Monday, May 02, 2005

International Law, Scminternational Law

This story is currently tearing up the media landscape in basically every country except this one. Apparently, Tony Blair has recently been forced to admit that the Iraq war was already planned by July 2002, and that preparations for that war had begun in the U.S. at least as early as the following March.

Furthermore, Blair was warned by multiple advisors that the war was probably illegal under the terms of several international treaties to which the U.S. and the U.K are signatories.

The accepted explanation (explicitly commented upon in the U.K. papers but of course politely ignored by the U.S. press) for the relative dearth of U.S. media attention to such questions as the legality of the Iraq war is that the traditional UK attitude towards international law is that they generally try to follow it, and when someone breaks it, they may be held responsible.

The U.S., in the meantime, is well-known internationally for our indifference to international law. Indeed, if you talk to a movement conservative and bring up international law he will probably scoff and tell you no such thing exists.

That attitude - that international law is a fiction - is common currency in the Republican party. Many GOP leaders, including Tom Delay, Dick Cheney, and John Bolton, to name a few key ones, are on record stating plainly that the U.S. doesn't have to pay attention to international law, often implying that in fact defiance of international law is kind of a civic duty since observing it would undermine the supremacy of the Constitution of the United States.

People who take this viewpoint may be working from an expurgated version of the constitution, because the one I have says the following in Article VI, Clause 2:

Clause 2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

What's disorienting about the attitude of the U.S. population towards international law is that there are basically three types of people - people who know the U.S. ignores international law and are outraged by it (a very small number), people who know the U.S. ignores international law and are glad (a very small number), and people who assume, understandably based on overall media coverage, that the U.S. is generally supportive and respectful of international law as something other than a club with which to beat poor, defenseless countries into submission.

The effect of this is that you can't really have a productive conversation about international law with anyone. You can talk to people who already agree with you, people who aren't going to change their minds, or people who have no background with which to evaluate what you're saying.

The remedy for this, of course, is to have a press that consistently covers stories relating to the U.S. relationship with international law, and does so in a clear and precise manner.

The likelihood of that development is plainly demonstrated by a Google News search on "blair war secret july".

Asleep at the wheel? That's actually the most generous possible explanation for our press' awful conduct. Perhaps later we examine this point in more detail.

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