Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Case for International Government, briefly

For if it is true, as the Romans said, that inter arma silent leges (when arms speak, the laws fall silent), it is equally true that when the laws speak arms fall silent. Otherwise, who would bother with laws? Every peaceable tranfer of power in accord with the decision of an electorate is a coup d'etat avoided. Every court case - however acrimonious the lawyers - is a possible vendetta or bloodbath averted.

-Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World, p. 240
Of the tangled mess of sins at the heart of Bush's decision to go to war, surely the worst was the blow to the idea of an international system of nations, accountable to international law. As it turned out, the international order was able - thus far - to absorb that blow and stay standing. The UN was not only crucial before the Iraq war, but was soon enough begged by the US to a) give the US some fig leaf of legitimacy, and b) help clean up the mess. And the UN tried to do so, initially, despite the barely-legible screeds like this, by Richard Perle:
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.
Of course, while Perle was busy sneering at the idea of multilateralism, the US was sashaying in to a war that would do nothing to permanently undermine the UN, but instead would cripple American unilateralism for the rest of Bush's presidency. As I said, the UN endures while the US Army teeters. And when the US withdrawal from Iraq inevitably comes, the UN will be asked once again to clean up where the Americans left.

Anyone who argued in favour of the Iraq war because they were foolish enough to believe in the humanitarian cause - like certain Liberal leadership candidates - should ask themselves how you can protect human rights while undermining international laws. It's like saying you're going to fight rapists by abolishing the court system.

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