Why the Right Killed Disabled Treaty

Besides rejecting many aspects of science, the American Right despises the idea of international agreements as well, considering them infringements on U.S. “sovereignty.” That attitude among GOP senators turned back a global agreement on protecting the disabled, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Former Senator Bob Dole, 89 years old, returned this week to the floor of the chamber where he was for many years one of the leading Republicans. He also, of course, had twice represented his party on a national ticket as the nominee for vice president and then for president.

Infirm of late and just recently checked out of Walter Reed hospital, Dole was in a wheelchair pushed by his wife Elizabeth, also a former senator. He came back to the Senate to show his support for ratification of a multilateral treaty banning discrimination against people with disabilities.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum. (Photo credit: ricksantorum.com)

Dole demonstrated in his own career what a talented person with a disability can do. He lacked one of the common tools of a politician: a handshake with the right arm, an arm that in Dole’s case had been rendered useless by a severe injury sustained in combat in World War II.

Sen. John Kerry, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was the principal advocate of the treaty in the Senate debate. In his speech he appealed to his colleagues, “Don’t let Senator Bob Dole down.” It wasn’t enough.

One of those who lobbied against ratification was another former senator, one whose career has been far less accomplished and distinguished than Dole’s. Rick Santorum argued that somehow the treaty would not let American parents home-school their kids. The vote on ratification was 61 in favor and 38 against, falling short of the two-thirds needed for ratification.

The opposition to this treaty reflected a generic opposition on the right that extends as well to other broadly-adopted international conventions, to anything having to do with the United Nations, often to treaties in general, and even to most international cooperation in general.

Those with this mindset often speak about not wanting to compromise U.S. “sovereignty.” Suspicions were voiced that the disabilities treaty would mean U.N. bureaucrats making decisions about the needs of American children. One could almost hear the black helicopters hovering overhead.

Some of the treaty’s opponents also argued that because countries we don’t like, and which we like to assume are insincere and hypocritical regarding their international obligations, such as Iran and Syria have signed the treaty, for the United States to adhere to the treaty might imply that we approve of how those countries treat their disabled citizens.

That’s a strange approach, one that would appear to give the disliked countries a veto over which international agreements the United States does and does not sign on to itself. Moreover, if we regard the United States as sincere in what it says and it what it signs up to internationally, then the message being sent by rejecting a treaty is that the United States rejects the principles embodied in the document.

Sovereignty does not mean handcuffing one’s own diplomacy or eschewing international commitments. It instead means a nation acting freely and not being told by another country what to do. Signing and ratifying a treaty are themselves acts of sovereignty. And as John Ikenberry has argued, undertaking commitments through international institutions is one of the best ways through which even a superpower can extend and perpetuate its global influence.

Advocates of ratification patiently explained that the convention on disabilities merely applies to other nations what are already legal obligations in the United States under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Rejection therefore has little practical effect on the United States, unlike with, say, the Law of the Sea Convention, which 163 other states have already signed and ratified but the United States has not.

The Senate, however, has missed a chance, which neoconservatives in particular ought to have welcomed, to say something positive about the rest of the world accepting values that Americans have already expressed in their own laws.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)


5 comments for “Why the Right Killed Disabled Treaty

  1. delia ruhe
    December 12, 2012 at 19:10

    The sovereignty-threat argument is a lot of BS. If the GOP cared about US sovereignty, they would be addressing themselves to the US-Israel “special relationship” in which the Israeli regime leads the White House and Congress around by the nose-ring. They’d also be fighting “dark money” in American politics, since it permits any foreign entity as much influence over American policy as it can afford.

    The anti-UN mindset of the GOP is unintelligible, given that the United Nations is exactly what it appears to be: nations united. And what the vast majority of nations are united in is the recognition that they can’t do anything to stop the US from doing exactly what it wants to do, both domestically and internationally.

  2. Jym Allyn
    December 9, 2012 at 11:01

    The Gullible Old Phools have been infected with the same dependency typical of alcoholics, drug addicts, and spousal abusers which is to maintain their control of dependents by constantly being critical of their opponents. If you say “white” they say “black” as a form of mind f#ck trying to keep your arguments and rationality off balance. Truth and reality has nothing to do with their statements or attempted arguments. As Melody Beattie says in “Co-Dependent No More” alcoholics (or drug addicts or sex addicts) don’t know when they are lying. Thus “Mission Accomplished” from alcoholic Bush #43 and virtually everything said by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Karl Rove, and Dick Morris.

    Actually, unlike Bush, Limbaugh, Beck, and Morris, Rove may not be an addict. He’s just an a##hole.

    And by the way, Dick Cheney had two DUI’s while he was in college.


    What he learned from the DUI’s was not to get caught.

  3. rosemerry
    December 9, 2012 at 03:56

    The attitude of Mercans self-described as christians never ceases to amaze me. How many times has the USA interfered with the sovereignty of other nations, even only counting from this century?? How many disabled people have been produced by US bombing, by use of US weapons in other countries, notably “best ally” Israel, or by road crashes where the victim was not at fault? All these people also need to be discriminated against? Sick Rantorum a so-called Catholic, with not a gram of compassion or brain. Repugs, wanting more help for rich ablebodied banksters, but leaving less agile humans to do without any help.
    Unfortunately, the USA is part of the “world community”, but wants to be alone in its hubris.

  4. F. G. Sanford
    December 8, 2012 at 01:02

    Borat, do you realize that most Americans don’t have any idea what “w.c.” stands for? Unless I’m mistaken, that’s an abbreviation for “water closet”, or what might be commonly referred to as a “restroom” in the United States. In the countries which use the “w.c.” designation, public restrooms are usually difficult to find…unless there happens to be a McDonalds around. So, we have plenty of sanitary facilities, unlike some other countries where, I dare say, the smell of human waste often permeates side streets, allies and conveniently discrete public areas which provide some degree of serendipitous cover. In a few of those countries, people don’t even bother trying to be discrete. Neither America or Canada is among those countries. You seem to be more familiar with the former, rather than the latter.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    December 7, 2012 at 15:31

    I’ll never forget the day I rode my bicycle to the local shopping mall, which was well-equipped with handicapped parking, but didn’t have a bicycle spot. I chained my bike to the lamp post next to the handicapped area just as a rather healthy looking, well dressed middle aged man drove up in an expensive car. He parked in the handicapped area, got out, and briskly walked into the shopping center. Wondering by what definition of “handicapped” this guy was entitled to his advantageous parking spot, I walked around to the back of the car to see if he really had a “handicapped” plate. He did, along with a bumper sticker that clearly identified him as an exponent of the Republican persuasion. Piqued by the obvious example of Republican hypocrisy, I checked the windshield sticker which indicated the nature of the disability. It said, “hearing impaired”. Aha! That explains everything! Another typical Republican Welfare Queen!

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