Thursday, December 10, 2009

a reflexive suspicion of america

The sense of betrayal about Barack Obama's presidency mystifies me. The talk is as if he's somehow not fulfilled the promise, when in fact that's precisely what he's done.

His election campaign included explicit commitments to escalate the war in Afghanistan. And there he stood today, in the week he committed a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 20,000 extra he sent earlier in the year, using his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war.

America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide

...said the leader of a country that refuses to be a member of the International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes

The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced

The Pakistani parliament passed a motion condemning the USA's use of drone attacks in their country - extrajudicial killings that may well constitute a war crime - and the Americans have ignored it and carried on with the attacks.

On Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan parliamentarians brought it up again, pointing out that it is hard to tell people that America isn't acting as an anti-democratic unilateral bully.

Faisal Saleh Hayat and others were of the opinion US on one side lends support to sustaining democratic order and on the other side it does not respect the resolution adopted by symbol of democracy, Pakistani parliament against drone attacks. That is why concerns prevailing among the people against US were proving correct, they added.

Can you imagine American public feeling if there were Pakistani drone attacks on US soil? But it's different in Pakistan, it's just what Obama calls

a reflexive suspicion of America

How could anyone doubt America's nobility, he wondered.

The United States of America has helped underwrite global security

...said the leader of the world's largest arms exporter.

His wars are different, he explained. They are waging 'just war'. Such a war is marked by a number of distinguishing characteristics. For instance,

whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Cluster bombs are small 'bomblets' scattered from a single bomb. They have a high non-detonation rate, and can lie around for years until disturbed, frequently by children picking up such a peculiar object. The USA, though, refuses to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

He singled out the need for those with high moral fibre and a commitment to equality to stand up for right in a world where there are

failed states like Somalia

Somalia is the one of the two countries on earth that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other is the United States of America.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight.

...said the leader of a country that - in the minority again - hasn't signed the treaty banning another great killer of post-conflict civilians, anti-personnel landmines.

At the other end of the weapons scale, he spoke of the most terrifying military hardware yet invented.

In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

One country in the Middle East has already got nuclear weapons: Israel. What sanctions does the Obama administration impose? None, it stands idly by, and indeed rewards them with billions of dollars a year in military aid.

His deafening silence echoes through his response to the UK breaking the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by promising to replace Trident.

Deciding to give him a prize for achievement less than a fortnight into his presidency was a little ahead of itself, but it was simply stupid to dish out a prize for peace to someone who, even then at the outset, was pledged to expand and intensify war, whose office inevitably involves waging war and who, were the standards of the Nuremburg Trials applied, would be hanged.


Robert Newsom said...

Greetings Bristling Badger:

I am one of your American readers. I find it broadening to see how the good old US of A is viewed from afar.

I see that you are in high dudgeon over several issues, two of them being: 1) landmines, and 2) lack of US ratification of the ICC. As to landmines, it is not that the US has done NOTHING. In fact, the US has been an active participant in worldwide de-mining operations, and the US signed, and insofar as I can tell abides by, the 1996 "Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines." What is holding up US acceptance of the 1997 treaty is the fact that the US is the owner/operator the largest minefield in the world - located in Korea. That isn't really as bad as it sounds. Our mines in the DMZ are in a restricted area where there are no civilians allowed, and the locations are also recorded so, if North Korea is ever restored to sanity, we can clean them up. There is a good chance that the US Senate would ratify the 1997 treaty if the Koran DMZ were exempted, and it seems to me that the rest of the world could grant the exemption without doing violence to the treaty's main purpose.

There are both principled and unprincipled reasons for US hostility to the ICC. The unprincipled ones are obvious, and neither need nor deserve any defense. There are however some principled ones that, although perhaps not decisive, merit consideration. The biggest obstacle that is SERIOUS is this: it is an open question as to whether ratification of the Statute of Rome would withstand judicial review over here. That is, it is conceivable (probable?) that the US Supreme Court would rule that Senate ratification would be Ultra Vires, and therefore void, owning to certain "procedural" provisions in the S of R. Particularly troublesome to them, probably, would be the absence of a "jury of peers" provision in the S of R. Another might be the scope of the "joint criminal enterprise" provisions, which many legal scholars around the world have expressed reservations about.

Not ratifying the S of R, though, is no excuse for various US attempts to strangle the ICC at birth, especially when one considers that the conduct that the "War Crimes" provisions of the statute criminalizes is virtually identical to what the US Uniform Code of Military Justice also criminalizes. In fact, a good argument can be made for saying that the "code of conduct" encapsulated by the UCMJ is more strict, all things considered, than that of the S of R. A parallel argument can be made regarding "Crimes against Humanity" as defined by the S of R. Everything that the S of R prohibits is, at least arguably, also prohibited by various U.S. laws, and US law generally provides even more severe penalties (including death by lethal injection). It seems to me that a way forward here would be to have the US: 1) signal its willingness to co-operate with the ICC and cease threatening the Netherlands with invasion, and 2) publicly and rigorsly enforce the provisions of its own laws.

In the event, the ICC sits primarily to dispense justice in situations where there is NO real civilian or military authority in existence to even attempt to punish widespread and systematic wrongdoing. And this brings me, at last, to why the Nobel committee MAY have awarded the prize it did. PERHAPS they felt that Obama's election was a sign of a shift in attitude over here, and they wanted to reward and encourage it in the only way they could. Perhaps it will end up having this desired effect. My sense of it is that most Americans are vaguely aware that the rest of the world thinks the Bush years set America on a poor "course to steer", but are somewhat bewildered about what went wrong and what to do next to start putting things on a better footing. This is exacerbated by the economy and the health care crisis, as these issues are forcing international relations off center stage.

Martin Porter said...

The USA problem:

Well I'll forgive them Afghanistan, the cluster bombs, the International Criminal Court and the nukes if only they'd do something about Climate Change.

But they won't so I won't.

merrick said...


thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comments. You've said much I didn't know about, such as the mines in Korean Demilitarised Zone.

But still the fact remains that, as you concede, the US actively tried to undermine the ICC. It promised to bust out any Americans who might end up there, no matter what they're accused of. This tallies with the internal American attitude to military justice.

The torture at Abu Ghraib was strategy already tested in Afghanistan, ordered from on high, but no officers were jailed.

In the Vietnam War, American commanders declared ‘free fire’ areas where troops could kill at will, and issued minimum daily ‘kill ratios’. Yet the My Lai massacre was the only resulting incident seriously publicised, and even then the prosecution saw only a lowly Second Lieutenant convicted (to serve less than four years of house arrest).

Any claim to high moral ground is absurd, and the ICC attitude shows it is still alive and well. As, of course, do the wars being waged.

Your suggestion that Obama was given the Peace Prize as a way to encourage a perceived shift in attitude in the US seems the only real explanation. However, a prize is for achievements, not for possible intentions, so it is an abuse of the process. More, as I said in the post, to give a peace prize to a man who pledged to expand a war is absurd.