I was recently reading a Noam Chomsky lecture fromÂ 2004Â where he speaks about terrorism, human rights and the conceptÂ of universality:
One moral truism that should be uncontroversial is the principle of universality: We should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to othersâ€“in fact, more stringent ones.
Chomsky’s point is that Western elites carve out an obvious exception for themselvesâ€“they deem their own countries “to be uniquely exempt from the principle of universalityâ€¦. The crimes of enemies take place; our own do not, by virtue of our exemption from the most elementary of moral truisms.”
I thought of this as I read theÂ Washington Post‘s editorial (8/29/14) condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government and other observers are calling a military invasion:
If any international norm can still be called uncontroversial, it is the stricture against cross-border aggression by one sovereign state against another.Â Certainly any failure to enforce it in one place invites violations elsewhere.
The paper cannot possibly mean thisÂ to be taken literally, for it amounts to a call for someone to stop the United States.
Of course, their words are not to be taken literally. The paper has been highly critical of the White House’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan (most recentlyÂ last week); they would prefer prolonging those conflicts. The paper’s advocacy for US wars during the Bush years is well-documented; itÂ ran a couple dozen editorialsÂ in support of the Iraq invasion, which one should agree was an act ofÂ “cross-border aggression.”
The other US wars of the moment, waged via drones and airstrikes, receive enthusiastic support from theÂ Post. And it has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters ofÂ striking Syria. The recordâ€“of which one could sayplenty moreâ€“speaks for itself.
It is difficult to find a coherent explanation for theÂ Post‘s apparent position that Putin’s aggression so obviously violates “international norms” that are “uncontroversial,” but US warmaking is, if anything, insufficiently aggressive. Unless you accept that the kind of people who edit theÂ Washington PostÂ are the kind of people who do not believe that “universal norms” apply to everyone.