Moral arguments are regularly used to promote positions on a range of issues. Independent Kashmir should be supported not to stick it to India, but because it is a moral imperative to defend the lives and freedom of people who want to be free. Drones should be stopped because they are a violation of sovereignty that is killing innocents. But in order to make a moral argument for a position, one is typically expected to adhere to the same standards.
The British learned this lesson the hard way after years of colonialism left them lacking moral credibility in the world arena. The US is the most recent student to learn the hard lesson after decades of supporting dictators left them suspect in the minds of the new leaders emerging from the Arab Spring. Now, we too may be facing a tough lesson.
The Foreign Office summoned American diplomats to lodge formal complaints about US drones killing Pakistani citizens last month. Over the weekend, though, it was our own diplomats who were summoned, this time by the Afhgan Foreign Minister who lodged a formal complaint about cross-border shelling from our side of the border. This came just after we abstained from a vote to impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president who is massacring his own people in a last ditch effort to keep an iron grip on power. This failure to support efforts against a murderous regime comes only one year since we saw our troops traveling to Bahrain to support the violent suppression of a popular uprising.
Moral arguments are important. But if we want them to be taken seriously, we have to be willing to avoid the same policies that we are criticising. The UK and the US have learned this lesson the hard way. Why are we following down the same path?