Tuesday, July 19, 2005

3 British Soldiers charged with war crimes in Iraq

That's about what the article says, apart from the grizzly details; what's interesting is the fact that being charged was connected somehow with the International Criminal Court. Take a look at the member countries, particularly the "Western European and Other States," and you'll see a notable absence - America. You may or may not recall that of the many international agreements Bush pulled out of - maybe his father told him to - one of the more damaging to our international reputation was the one that established the ICC. Note that Bill Clinton, who presided over our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity, signed it, and that Bush decided that we were no longer bound by it.

There's a bit of Bolton in that - his ilk is the sort that would object to it prima facie - if it ain't in our interest, interest being defined in the most realist of terms - cash, oil, land, whatever - we aren't doing it. And they'll cite limitations of sovereignty and threats to citizens as reasons, though I have a tough time buying that as the real reason.

If we did sign on to it, we might have a situation like the UK does - US troops being charged for war crimes for what they did in Iraq. So important is it to the administration that our troops be immune from international prosecution that they threatened to take away aid from any country that didn't agree to give our troops immunity through bilateral agreements. What problems did we have with it?

Some were fairly reasonable - we wanted an exemption from prosecution for US troops taking part in peace-keeping operations, an exemption some other countries were able to obtain. Some were a bit more specious - there was talk of its redundancy, given universal jurisdiction, but universal jurisdiction is not exactly the subject of consensus; others object that the UN has no teeth, and it would be up to the US to take military action in the event of non-compliance.

We all remember the high rhetoric Bush spouted at his inauguration, about our devotion to democracy, etc., etc., etc., and I have vivid memories of a salivating and perhaps even aroused David Brooks lauding Bush to high-heaven on Lehrer's show - this is a new Bush! Kinder! Gentler! A visionary! World historical! I'll write a pithy and witty book about it!

Didn't quite pan out - there's the whole extraordinary rendition thing, the torture thing, the blocking international investigations of the Uzbek massacre (they're our "ally" in the "war on terror"). But what got my goad back then, and what gets it now, is the following: everyone knows that "diplomacy" is normally just dressing for good, old fashioned power politics, the kind of stuff Clausewitz talked about, but it seems to me - and to many people who study international relations as well - that the Bolton/Kissinger way of seeing the world in terms of interest narrowly defined is increasingly going the way of the dodo. Whether this is due to high levels of volatile trade flows, information technologies rendering many traditional tools of propaganda less effective, the rise of non-state actors (non-governmental organizations, peaceful and otherwise), rise in formal regional cooperation (ASEAN, EU, etc.), or global convergence on many norms - the environment, human rights, whatever - the kind of attitude to foreign policy that milk-mustache brings to Washington is less and less palatable to a world that is more savvy and less tolerant of outright hypocrisy.

(Why Serb paramilitaries, Rwandan genocidaires, or any other such unsavory characters ought to be subject to international law - let alone the soldiers of other nuclear powers - and not the troops of the US is beyond me. You can say it might hamstring our foreign policy - we might not be able to invade people because of weapons of mass destruction that don't exist, say - but I'm not so sure that's such a bad thing. After all, did anyone raise much stink about us invading Afghanistan, who actually helped Al Qaeda?

The larger issue, though, is one that centers on reciprocity - you treat POWs properly because you don't want your POWs treated poorly, for instance; and you cooperate with other countries as much as you can because you want them to cooperate with you. The arrogance of selective cooperation, or perhaps strategic non-cooperation, is vexing - I can't help but imagine that if we became actively engaged in developing global consensus on issues such as the environment and international law we'd be better off in terms of security than we are thumbing our noses at them.

If that means Private England suffers the same fate as the British troops, so be it - it seems to me that part of our commitment to democracy and human rights should be some kind of recognition that certain crimes are so heinous, certain behaviors are so dangerous, that the world as a whole has an interest in punishing them - even if they happen to be committed by agents of the US government, or ordered by the government itself.
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