TCS Daily

Good American Hypocrisy

By Lee Harris - February 24, 2003 12:00 AM

"The first pictures of 'liberated' Baghdad will show Iraqi children making victory signs to American tank crews."

Except for the mocking quotation marks around 'liberated,' it would be hard to guess that the author of this remark was Robert Fisk, one of America's bitterest critics, and even harder to guess that the article from which it was taken was an essay against the war in Iraq.

But the very hardest thing to believe is the tone of voice in which these words must be uttered in order to convey them as he meant them-bitter, indignant, contemptuous, outraged.

And the question I have to ask is, Why? What is it that exasperates Mr. Fisk so much about the prospects of such a scene?

Perhaps it may be speculated that Mr. Fisk is an admirer of Saddam Hussein. But, no, that is quite impossible: Mr. Fisk, in this very essay, makes it quite clear that he regards Saddam Hussein as a criminal, and would love to see him put on trial for the crimes that he had committed while at the helm of his Stalinist-style regime; and for this we must give Mr. Fisk credit.

Equally far-fetched is the idea that he begrudges the children of Iraq their prospective freedom from the horrendous sufferings to which they had been exposed over the entirety of their brief lives. Obviously not-Mr. Fisk is a genuine humanitarian, concerned with the welfare of all mankind, with no reason to wish to single out the children of Iraq to be victims of a special misfortune.

Mr. Fisk's opposition to the impending 'liberation' is not even based on his misgivings about the practical difficulty of its achievement, or on the fear that Iraq might turn into another Vietnam-like quagmire, since Mr. Fisk, by his own admission, is expecting "a quick military conquest of Iraq."

What disturbs Robert Fisk is not that we might be dragged into an interminable Vietnam-like quagmire, but that we might succeed easily, swiftly, and with minimal loss of life.

This is not because Mr. Fisk has no heart-rather, it is because his heart is pure, and ours is not. The subtitle of his essay, "A Conflict Driven by the Self-interest of America," announces the theme that Mr. Fisk proceeds to elaborate through a set of imaginative, if not wholly consistent, variations. At one moment, our self-interest is identified as oil; at another, as Israel-(though Israel might appear an oddly altruistic form of self-interest for the USA to manifest.) But, in either case, whatever good might come from the 'liberation' is clearly cancelled out in Mr. Fisk's mind by the sordidness of these American selfish motives for undertaking it.

Which brings to mind a simple thought experiment.

Suppose that you and I and Mr. Fisk were all being held in the basement of a madman, and that the madman was keeping us barely alive on a diet of bread and water. Suppose, furthermore, that from time to time the madman came down and tortured one or the other of us, simply to remind us of the power that he holds over our fates.

Now one day, just as we are beginning to despair of ever being released from the madman's custody, an individual stumbles into the basement and says, "I am here to rescue you. Follow me to freedom."

My heart would leap in joy, and I must assume that yours would as well. But what about Mr. Fisk's heart? What would his response be to the offer of liberation?

Judging by the arguments Mr. Fisk is currently using, his first instinct would be to determine what motive our apparent savior had for freeing us from the clutches of the madman. Was it an act of pure altruism, or was it contaminated with mean self-interest?

For example, imagine our shock and disappointment to discover that our liberator is freeing us solely for the purpose of getting the madman thrown in jail, so that he can forthwith move into our captive's former residence, in order to turn it into a chemical facility that would dump poisons into the atmosphere?


And yet, isn't just possible you might still want to say, "Thank you," to him? Not a profuse or unmanly getting down on the hands and knees and thanking God for his arrival kind of thing, but still... some acknowledgment of your gratitude?

Purity of the heart is a wonderful thing, and it is a pity that it seems to be a quality possessed only by those who despise our nation. But there is something that we have that more than makes up for it-and even Mr. Fisk must give us credit for this one.

It is good old-fashioned American hypocrisy.

When we Americans are pursuing our narrow self-interests, it is our habit to try to disguise this fact not only from the world, but from ourselves-and what better proof of our genius for such disguise than our conduct with our defeated enemies after World War Two? Driven by our desire to keep the capitalist system dominant in the world, and ourselves on top of it, we forced our former foes to abjure the allurements of Soviet annexation and to become vastly more powerful and more prosperous than the wildest dreams of their most demented leaders.

America's current critics need to recognize that in pursuing its self-interest the United States is hardly unique-what singles us out from among nations is our obdurate hypocrisy. We have to pretend to ourselves that we are doing the right thing-often at the cost of actually doing it.

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