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Synopsis

Americans pride themselves on being an ethical people. They go to church, quote the Bible, erect statues, and discuss morality with abandon. They also trust their government to do the right thing when it comes to delivering legal justice and conducting foreign policy. Trouble is, American foreign policy has yielded some pretty spectacular ethical lapses, and (as 9/11 starkly demonstrated) the world is beginning to notice. Here, Mark Gibney lays out some of the most egregious insults the U.S. has visited upon international law, economic justice, and human rights in recent times. He covers everything from multinational corporations, the first Persian Gulf war, and Guantanamo Bay to American refugee policy, foreign aid, and global environmental degradation. Through all these examples, he exposes the discrepancy between the guise of ethical policy motivation and the reality of situational international ethics—or worse. He shows us how we practice 'easy ethics' in an uneasy world, and how it is beginning to catch up with us. Part I concludes with a gallop through the alphabet of countries where the U.S. has engaged in nefarious legal behavior and supported brutal dictatorships—everywhere from Argentina to Zaire. Part II offers a cautious 'coda of hope' in exploring recent trends toward public political apology and forgiveness, new U.S. policies toward AIDS in Africa, and renewed civic commitment flowing out of the tragedy of 9/11. Only when the exercise of American ethics becomes as muscular as our use of military force will the United States become the ethical superpower it projects itself to be. And only then will the concert of nations join us in the harmonization of global governance.

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