Sunday, April 30, 2006

The US and international law

Here's the problem in a nutshell. I've gone on and on about international legitimacy on this blog, for a reason. We've seen the loss of domestic legitimacy. This has created a lame-duck presidency. Nobody trusts Bush and company. But their constant dismantling of international laws or their claims to exception have continually eroded the legitimacy of American ideas and ideals in the international sphere.

Economic and military power only get you so far in carrying out foreign affairs. The best thing the US has had going for it, especially since WW II, has been respect for American ideals, even when the US has broken them through immoral policies in Central and South America, the unpopular Vietnam War, and various ventures into the Middle East and elsewhere. This administration has pushed American exceptionalism and hypocrisy too far and it has not only stretched, as it did under LBJ and Reagan, but has now broken. What's left is either half-hearted or John Wayne-ish rhetoric. The US isn't even "tough" any more. The rest of the world knows this, and fears the irrational use of spying and security measures this administration insists on using as the basis for a foreign policy based in American fear of pretty much everything. The tough-guy rhetoric masks a deep sense of fear about a world the land of immigrants ironically doesn't understand.

Now the US is being reduced to a place for economic advancement without adherence to its ideals. One main reason for this is that the ideals have been consciously broken under the current administration and no one really knows what they are any more without making reference to earlier American lights. One searches far and wide in the current American government for anyone with the ideas and guts to make the case for a better world. Thus, the US represents increasingly for the rest of the world a bully of a country that spins its wheels as it attempts to build a national gated community.

This is why I've also claimed that calling Bush's and the neocon's foreign policy a form of liberal internationalism is a mistake. It relies upon the mistaken assumption that this is a pro-democracy country. We must recall that the pro-democracy argument regarding Iraq only arose once the other justifications for the war fell apart in a heap of lies, deceits, and stupidities.

Other countries now provide the hope that the US once did. This is why I claim time after time that this administration is a disaster. It's not only its wastrel use of public funds or its explicit policy-based crimes - such as torture and rendition - but that it presents no clear idea of what is good in a world undergoing radical changes. What does the US want out of the future? Can anyone answer that question? If not, why should anyone look to the US as a place of hope? That is beginning to come from elsewhere. Look, for example, at Europe and its genuine human rights requirements. Look at South America and its attempt to set new terms for the shape of future economies in an age of reforming globalization and regionalization.
It is ironic that such widespread criticism should be incurred by the US. From the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Charter of the United Nations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many UN conventions, the US has done more than any other country to develop and strengthen both the concept and the substance of international law. It is nothing less than disastrous that a United States administration should have chosen to show disrespect for the international legal system and weaken it at a time when the challenges facing the planet demand more urgently than ever the discipline of a strong and respected worldwide system of law. Those challenges include globalization at almost every level of human society, the deeply troubling evidence of climate change, and the linked threats of international terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. It is true that the United States remains broadly committed to the international rules on trade of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, rules that are important to the United States not least because they protect the rights of US investors and intellectual property rights...

...Kinzer shows that the expansionist mood of the 1890s was already producing justifications that sound all too familiar today. American presidents and military officers, then as now, said they were intervening in struggles of "good and evil" for humanity's sake and had God's guidance in doing so...

Brushing aside fifty years of international law in the name of the "global war on terrorism" is a bad idea for everyone, including the United States. Violating global rules undermines both America's authority and standing and its long-term strategic interests. An already globalized and interdependent world cannot permit a return to a situation where each nation is entirely free to act as it wishes...

Some US administrations have vigorously supported international regulation in the past. On April 1, 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law that the US "has been and will continue to be the world's strongest voice for the development and defense of international legal norms." She added that America "has historically been the key player in negotiating treaties and setting up international mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of disputes." As Sands comments, "These are important words, but they remain just that."


Anonymous said...

The Boston Globe today has a major investigative report on how George Bush is also gutting the rule of law within the United States.

Some of the arguments for this and for kicking over the international order the United States helped to build up over the past half-century are along the lines that we need our freedom to do what we want.

It's always seemed to me that freedom without bounds is anarchy and chaos. I think Hobbes said something along these lines.

It's also seemed to me that it's more challenging (and actually fun) to work within bounds to see how much you can construct.

The bounds are the people and nations around us. It's only by destroying them that we can find that unlimited freedom.

I saw "No Exit" for the first time a couple of months ago. It has given us that famous line "Hell is other people." In the version I saw, that line was translated "Hell is just other people," which, in the context of the play, emphasized the irony of that idea. It becomes clear, as the three new residents torture each other, that their need to torture and susceptibility to the other's attempts comes from inside them.

The founding fathers wrote documents that regulated political actions, not mental and emotional ones. This administration is working on the basis of emotional (and religious?) distinctions, starting with "good and evil." If you're the 100% good guys, then you can do everything you want.

Nothing is forbidden.


helmut said...

In the international sphere it's possible to change the nature of the boundaries of morality and political action and acceptability. This has usually been the role of the hegemon. But it's only successful if the international community, such as it is, grants the hegemon a modicum of legitimacy in reshaping the charactyer of the international sphere. BushCo got some of this from the outset after 9-11. It was quickly and spectacularly abused by BushCo. It's now gone.