When I was very young, I was naive. I wondered why it was that so many countries seemed to hate us. Weren’t we the Good Guys™, after all? As I got a little bit older, I started to notice something: our country supported a lot of governments that were really terrible. Why did we hate Fidel Castro and love Augusto Pinochet? And then later, why did we hate the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and love the Salvadorian military government? These are the sorts of things that made me a liberal. If America really did stand for the things it claims, I’d probably be a conservative.
I always imagine that’s what went on with Chelsea Manning. She was a true believer — an American idealist. And the actual truth came as a shock to her and so she did what she could. And the attitude toward her is amazing. She was committed to our ideals. Those who blast her are cynical. They think that everyone is just supposed to know that all our rhetoric about freedom and democracy is just a cover — a way to further American corporate interests and empire. To me, the worst thing you can say about Manning is that she was naive. But we could use more of that kind of naivete.
I’ve written about this a lot. Our government really doesn’t care at all how any government treats its citizens, as long as it keeps its markets open to us. Just look at Venezuela, which has its problems, but which is most clearly a democracy. And we hate it and the media are all over it. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship that is simply awful, but they are our friends, so anything they do is a-okay — even when many rich people in the country provide financial support to terrorists who attacked us.
Glenn Greenwald published an article recently that pretty much sums up our hypocrisy on such matters, Two Short Paragraphs that Summarize the US Approach to Human Rights Advocacy. He’s referring to a 2013 article in The Washington Post where an anonymous senior government official was quoted as saying:
That’s right! That’s exactly what we do. And that’s what I’m not willing to support for a higher standard of living. Of course the irony is that our vile foreign policies do not provide me with a higher standard of living. They provide people who already have about as high a standard of living as one can have with even more money. And that is what it is all about: money. Venezuela is still more than willing to sell oil to us; they just aren’t willing to allow Exxon to suck out billions in profits. So we are hypocrites so that Exxon shareholders can make a bit more money.
But there was one thing that Greenwald wrote that I think nails the whole situation for me:
But it is basically tribal. Chelsea Manning wasn’t supposed to focus on what we say about ourselves. She was supposed to support the US in whatever it did. You know the conservative’s favorite line, “My country, right or wrong.” Of course, what the great American Carl Schurz actually said was, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” If it is naive to want this country to live up to its stated ideals, then we need a lot more naivete.