When The Moral Compass Starts Spinning

by Aleksandra Priestfield

November 18, 2002


"I think Europe has lost its moral compass," Richard Perle, leading Pentagon adviser on Iraq, is on record as saying in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian on November 13. Perle has accused Europe of providing what he called "succour" to Saddam Hussein. "Many Europeans have become so obsessed by the prospect of violence they have failed to notice who we are dealing with," he said.

Er, what?

Do the words pot, kettle, black come to mind? Europe is obsessed with the prospect of violence? Europe? The biggest dog of war around right now is the United States, straining at the leash and slavering at the prospect of slaughter. And the USA has the unmitigated gall to say someone else is obsessed with the prospect of violence?

Perle goes on to accuse Germany of having lapsed into a "moral numbing pacifism." Er, what, once again? Germany was shackled by a hundred rules and regulations after World War II, during which it showed anything but pacifism in its own sphere of operations. In theory, it was against the law for Germany to even send troops to places like the Balkans "peacekeeping" missions -- they were constrained, in the wake of the Nazi beast, not to bear arms in any foreign country. But that didn't matter, then. Now, when Germany is giving tongue to a sane voice in this mess -- Germany, with its reputation for cold strategic conquering spirit when the occasion should arise for conquest -- it is being berated by the US for being a pacifist?

The last time Germany took matters into its own hands and acted as unilaterally as the US is doing now, it was when Hitler decided to manufacture a pretext to annex Poland. Then, it was called naked aggression (which it was) and ultimately led the world into a global war which cost millions of lives and lasted more than four years. Now, when the US is unilaterally invading Iraq on a pretext far flimsier than Germany ever had with Poland, it is not only not aggression, not only not frowned upon, but positively applauded -- and when the last country that did such a thing tries to put the brakes on, it's being accused of cowardice?

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, is specifically exempt from Perle's accusations. Apparently the outrage Blair displays at the very mention of Saddam Hussein's name is of a high enough quality for Perle to give him a blanket exemption from the scathing dismissal he has dealt out to the rest of Europe.

"I don't see how anyone, particularly any liberal, can say anything that can be construed as protecting the regime of Saddam Hussein," Perle opines. And yet it is largely himself doing the construing. Arguing against senseless war is hardly being laudatory about the regime of Saddam Hussein. But the United States is hypocritically barging ahead with precisely the sort of thing that it would itself be up in arms against if it were ever directed at the regime of George W. Bush. If anyone outside the US advocated a "regime change" in America, that person or state would be vilified and denounced if lucky, bombed into oblivion if not. And yet the US blithely reserves the right to make those same judgments against the ruling regime of another country which has done nothing in the last decade except try to cling to a bitter survival.

It's the old hypocrisy -- sovereignty is for the powerful. If you don't have the power, you don't have the sovereignty.

I had rather hoped we had done away with that when the Age of Empires passed into the twilight of the world.

Richard Perle is described as being close to "key hawks" in the Pentagon -- but is himself prominent on a list of "chickenhawks" -- high-profile warmongers-in-power who have themselves ducked ever being close enough to a real war to smell the gunpowder. The website at www.nhgazette.com/chickenhawks.html is worth a visit, for all the rest of the names on the list, starting at the very top with the Prez himself. Perle appears in what is dubbed the Bureaucratic Battalion, together with other luminaries such as Paul Wolfowitz and a bunch of other brethren from the State Department. At least some of the others on the list have a "lame excuse" listed (such as "bad back," "bad knees," "psoriasis" and even "anal cysts") -- Perle apparently has nothing, no excuse at all, not even a lame one. He is simply one who advocates the idea that it is wonderful for other people to go to war. He's happy sitting back in the plush comfort of a Washington office, playing with magnets under the table until the moral compass upon it points to a direction which he wishes.

There are some people, Perle says, that you just can't do deals with. He mentions Saddam Hussein. He mentions that old moral compass standby, Hitler. He even mentions (albeit rather carefully, these people have nukes after all) North Korea.

No mention, of course, about the propensity of the United States to tear up inconvenient international treaties on a whim, threaten to go it alone if the rest of the world doesn't fall into line, assert its own sovereignty as inviolable while trampling underfoot that of any other country when this becomes convenient.

Whoops, sorry, just a moment there. That moral compass of Mr. Perle's just went into a spinning blur...

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Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans.

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Published November 18, 2002
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