Striking a blow for realism

Posted: May 07, 2002 12:00 AM
A Bush administration official promises that "we are not going to attack, assail, or wage war on" the International Criminal Court. That may just depend on the meaning of the word "attack." Liquid Papering-out this week the ICC treaty's American signature, affixed by the Clinton administration, may not amount to warfare, but it ranks up there with sensible decisions in behalf of the national interest. The Hague-based ICC, having won the necessary ratifications, can't be stopped from starting business on July 1, nor possibly can it be prevented from staging kangaroo proceedings in which a vacant chair represents the absence of some American malefactor or other, such as the president. But if the court lacks both credibility and a real live American defendant, it is unlikely to reap serious attention. Just because kangaroos seek to cavort in judicial robes doesn't mean a serious nation -- there are a few left -- has to encourage them. The Clinton administration signed onto this misbegotten document -- formally intended for the punishment of war crimes, genocide, and so forth -- on Dec. 31, 2000. Happy New Year, American soldiers, sailors and public officials! Get ready to become the object of international legal charges, the most fetching and open-ended of which would be "aggression." Aggression as defined by whom? Well, in the end, by the prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, who enjoy nominal authority to try and jail war crimes perpetrators from all over the world. Americans, by virtue of America's international reach, would certainly in due course become the foremost targets. Why not charges, say, against Gen. Tommy Franks for the destruction of Al Qaeda-owned properties in Kabul? Or of Don Rumsfeld if/when the United States attacks Iraq? Would these gentlemen really stand trial? Of course not. We wouldn't let anything dumb and insulting like that happen. Much else could happen, though, as with an embassy guard or consular official or visiting businessman, arrested on some jumped-up charge then extradited to ICC authority and a highly publicized trial with the object of humiliating the United States and even spreading a new kind of terror -- the terror of being nabbed while traveling abroad. And who imagines that an ex-Israeli prime minister like Ariel Sharon would not become a fine, plump target for some Palestinian-sympathizing prosecutor in Asia, Africa or even Europe? It was a Spanish prosecutor, after all, whose machinations, if ultimately futile, resulted in the months-long house arrest in England of former Chilean President Pinochet. The Bush administration, according to the Wall Street Journal, plans on working vigorously to sabotage the ICC and its potential for mischief. If this is so -- present protestations to the contrary -- well and good. The ICC is a lovely subterfuge. Fifty-seven years experience with the United Nations has no more than confirmed that justice -- in practical terms, if not necessarily in spirit -- is a function best left to independent states. We don't need it defined by national or ethnic rivalries and wielded as a blunt instrument for foreign policy purposes. Least of all, is it wise to leave monkey wrenches lying around for America's enemies to use in disabling the machinery meant to grind down terrorism? Not every stratagem you have to employ against secretive and elusive plotters is right for review by jurists of a potentially hostile turn. The International Criminal Court is one of those feverish notions that died, it would appear, on Sept. 11, 2001. It walks, it talks, but it's dead; nor can its fervent fans in the human rights lobby likely coax it back to life. The sovereignty of the United States is a less quaint notion that it seemed to many on Sept. 10: a tool not for relieving others of their undoubted human; rather for protecting Americans in the exercise of their own undoubted rights. In this matter, the administration's realism is refreshing -- a lovely change of pace in a distinctly unlovely time.
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