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Sunday, May 09, 2004

High crimes  

Fareed Sakaria - The Price of Arrogance
Since 9/11, a handful of officials at the top of the Defense Department and the vice president's office have commandeered American foreign and defense policy. In the name of fighting terror they have systematically weakened the traditional restraints that have made this country respected around the world. Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis. Within weeks after September 11, senior officials at the Pentagon and the White House began the drive to maximize American freedom of action. They attacked specifically the Geneva Conventions, which govern behavior during wartime. Donald Rumsfeld explained that the conventions did not apply to today's "set of facts." He and his top aides have tried persistently to keep prisoners out of the reach of either American courts or international law, presumably so that they can be handled without those pettifogging rules as barriers. Rumsfeld initially fought both the uniformed military and Colin Powell, who urged that prisoners in Guantanamo be accorded rights under the conventions. Eventually he gave in on the matter but continued to suggest that the protocols were antiquated. Last week he said again that the Geneva Conventions did not "precisely apply" and were simply basic rules. The conventions are not exactly optional. They are the law of the land, signed by the president and ratified by Congress. Rumsfeld's concern—that Al Qaeda members do not wear uniforms and are thus "unlawful combatants"—is understandable, but that is a determination that a military court would have to make. In a war that could go on for decades, you cannot simply arrest and detain people indefinitely on the say-so of the secretary of Defense . . . On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world.
This is why I have been railing against what has been going on in the States since Bush was elected -- the world NEEDS a strong US, as a leader and as a model. Who will do it if the US does not? China? Russia? For sure, they will try to push forward now, but they present only models of dictatorship, not of democracy. Maybe the European Union and Britain can step up to the plate now, but they just don't have the economic health and international clout that the US had. The Bush administration has abandoned the world, and the rest of us will pay the price.

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