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The lost honour of the United States

July 29, 2006

Thomas L. Friedman, writing yesterday in the New York Times (subscription required) made what seems to me to be an epochal judgement. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, or maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’ll be over it in the morning.

After canvassing the trends towards mayhem so unmistakeably apparent in the contemporary Middle East, including the current war between Israel and Hizbollah, Friedman had this to say:

America should be galvanising the forces of order — Europe, Russia, China and India — into a coalition against these trends. But we can’t. Why? In part, it’sbecause our president and secretary of state, although they speak with great moral clarity, have no moral authority. That’s been shattered by their performance in Iraq.

It’s the kind of truth that the US’ supporters and well-wishers would rather wasn’t — well, true. Not so cruelly true. But perhaps it is.

The misadventure in Iraq has crucified the US’ moral standing. It launched a purely aggressive war — perhaps the first any western democracy has embarked upon in the modern era — with disastrous if largely unforseeable consequences. It will pay for years, even decades, in damage to its reputation, its authority, its standing, and its credibility in the conversation of nations. It may not be going too far to say that the US has sacrificed the moral force and basis of its superpower status on the altar of Iraq. The world won’t listen anymore, unless it can’t avoid it, because it does not accept — at least for now — that the US has the moral right to command its automatic attention, much less its respect, and even less its obedience.

As I suggested a while back, the eventual and most lasting victim of the United States’ war on Iraq may well be the United States itself.

Then again, maybe I’ve been watching too much CNN.

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