Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bennett and Dershowitz--Global Busy-Bodies

In today's WaPo, Bill Bennett and Alan Dershowitz join forces to denounce the mainstream media for failing to "do its duty" by reprinting the controversial cartoons depicting Mohammed.

As I discussed here, I consider this position typical rightwing blowhardism--picking fights that others will suffer for. But today's column illustrates another all-too-common fallacy I wish we could scotch once and for all. Here's the key graf:

Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind -- images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.

Bennett and Dershowitz think that the willingness of the American press to publish such materials while refraining from reprinting anti-Islamic images reflects a hypocritical double standard. It's the same argument conservatives use against Americans who protest US policies (such as torture, invasions, violations of privacy, etc.): "Why don't these people demonstrate against foreign regimes that are much worse?" The idea is that Americans who protest Guantanamo are hypocritical if they don't spend the same amount of time picketing outside the embassies of China, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba . . . name your favorite evil regime.

Listen, guys--the reason it's not hypocritical to focus our energies on American misdeeds is very simple. We're Americans. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Gonzalez represent us. We pay their salaries and provide the tanks, bombs, and guns they deploy. Our kids fight and die in the wars they start. Of course we care more about what they do than about what the Iranian mullahs or Fidel Castro do. And of course we consider it more important to expose their crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo than to tweak the hypersensitivities of Middle Eastern Islamists. As American citizens, we're responsible for the crimes of our government. We have no such responsibility for the behavior of the Islamists.

One of the annoying traits of contemporary conservatism is the way they get the isolationism/engagement issue exactly backward. They want Americans to diss the world by abrogating treaties, ignoring foreign opinion, sidestepping the UN and the World Court, and mocking international law. At the same time, they insist that we should be imposing "our" values (actually their personal values) on other countries through economic pressure, proselytizing, and even invasion.

In other words, they abhor international cooperation while demanding international busy-bodyism. What kind of neighbors does this make us? Is it any wonder that this approach has been getting us into deeper and deeper trouble in Iraq and around the world?

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