Master of the double standard

Standard

Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor and political activist Noam Chomsky — the world’s best known public intellectual — says somewhere that the United States’ prescriptions for other economies it wouldn’t dare follow itself, knowing how catastrophic the consequences could be to its own economy.

As if to once again prove Chomsky right, the US government has put together a record-breaking $700 billion plan to acquire the distressed assets of US private banks and other financial firms to save them from ruin, and possibly stave off a devastating depression.

To be financed by the taxes of middle and working class Americans, among whom many have gone bankrupt and lost their homes precisely because of the gargantuan CEO salaries and mega-risks those very same firms their government would now save took, the plan is on top of the $85 billion federal government bail-out last week of US top insurer AIG, and earlier, the $200 billion rescue of the mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The total cost to US taxpayers of the Paulson Plan (drawn up by US Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr.) and other bail-outs is estimated at $1.4 trillion.

US prescriptions on how other countries should run their economies the US usually delivers via the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which it dominates. (Paul Wolfowitz, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense, and one of the architects of the invasion of Iraq, was WB President, for example.) IMF-WB prescriptions are in fact reducible to the one basic economic principle to which the US claims loyalty: it is to allow market forces free rein without State interference.

Both institutions impose observance of this principle by making adherence to economic policies known as Structural Adjustment Programs, or SAPs, a condition to qualify for IMF-WB loans. But the only SAPs are the recipients of IMF-WB conditionalities. Although modified when needed to suit the specific conditions of each country, SAPs demand the devaluation of local currencies against the dollar; the dismantling of price controls; and the privatization and liberalization of the economy (meaning no state industries, and allowing foreign companies unlimited entry) among others.

SAPs are the vehicle for the implementation on a global scale of the Reaganite policies that from the 1980s onwards have made the world so profitable for US multinationals and impoverished third world nations, cut programs in education and health, and allowed the spiraling of basic food costs for the world’s poor.

Obviously, those principles are only for the rest of the world and not for the United States. State intervention — some have erroneously called it “socialism” — to save the finance privateers who’ve been raking in millions with hardly any interference all these years from the elite-dominated US government is apparently acceptable, for so long as it’s the US that’s doing it and it’s the taxpayers who’ll foot the bill while those responsible remain at large. The privateers who’ve brought the entire planet to the edge of ruin will in fact even be rewarded via the boost in the value of the stocks of the companies they’ve pillaged.

But wait. It’s not just in the economic realm that the US has a double standard (what’s good for us isn’t necessarily good for them), but also in foreign policy. US foreign policy divides countries into those it likes, and those it doesn’t. The basic criterion to qualify for either category—and where you belong can decide whether you’ll get millions in military and economic aid or be at the receiving end of smart bombs, Tomahawk missiles, and the M-16s of trigger-happy GIs from the trailer parks of Alabama and Iowa– is how friendly you are to US multinationals, US aims and US interests.

Thus was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq shocked and awed in 40 days and nights of bombing because, while previously allied with the US, he wouldn’t let US oil companies into Iraq to exploit its oil resources—and thus is Israel the largest recipient of US military aid and a power whose nuclear arms are of no concern to the US because it’s been the US’ Middle East capo and enforcer since the 1960s.

Israel is not incidentally also the biggest violator of UN resolutions, including those protective of Palestinian rights in Israeli-occupied territories, which are themselves the subject of other UN resolutions for being illegal. What’s significant is that the US invaded Iraq in 2003, to, among other “reasons,” enforce a UN resolution demanding that Iraq disarm, but hasn’t done the same to Israel. Instead Israel receives the biggest slice of US military aid at US$3 billion a year.

Then there’s the arena of human rights, about which the US is so vociferous—but only when it comes to countries too independent to bow to the bottom line precept of US policy (which, former US President and George W’s father, George F. Bush said in 1991, is “What we say, goes”).

The US has loudly chastised and actively intervened in China on the Tibetan issue and the Chinese government’s treatment of the Falun Gong religious sect, with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice taking every opportunity to take the Chinese to task. But it totally ignores the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinian civilians, which has included bulldozing and bombing the homes of suspected terrorists even at the cost of civilian deaths.

And of course, there’s US condemnation of human rights violations in countries like Cuba—while it unlawfully detains and tortures suspected terrorists in its prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo, or transfers them to other countries for torture in that practice exquisitely known as “rendition.”

Meanwhile, the US recently condemned Russia for invading the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which US President George W. Bush described as a “sovereign country”– which Iraq was too, at least until 2003. As the whole world knows, that fact didn’t stop the US from doing to Iraq precisely what the Russians did to Georgia.

The US has long beaten the Russians in the invasion game by staying on and on in Iraq. Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain, has even pledged to keep US troops there for a hundred years should he win– so they can continue committing one atrocity after another including torture, rape, and the killing of women and children.

The would-be Master of the Universe –the jury’s still out on whether it can achieve that not-so-secret ambition without destroying itself and the planet– there’s one thing the US surely is, and that’s the Master of the Double Standard.

(BusinessWorld)

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