Under this new "conventional wisdom," the Bush administration's
mistakes in Iraq have indeed hurt the "war on terror" by alienating and
radicalizing tens of millions of Muslims. But Washington's new "group
think" continues to ignore a central reason why the United States is
losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic world as well as vast numbers
of non-Muslims across the globe: George W. Bush.
The elephant sitting in Official Washington's living room is this
intractable reality: President Bush has so thoroughly lost credibility
with nearly everyone on the planet and is so widely despised that he
himself has become a clear and present danger to U.S. national security.
Bush has become Osama bin Laden's
yet Bush is incapable of admitting mistakes and changing course.
Thus, no serious discussion can be held about solving Bush's
disastrous foreign policy as long as Bush and his team remain in office.
In this guest essay, Peter Dyer suggests the first difficult step that
the United States must take is to change national leadership and to
demonstrate to the world that the American people are determined to
reclaim their proud history as the chief defender of international law:
If Americans ever find
the will to do this, as we once did to German aggressors, history will
remember it as a turning point in international relations. It will go
down as one of the most spectacular and complete affirmations of the
very best of American ideals.
Such a turning point
can’t come soon enough. On June 13, the Pew Research Group released a
poll based on interviews with 17,500 people in 15 countries including
the U.S. The poll showed that people in European and Muslim countries
see U.S. policy in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran's
Because of the disdain
of American leaders for international law, manifested so vividly in
U.S. aggression in Iraq, the international moral authority of the United
States is at an all-time low. The post-World War II vision of a world
without war, embodied in the United Nations Charter, has never seemed
more out of reach.
an unprovoked war) was formally outlawed in 1945 by the Nuremberg
Charter (Article VI(a)), a treaty signed and largely written by the
United States. And although the Nuremberg Charter was formed for the
specific purpose of trying Nazi war criminals, the words of the judgment
make clear the intent of the court that the Nuremberg principles must
apply to all nations and for all time.
“To initiate a war of
aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the
supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that
it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. ... Crimes
against international law are committed by men, not by abstract
entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can
the provisions of international law be enforced.”
In 1945, the U.S. also
signed the United Nations Charter, a document which was nothing if not
an attempt by the world community, as the first sentence states: “to
save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” To that end the
Charter clearly and specifically forbids violations of the sovereignty
of any state by any other state, except in immediate self-defense
(Article 2, Sec. 4 and Articles 39 and 51).
And in December 1946,
the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 95
(1), affirming “the principles of International law recognized by the
Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal.”
Article VI of the U.S.
Constitution includes the Supremacy Clause which makes all treaties
signed and ratified by the U.S. the “supreme law of the land.” Because
the invasion of Iraq violated the Nuremberg Charter and the U.N. Charter
it also violated the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, President Bush’s disdain
for many international treaties which the U.S. has ratified has made a
mockery of his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the
Constitution.” But Article VI has not been repealed. It’s still the law.
The dedication to the
rule of law as well as to government of the people, by the people and
for the people are absolutely central to the splendid American
experiment. Imagine how far it would go towards redeeming American
international moral authority if we arrested and tried our own leaders
for egregious violations of international law
Imagine, as well, the
chilling effect this would have on any other head of state considering
aggression. If the most powerful man in the world can be held personally
criminally responsible for starting a war, then clearly anybody can.
Such a precedent could move humanity significantly closer to realizing
the original vision of the United Nations: a world without war.
Certainly many will
scorn this idea today. But 30 years ago the idea that Augusto Pinochet
would ever be held responsible for his reign of terror in Chile also
seemed outlandish. Since then, the law has evolved and what was once
inconceivable is now happening: Pinochet is under house arrest in Chile
awaiting trial for human rights violations. There is no statute of
limitations for these crimes, just as there is none for aggression.
developments in international law, the time may very well come when
George W. Bush will be unable to leave the U.S. for fear of arrest
abroad. For so many reasons, however, it would be better if we Americans
faced up to our responsibility and arrested him ourselves. The sooner
the better. In the end it’s a matter of simple justice.
Peter Dyer is a machinist who moved with his wife from California to
New Zealand in 2004.