Freedom To Ethnically Cleanse
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After fewer than 18 months in office, there can't be many things left that the Bush Administration could do to provoke incredulousness among the rest of the world's 190-plus countries. But every time our allies and detractors alike think our Simpleton-in-Chief, and the zealots he has surrounded himself with, cannot possibly sink any lower, they go and outdo themselves. And they've just gone and done it again.
The United States veto -- at the White House's command -- of authorization for a continuing United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia, because the U.S. objects to the jurisdiction of the newly formed (over U.S. objections) International Criminal Court, sends a clear and stunning message to the rest of the world. It is, not to be too blunt in this family-oriented feature, essentially a grand old "screw you" to the world community. The official (and more-graciously phrased) U.S. objection to the ICC is that we fear that for "politically motivated reasons" U.S. soldiers could be targeted by the ICC for prosecution on war crimes.
The Bushies argue that targeting U.S. soldiers would be inappropriate -- and they're right. The more serious war criminals aren't the guys and gals pushing buttons or firing rounds, but the guys and gals in power suits and medal-laden uniforms that give them the orders. Grunts aren't on trial in the Hague for war crimes -- Slobodan Milosevic is, and so are many of his top lieutenants. As was the case with that military dictatorship, it's the top people in our government and military who give the orders that regularly result, all over the world, in massive numbers of American-inflicted deaths among what we now euphemistically call "non-combatants." (In a past life, they were called women, children, and old people.)
As if to underscore the White House's concern, within literally hours of the U.N. vote, reports began emerging from Afghanistan that the Americans had once again bombed and killed more of those innocent non-combatants -- in this case, a rural wedding party at which over 100 people died. The reports have followed the usual pattern: outraged witnesses, villagers, and lower-level Afghan officials (the ones who didn't go to school with their new American bosses back in the Ivy League), followed by confirmation from the Pentagon that "a bomb went astray" and a pledge that "we're trying to find out who's responsible," claiming that the explosion might have been from unspecified anti-aircraft artillery fire. In the past, that's the part that makes headlines here: in about a week, the Pentagon may, in the face of incontrovertible proof, admit that we did it, but it will be buried on page 16 of your local paper (if that) under "In Other News."
Truth be told, there have been so many of these sorts of incidents since last October -- before and after the fall of the Taliban -- that a single one really isn't newsworthy any more. It's simply happened too often. That, however, suggests a different problem: a pattern of American airplanes bombing and killing in Afghanistan. How many of these incidents, and how many civilian deaths, does it take in Afghanistan to constitute a war crime? Or in the Philippines? Or in Colombia, or in Somalia, or in Iraq, or ... you get the idea. The possibilities aren't endless, but it's getting to be that way.
Prosecution of those crimes wouldn't be "politically motivated," any more than prosecuting a serial killer is politically motivated. But the fact that the White House is using such terminology is also revealing. It wasn't too many months ago, in the wake of 9-11, that Bush and his minions were in front of the cameras asking, plaintively, "Why do they hate us?" Now comes explicit acknowledgement that it's not just fanatical Islamic extremists who hate us; for the ICC to prosecute someone from this country, an awful lot of people and their governments -- including such staunch allies as Britain and France -- would need to "hate us."
And if the rest of the world does seem a tad resentful these days, perhaps it's because they don't like being flipped off. Far from that shining beacon of freedom and democracy that nobody could ever possibly hate, the U.S. lately has spurned democracy even as it is embraced by the rest of the world. In effect, Dubya thunders time and again: Rules are for the rest of the world, not for us. Even when it applies to ethnic cleansing. Even when refusing to abide by those rules in this case means that the imperfect U.N. peacekeeping force, and the even more imperfect Bosnian peace, could disappear. (Its fragility after nearly a decade is an important lesson for folks who think Afghanistan is a done deal.) In this case, innocent people -- Bosnians -- will die simply because the U.S. doesn't want to play by the world's rules.
The rest of the world gets CNN, too, and its financial markets are tied to ours. Our recent spate of corporate scandals has been viewed globally -- more cases of Americans with power thinking the rules don't apply. And then folks in Germany or South Africa or Pakistan or wherever see President George W. Bush, on TV, lecturing that such corporate misbehavior will not be tolerated. People have to respect the rules, he says, but by golly, so do big powerful institutions.
Pity, then, that Bush (and his cabal) doesn't take his own advice. It feels like we're dealing with small children up there, so perhaps it's time to tell our president what we tell small children: Play by the rules. Crime never pays. Cheaters never win.
And neither do mass murderers.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange.