The Clinton political team is sputtering in righteous indignation over Russia’s supposed cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee and the leak of the DNC’s embarrassing e-mails. Their outrage was further inflamed by Donald Trump’s wicked suggestion that Czar Putin should do more of this mischievous hacking.
How dare Moscow tamper with our sacred elections in the home of the brave, land of the free! Republicans suspect Trump may have violated national-security laws. Perhaps the FBI should investigate.
Does anyone remember that America’s techno-spies at the National Security Agency were listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls? Or that the CIA frequently interferes, sometimes quite brutally, in the politics of other nations? The agency says it no longer assassinates popular leaders it doesn’t like. But it still picks leaders for people in lesser countries—often tinpot dictators in uniforms—or wrecks their fragile economy if they resist.
Cyber espionage is a serious threat, no question. But who is the villain? When the US Treasury secretary pressured Beijing to stop its relentless invasions of US government and industry computers, the People’s Daily shoved back. Washington, it said, is the “real ‘hacking empire.’”
Many Americans will reflexively dismiss that assertion as Red China agitprop, but the Commies might have it right. When intelligence officers give the president his daily morning briefing, most of the information has been collected by our cyberspies at the NSA and CIA. “It’s at least 75 percent, and going up,” said Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence for George W. Bush (kudos to Michael Riley of Bloomberg for his smart reporting on this in 2013).
America appears to be the United States of Hypocrisy. The so-called “American exceptionalism” celebrated by warrior scholars and chicken-hawk politicians is exceptionally bogus. It feeds the popular pretension of “injured innocence” that many people want to feel when hostile foreigners do terrible things to our side—whether to our people at home or our troops abroad.
That does not mean Americans are not better than our adversaries. We are, in many ways. It does mean US political judgments will forever be corrupted by false claims of innocence so long as Americans fail to acknowledge our contradictions. When people chant “USA! USA!” they are indulging in self-congratulations they did not earn.
Inflated patriotic fervor encourages self-pity and smothers honest thinking. If we are innocent and the other guy is evil, then we have no choice but to—as John McCain once flippantly remarked—bomb-bomb-bomb Iran, as we have certainly done with Iraq and Syria, again and again, with pitiful results. According to the Pentagon, the United States has flown more than 10,000 bombing runs against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, resulting in only a few dozen civilian casualties. But human-rights groups say the correct total is at least 500, and possibly many more. In the most recent such atrocity, airstrikes on a single village in Syria in July killed at least 74 civilians, most of them women and children. And civilian casualties are sure to grow, now that Washington has expanded its air war against ISIS to Libya. How do we compare that with terrorist attacks on us?