Elite Benefits, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Dec

Those of us who try to stay current with multi-lateral, diplomatic affairs are acutely and sometimes painfully aware of the benefits that ascribe to being a large power at the United Nations, especially a permanent Security Council member.

Governments at the UN have become accustomed to playing by two sets of rules.   The permanent members routinely create narratives for their own behavior that, by any relevant international standard, should be heavily scrutinized rather than brushed aside.  Scrutiny, too often, is reserved for the smaller and often ‘outlier’ states that have fewer resources and less occasion to ‘spin’ bad behavior to positive political ends.

The release of the US Senate’s report on CIA interrogation methods is welcome, despite the political wrangling that delayed its release, citing ‘damage’ to US interests that might occur once at least a portion of the ‘truth’ is out.  And despite efforts by some to use the report’s release as a kind of moral ‘disinfectant’ to the deep psychic sickness which the report partially highlights and to which this nation has willfully descended.

There are of course lessons here that the US (and many other nations) would be wise to learn but probably will not.  The first lesson is that controversial behavior must account for that time when the full truth about the controversy is known.  People don’t much care about the day to day activities of most of us, but in the case of high government officials there will always be interest.    And in this celebrity driven age with personal gadgets at the ready, the chances of keeping ‘secrets’ secret in the long-term are quite low.

Second, we need to lose this idea, and especially its practical application, that some states stand above the laws they seek to hold others accountable to.   I’m not sure what happened to ‘modeling’ as a change strategy, but clearly the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ maxim that is so dysfunctional within family life has somehow found a leading role in international polity, and not to its benefit.

And finally, the noxious effort by some in the government and media so see the release of the report as a symbol of our collective moral virtue must cease immediately.   My country did not ‘own up to’ our mistakes until, in some instances, years after those ‘mistakes’ were made, and then only under pressure from the press and human rights advocates, and then again only after intensive political wrangling.   Moral virtue, indeed.  If ever there was a time to climb down from the bully pulpit and eat some humble pie, this is it.

The ability of elite powers to ‘spin’ their own bad behavior while pointing fingers at others is itself a moral travesty and one of the reasons why the status of the UN is not higher globally than it is.  I will likely pay more of a penalty for late payments of my office bills than lying CIA officials (and their defenders in the executive branch of government) will pay for sapping the very life out of persons who were, for the most part, only ‘alleged’ to have committed serious crimes.

Needless to say, this is not quite the ‘gift’ on Human Rights Day that we might otherwise have hoped for.

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