Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clean Hands

Updated below, Thursday 3:00pm

I’m not a lawyer, but I know that when you go into court to sue someone you must do so with “clean hands” or your case will be dismissed. If you are attempting to profit from an illegal act and your profit is thwarted by another, you cannot sue that other person; the court will say that you do not have "clean hands" and will throw you out no matter how minor your illegality and how major the harm inflicted by your opponent.

That thought has kept crossing my mind as I watch all of our politicians, including Barack Obama, condemn Russia these past few days. What Russia is doing is not within the bounds of civilized national convention, but I’m not comfortable with the manner in which we are saying so; we do not have clean hands.

There really is no comparison between Russia’s invasion of Georgia and ours of Iraq. For one thing, as Bush was so careful to point out, Russia invaded a nation with a democratically elected government while we invaded a despotic dictatorship. On the other hand, we invaded and destroyed a nation which posed no danger to us, other than an imaginary one posited by the most outrageous lies and manipulation and falsification of intelligence. Anyway, the “clean hands” doctrine requires than the plaintiff be free of taint altogether, not merely that it be less tainted than the defendant.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in a most brutal manner, bombing bridges and power plants and using cluster bombs in contravention of international convention, we refused to call for a cease fire while the rest of the world was doing so, saying that “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Was Georgia a threat, or perceived to be a threat to Russia? Certainly part of the problems between those two nations had to do with Georgia’s attempts to join NATO, and with this nation’s open and aggressive support of that attempt. Russia is becoming encircled by nations allied in NATO, and that circle is drawing closer to them and becoming more confining.

Other than briefly and with little real consequence two hundred years ago by the British, America has never been invaded by an enemy. Russia has a long history of disastrous invasions, the latest one within the memory of people still living and resulting in millions of dead. Russia has serious objection to military buildups and military alliances on its borders.

We have a proclivity to rant about threats posed against us and nations friendly to us by others, but we do not acknowledge that others may feel threatened by our actions and words. When we are threatened, or feel that we are, we claim the right to respond as we see fit, but we denounce others when they respond to what they perceive as threats against themselves.

We may respond to a perceived threat in Iraq. Israel may respond to a perceived threat in Lebanon. We may assist a nation on Russia’s border in building up its military forces, provide it with weaponry, give it financial aid, and support its entry into a military alliance of which we are the principal member. Russia may not perceive that as a threat and respond.

We should keep our own counsel when our hands are unclean.

Updated, Thursday 3:00pm
I'm not suggesting that Russia's action in invading Georgia is defensible, moral, or acceptable. Perhaps I'm suggesting that our actions, and Israel's, of a similar nature deserve scrutiny.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:03 AM

    I can understand all your points and would agree to them, except one:

    where do you get 200 million as the Russian casualty figure? You seem to imply that is the WWII figure which is unlikely. A more realistic figure for that (within USSr boundaries is 26 million, give or take).

    And yeah, I can certainly agree the Russians are paranoid, rightly so. And our hands are not clean. Of course, theirs really aren't either, but in reality, no ones really are squeaky clean.