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Foreign affairs

Ever since President Bill Clinton "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," whatever remains of standards seem to have fallen even lower among people who hold offices and positions once thought to require good behavior and strong moral character.

Last year, several Secret Service agents left the agency amid scandal after allegedly engaging the services of prostitutes while advancing a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, for President Barack Obama. A side note: One of the prostitutes, Dania Londono Suarez, wrote a tell-all book about the incident titled "Room Service." According to the Huffington Post's Latinovoices, she's s also opening a nonprofit to "help hookers" and "has a modeling contract plus a deal to bring her story to television." Of course she does.

Just this week, CBS News reported that "... the State Department may have covered up allegations of illegal and inappropriate behavior within its ranks." The allegations were contained in an internal Office of Inspector General memo, leaked by a former State Department investigator, which, according to CBS News, "cited eight specific examples" of impropriety, including the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who "routinely ditched ... his protective security detail" in order to "solicit sexual favors from prostitutes."

The ambassador, of course, denies the allegations. So, not surprisingly, does the State Department, which, reports ABC News, "offered a point-by-point pushback" to the memo's claims. "We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. Not so, says the memo. It alleges State Department investigations into the charges were "influenced, manipulated, or simply called off."

As if that isn't enough, the memo claims the State Department may have covered up details about an underground drug ring operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that allegedly supplied security contractors with drugs. According to CBS News, the memo also includes allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut "engaged in sexual assaults on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards" and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's security details "engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries." The solicitation of prostitutes among security details, alleges the memo, was an "endemic" problem.

This is worse than outrageous. These incidents, if proven true, are a stain on the honor and reputation of the country these people are, or were, supposed to represent.

In 1958, William Lederer and Eugene Burdick published a novel called "The Ugly American," which graphically detailed why U.S. diplomacy failed in Southeast Asia and why communism didn't. Our arrogance and boorish behavior doomed us there. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be prophetic. Is history repeating itself, not on a military or political level but in the destruction of what remains of our moral underpinnings?

How can the United States project its core values when people who represent it behave like out-of-control college kids on spring break?

There was a time when bad behavior carried serious consequences; a time when those who exhibited bad behavior suffered socially for their lapses. They lost jobs; they lost marriages; they lost friends. Today, they're rewarded with book contracts and reality TV shows. What happened to doing what's right, instead of doing who's easy? People who grew up with parents who instilled a strong moral code, attended schools that reinforced it and lived in communities that affirmed it, now find that if they question bad behavior today they're considered behind the times, even prudish.

With the media portraying all sorts of behavior as acceptable, with politicians in high places getting away with low behavior and in some cases paying little or no penalty, where are the deterrents? Disappointing family used to be the default position for avoiding extramarital entanglements in cases where religious or ethical values did not apply.

While each man should be held accountable for his own behavior, the rest of us should consider what we're promoting and tolerating as a nation and the permission it gives others to follow bad examples.

Irving Berlin wrote a silly song called "The Secret Service (Makes Me Nervous)." We should all be nervous. We should also ask ourselves what we intend to do about it.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column is distributed by Tribune Media Services. Readers may email him at tmseditors@tribune.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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