Vladimir Putin may have done a few wrongs, but the United States is “not so innocent”, according to its president, Donald Trump. Speaking to Bill O’ Reilly of Fox News, Trump articulated what many opposed to aspects of US foreign policy have long claimed: The superpower has not been, as its leaders have claimed rhetorically, an unmitigated “force for good in the world”. This “truth bomb” from the emblem of a post-truth, post-fact West, however, is not an act of contrition. It is a sign that the president is willing to abdicate even the pretence of standing up to its rivals on moral grounds.
That Trump’s statements, and his actions, have diminished the US’s image is apparent from a statement by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said he is thankful to the new president for “revealing the real face of America”. It is a refrain that is similar to the theme that ran through Trump’s campaign — that hypocrisy in Washington has defined US foreign policy and domestic politics for decades. The corollary, of course, was: Trump with his lack of political correctness, was an antidote to those double standards.
The US, as an interventionist superpower, does have a chequered record. But equally, it has been an example of a liberal, diverse, democratic polity. If Trump’s statement about his country’s lack of “innocence” was a step towards acknowledging wrongs, and correcting them, it would be welcome. The president, however, has already put in place a discriminatory immigration policy and supported detention without trial and the torture of prisoners suspected of terrorist activities. His allusions to the US’s past wrongs could only be an excuse for exacerbating them.