign governments or groups (called "Terrorists" and "Dictators") while praising whatever government or group the U.S. happens to support as "Defenders of Democracy and Human Rights." Almost everyone of Hiatt's editorials are shaped by the same basic premises, which more or less drive the consensus foreign policy discussions of our political establishment:

(1) Any government or group that takes money from and is allied with the U.S. is inherently good. Anything they do -- including invasions, wars and other acts of violence -- is just and "bold."

(2) Any government or group that opposes the U.S. is inherently bad and anything they do is inherently unjust (even when it's exactly the same behavior as the praiseworthy behavior in category (1)). By definition, they're "Terrorists."

(3) Any government or group that takes money from and is allied with the U.S. is "democratic," regardless of whether they gained or seek power through elections. Such governments and groups are also devoted to "human rights," no matter how much arbitrary imprisonment, murdering of political opponents, torture and other due process abridgments they commit.

(4) Any government or group that opposes the U.S. is "anti-democratic" -- "enemies of democracy," a Dictatorship -- even when they gained or seek power through elections.

(5) The U.S. has a vital interest in dictating who governs every other country. It's always our business to intervene in every conflict and pick the side we want to win, not just with our political support but with money and arms. Since we are morally good, our decisions will always be in service of Democracy and Human Rights, even when the side we support is anti-democratic and brutally oppressive.

(6) If you deny or contest any of these premises, then you are an America-hater, part of the Blame America First crowd, because it means that you think that America's role in the world is sometimes destructive and unjust (which no American patriot would ever believe about their own country).

For many reasons, these "principles" are applied most enthusiastically to the Middle East, but they fit snugly to all parts of the world. It's nothing more than a framework of simplistic, adolescent self-absorption: "Anyone who likes me and does what I say is good and just and has the right to use force. Anyone who doesn't like me and resists what I say is a Terrorist that is always in the wrong." It's really never any more complicated than that.

Fred Hiatt actually believes himself to be (and is treated as) a defender of democracy, sovereignty and human rights, even though he's the same Fred Hiatt who supported the invasion of Iraq and continues to support its ongoing occupation. When the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died, Hiatt editorialized in defense of Pinochet's rule. Hiatt concluded that editorial by proclaiming that Jeane Kirkpatrick was right in her advocacy for right-wing dictatorships, yet -- when it comes time to cheer on the latest military action he likes or to issue stern condemnations against the Terrorists and Evil Dictatorships of the Week -- he does so (as all neoconservatives do) by preening around as though he's the arbiter and defender of democratic principles and human rights, motivated by defense of those lofty values.

Hiatt isn't unique but rather is entirely typical of how our political establishment discusses America's role in the world. But, at this point, what's most notable about all of this is that virtually everyone in the world recognizes that these are the actual rules by which the U.S. operates. The only ones fooled into believing that there's some transcendent moral principles involved are the Fred Hiatts, David Ignatiuses, their pundit-colleagues, and the shrinking band of Bush followers.

One can coherently (if not persuasively) make the argument that the U.S. should support anyone who does our bidding and oppose anyone who refuses, regardless of the moral principles involved. One can also coherently (if not persuasively) make the argument that the U.S.'s aim in the world should be to promote and defend democracy and battle human rights abuses. But it takes total self-delusion to advocate the former while self-lovingly convincing yourself that you're a beacon of the latter. But that self-delusion is really the overarching principle of our establishment's foreign policy discussions.

UPDATE: One could spend all week compiling examples to which these "principles" apply, but Casual_Observer, in comments, identifies one of the most vivid:

The Sunni of El Anbar Province are one of the most hilarious examples of this. They were horrible murdering bastards until they agreed to start taking our money. Then they instantly became the brave and nobly-sacrificing "Concerned citizens of Iraq".

There are, of course, many polemicists who cynically use this moralizing framework as a Straussian tool to advance their political aims, knowing full well that they're doing so. But there are plenty of others, such as Hiatt, who really do convince themselves that in their endless advocacy of war and invasions and brutal dictatorships and the like, they're actually driven by a transcendent devotion to these values. There's no way to sustain that level of self-righteous moralizing without genuinely succumbing to the delusion.

UPDATE II: In Comments, El Cid provides ample additional documentation, using the Washington Post's own reporting, of the Colombian Government's active involvement in brutal paramilitary groups which "kill peasant farmers and guerrilla sympathizers," followed by Fred Hiatt's vigorous defense of that same Government, which he called "a defender of liberal democracy, not to mention a staunch ally of the United States." Not to mention.

UPDATE III: It can never be noted enough times how discredited and rejected is the mindset of Fred Hiatt around the world. As sysprog notes in comments, the actual countries that live in that region, which are steadfast opponents of FARC, are nonetheless objecting in unison to what Hiatt praises as Colombia's "bold" incursion into Ecuador:

After years of international support for its counter-insurgency, Colombia finds itself diplomatically isolated in Latin America for taking the fight a mile into Ecuadorean territory. . . . Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and Peru condemned the incursion . . . .

"Respect for territorial sovereignty is inviolable international law and no one can justify its violation," said Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana.

The Fred Hiatts of our country simply don't believe in -- and therefore routinely urge the violation of -- the most basic and widely recognized precepts of international norms. "Respect for territorial sovereignty"? What kind of radical doctrines are these leftist Latin American leaders peddling?

By Glenn Greenwald

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