America -- Rogue State?

10.28.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | National Affairs | 9 Comments

vid hed.jpgHow have we gotten to a point where America becoming a rogue state barely makes the evening news? In a rational world, it would seal the defeat of the lawless Bush regime.

Let’s search the popular culture for clues: During the Reagan Administration, the heroes on TV stopped being the ones who figured out how to get the bad guy with honor and became the ones who broke any law that a plot device implied might be an impediment.

The Clinton years didn’t buck that trend, as Dennis Franz’s bad-cop character made the leap more or less intact from Hill Street Blues (as a psycho) to NYPD Blue (as a sympathetic, complex psycho).

Just the same, I can only scratch my head at what confluence of Rambo, Reagan, poor education and antidepressants (which have made outrage a luxury for only the unmedicated) leaves half the country complacent with the W philosophy of governance.

The Geneva Conventions are vital foundations of international order. Given that nations often organize mass murder, the rational have, over the last century and a half, tried to insure that neither soldiers nor civilians get put through meatgrinders more than war by its nature necessitates. Sure, some countries blow off these rules (remember our enemies in World War II?), but they’re not ones we’d ever want to emulate.

And yet the Bush administration has once again, while claiming adherence, in fact declared irrelevant the foundation of all international law in wartime. A March 2004 legal memo from the Justice Department says shipping people out of wartime theaters to places unknown isn’t illegal, although that contravenes one of the most basic protections of the Geneva Conventions.

They rationalize this policy as — get this — enforcement of local immigration law.

Because when you invade a country, it’s internationally recognized that you’re simultaneously a naturalization officer?

Let’s consider the flipside: We’re at war with, say, Iran. A platoon of U.S. soldiers is captured by Iranian forces. As combatants, they’re entitled to P.O.W. status. Except, the Iranians determine that the American soldiers hadn’t entered Iran in conformity with local immigration law. Iran then ships the platoon to North Korea, where the soldiers are used as nuclear fuel.

Perfectly legal, right? If you’re planning to vote for Bush, I’d have to assume you agree.

This would be the stuff of satire, except that the Bush administration not only believes in this, it practices it.

The United States of America — the historic exemplar of adherence to international law — now kidnaps, assassinates, tortures and disappears combatants and civilians alike, citizens of other nations and, on occasion, our own.

That this is stupid, that there is no precedent for a rogue state winning anything but temporary advantage, that this is not how our nation should behave, should be obvious to anyone not hypnotized by swaggering rhetoric, fictional characters, overmedication or plumb ignorance.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s up to voters to make that clear on Tuesday.

Just a few quick points. The "conventional" international order you cite was based on "civilised" countries fighting wars with recognized rules. With defined armies that didn't hide in places of worship. That didn't use children as live bombs. That didn't purposefully seek to kill innocent civilians.

Trying to oppose that kind of enemy in the "old" manner, is like, I don't know, marching in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder wearing bright red uniforms, against an opponent shooting from behind trees.

I don't know if you live in NY. I do.

Never again. And I don't want my leaders waiting for the French to say its OK.

Better in Baghdad( and Tehran by the way) than Manhattan or Akron.
10.28.2004 | Tony Iovino
I live in Manhattan and work near Ground Zero.

Wars have long been messy, with countless civilians targeted.

Those who abandon international protocols always claim victimhood.

The idea that sending suspects out for torture from Iraq to Saudi Arabia somehow protects someone in Akron makes no sense whatsoever. If a torturer doesn't know a correct answer from a phony one, he can be faked out exactly as a nontorturer can. If I were being tortured, I'd hold out as long as I could, then give up my enemies' addresses at the last minute.

What difference would it make if I'd been questioned with a bright light or underwater?
10.28.2004 | David L Steinhardt
If our adversaries wish to be treated by the standards of the Geneva convention, they first need to file a declaration with the Swiss government that they accept the obligations of the Geneva Conventions. Then they must comport themselves in accordance with those obligations, which includes:

1. Having an organized command structure, with identifiable officers.

2. Wearing uniforms.

3. Bearing arms openly

4. Abide by the laws of war, such as not taking hostages.

Our terrorist enemies have made no effort to do the above, therefore I can only conclude that they are not interested in Geneva Convention protections. And if they are not interested, why should I be?
10.29.2004 | norman normal
First of all, a thank you to the prodigal "Mr. Normal" for leaving a serious comment.

To answer his question:

1. Because the U.S. has long claimed, and continues to claim, adherence to Geneva standards regardless of legalities.

2. Because no nation can set standards of international decorum as the sole superpower can. If the standard we set is loosey-goosey, Geneva has no future.

3. Because it costs us nothing, strategically, while violating Geneva costs us dearly.

4. Because we want our soldiers and civilians to be treated well by their captors, regardless of legal niceties.

5. Because treating the lowest with dignity is Good and torture is Evil and the more the U.S. is regarded as Evil, the less future this nation has, regardless of good intentions.
10.29.2004 | David L Steinhardt
While I disagree with it, your argument that we should apply Geneva Convention standards to terrorists for our own sake (i.e. your point #5), that is a legitimate one. Your point number 4, on the other hand, is absurd.

Harsh measures against captured terrorists are (in part) justified as being required to prevent future terrorist attacks. But another way to prevent future attacks on American soil would be to deport all non-citizens from Middle Eastern countries, and severely restrict any future travel by people from those countries. This would violate no ones rights, as visitors have no right to be in this country. Would you support this?

10.29.2004 | norman normal
Actually, visitors have quite a lot of rights. In fact, the idea that only citizens can vote is a relatively recent one.

Trying to keep our soldiers from torture absurd?

I thought it was clear that I meant our soldiers and civilians have the best chance of being treated well in captivity if we treat our own captives according to international norms.

It's all part of #5, which oddly anonymous Mr. Normal was kind enough to acknowledge the wisdom of.
10.29.2004 | David L Steinhardt
I find the discussion between D & N quite interesting and I think that the exchange between Senator Biden and Ascroft would be informative to look at in this context.

In that exchange Biden stated, quite bluntly, that the reason to support the Geneva Conventions (including the much maligned 4th) is to protect his son and all of the sons who serve in the US military.

I do think that strict adherance to the Geneva Conventions does create an atmosphere of legitimacy for US troops, which in turn, does protect them. If not in this current conflict, then in the next. It is the difference between relying on a body of international law (which is French driven and imperfect) and relying on brute force.

Even to have had the rumblings from certain elements in the DOD about pulling out of the Geneva conventions endangers our servicemen. It has created an miasma where Abu Grave could occure and will follow our troops into the POW camps that they could one day find themselves within.
One thing that most people forget to consider when approaching this subject is that "terrorism" is nothing more than a tactic. You can no more wage war against Terrorism (captialization intended) than you can wage war against Frontal Assault. What you have to do is ask yourself why someone would use this tactic over another.

So what is the aim of terrorism as a tactic? It is not to overthrow an enemy by force of arms, for, if that option were available, one would do so and not muck about blowing your own soldiers up. No, terrorism is employed by those who do not have the means to overthrow their enemy by force of arms. Its aim is to cause the enemy to respond to the act of terrorism with as much overpowering force as possible. Why? Because an the bloodier the reaction to a terrorist attack, the more likely it is that the enemy (the one with all the big guns) will damage civilian targets, kill innocent victims and make the enemy look like the big bad bogeyman on the block.

Look at the Israeli situation. They've been overreacting to Palestinian aggression for decades and to what end? All they've done is succeed in convincing most of the Arab world that they are as bad as the Palestinians have been saying they were.

Similarly, when the world's only super power invades a country that everyone knows had nothing to do with the terror acts it is responding to, and then procedes to violate the code of ethics it claims to uphold, this just plays into the real terrorists hands, bolstering their cause and diminishing ours.

This enactment of policies directly opposed to our own best interest is called woodenheadedness and is detailed at great lengths in Barbara Tuchman's late '80's work, The Marh of Folly. I suggest anyone with an interest in this subject get a copy.
11.8.2004 | Micah R. Sisk
Now we get to see if the US, under the Obama Administration, can lead the way in not only repudiating the lawbreaking of GWB, but in prosecuting its own war crimes.

Simply on a practical level, it's much more seemly for us to take care of this matter ourselves than for former high officials like Bush & Cheney to be subject to arrest worldwide for violations of international treaties.
01.23.2009 | David L Steinhardt

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