Most people believe that their own country is virtuous and that only others misbehave enough to qualify as international outlaws. But the United States has elevated this popular sentiment to the level of national policy, by designating certain countries, of its own choosing, as “rogue states.”
The dictionary defines “rogue” as “a fierce and dangerous animal, like an elephant, that separates itself from its herd.” By this standard, the United States, not the piddling tyrannies named by the State Department, is the world’s number one rogue.
Since it obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945-cities, not military targets-the United States has bombed eighteen countries, and invaded still others, with no declaration of war nor any possibility of retaliation, at least until September 11, 2001.
And in the case of Afghanistan, the United States launched a unilateral war of revenge against a brutal regime of its own creation, although none of the 19 hijackers were Afghan and none of the thousands of “detainees” held in the United States and abroad have been charged with any participation in the crime. Furthermore, the alleged “mastermind,” still at large, might well have been turned over to the United States through negotiations-which President Bush rejected outright from the start. PS: in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t negotiatee-except on our terms.
Of course all this is defended on the ground that we are “so good” (as the President has said) and always act in the world’s interest. Can we explain the universally opposed embargo against Cuba as a global service? Did we support the murderous regime of Suharto in Indonesia for 32 years out of altruism-or because U.S. mining, oil and timber interests loved the “favorable climate of investment” the dictator provided for them?
In other cases too U.S. actions reflect the power of corporate interests. For example, the United States refused to participate in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development-sponsored talks in Paris in May 2001, on ways to crack down on off-shore and other tax and money laundering havens. For any other nation, this would now be highly embarrassing in the age of Enron, but such a thought would never even occur to U.S. policymakers.
Or consider President Bush’s declaration in March 2001 that the Kyoto Protocol for controlling global warming was “dead,” and his refusal to participate in negotiations in Marrakech (Morocco) to revise it-all because it might harm the U.S. economy. So if the world thinks controlling global warming is more important than short-term negative economic effects, Bush separates himself from the global consensus based on his reading of U.S. interests alone-and his stance coincides with that of the oil and automobile industries, not with the real interests of the American people.
Several U.S. unilateral positions have been geared to the demands of the military-industrial complex, and other parties advocating an aggressive foreign policy. Last December the United States withdrew from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, gutting this landmark arms control accord to the dismay of virtually every country in the world.
The United States has not ratified the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty signed by 164 nations, and under Bush opposes it. This country rejects the Land Mine Treaty, concluded in Ottawa in December 1997 and signed by 122 countries; the Pentagon finds land mines useful, outweighing the “collateral damage” they entail for thousands of civilians every year.
In February 2001 we refused to join 123 nations to ban the use and production of anti-personnel bombs and mines; flexible killing power for the Pentagon must be preserved, regardless of human cost. This country was also the only nation to oppose the UN Agreement to Curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms in July 2001.
The United States rejects an International Criminal Court because our personnel might become subject to its jurisdiction. In 1986, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the United States was in violation of international law by sponsoring and supporting a Contra army to attack Nicaragua. The United States simply refused to accept the Court’s jurisdiction, although it hastens to do so when the Court decides in its favor.
The United Nations is treated the same way: when the United States can get the Security Council to do what it wants, like bomb Iraq in 1991, it goes that route; when it sees it can’t get UN backing, as in its invasion of Panama in 1989, it simply disregards the UN or uses its veto. As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated in 1998, “the United States acts multilaterally when it can, unilaterally when it must.”
In the case of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration couldn’t be bothered with the UN or any other international body to deal with what it declared to be a “crime against humanity”: it simply bombed. As for the treatment of prisoners shipped to Guantanamo chained, blindfolded, and classified as “unlawful combatants,” South African jurist Richard Goldstone points out that this is “not a term recognized by international law.” If they are prisoners, they are entitled to POW treatment; if simply criminals, “under the US Constitution. they’ve got even better protection.”
But for U.S. leaders, international law is for others, not ourselves. Whether an action involves waging war, with the devastation and death that “precision bombing” brings to a chosen country, or expanding environmental controls and reducing global warming, the United States is proclaiming, more loudly than ever, that it will “act unilaterally” whatever the cost to others-and sooner or later to its own people.