Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Two [36]


Johnstone criticizes the idea of an international criminal court on the grounds that "no court can function without a police force." She essentially asks: Who will police the police? In our society, democratic accountability and civilian oversight are supposed to do the job, but Johnstone considers the Western democracies to be imperialist bullies and their publics to be naive dupes; no hope there.

Since she pre-emptively concludes that no effective checks could be placed on any international enforcement agency, such as NATO, she arrives at this conclusion:

"And here we approach a conundrum, which it is dangerous to evade: how can the law judging war crimes ever be other than the law of the victor?"

Not an unfair question, but given the current geopolitical situation this is, as I've pointed out earlier, setting the bar far too high. A new global order must start somewhere; someone must pick up the mantle in lieu of an effective world government. While she argues that any attempt to set up the ICC essentially condones the belief that "might makes right," she ignores the unfortunate reality that might is sometimes necessary.

She goes on a little longer, and while I have conceded that she has the germ of a good point here, her approach is clumsy and sometimes lets her anti-Western bias show through; as when she says that "Many in the West consider the Soviet Union under Stalin guilty of appalling crimes..." Yes, well. "Many" do.

Which leads up to this crude bit of false equivalence:

"Absolute unchallenged power creates absolute impunity, and the current imbalance of power in favor of the United States is not a favorable environment for the establishment of a balanced system of international justice. In a more balanced world, an international criminal court could be the appropriate jurisdiction for clearly international crimes, such as, for example, the alleged involvement of Osama bin Laden in the World Trade Center suicide bombings. Assuming it was planned abroad, that was indeed an international crime. So was the U.S. sabotage of Sandinista Nicaragua, the U.S. invasion of Granada, the clandestine U.S. encouragement of drugs for arms deals in various parts of the world, and so on."

You can feel Johnstone straining to make this simplistic and reductionist parallel seem fresh and insightful; the "alleged involvement" of bin Laden in the World Trade attacks merely one mark in the assets column, versus multiple debits like Granada, Iran-Contra, and so forth. It's a tired line of reasoning; that it is premised on a cultivated lack of proportionality and perspective is ironic since she is bringing it into a discussion about "a balanced system of international justice."

"Thus it is significant that up to now the call for ad hoc "international criminal tribunals", and even the arguments in favor of an international criminal court, have focused primarily on the prospect of punishing famous perpetrators of essentially internal crimes (General Pinochet, Pol Pot), described as "crimes against humanity".

So, you have the invasion of Granada versus four years under the Khmer Rouge. And the primary distinction to be drawn is...jurisdictional. By Johnstones's own logic, worked out throughout Chapter Two and examined in previous posts, no international body would have the capacity to understand, the clarity to judge, or the authority to intervene. The sovereignty of the state trumps the rights of citizens.

"This focus of "evil dictators" conveys the message that they can be stopped, judged, and punished by the benevolent outside intervention of the "International Community". It enforces the dualistic view of an essentially good Western imperial condominium obliged to punish "bad" men who trouble the moral order."

I wonder how carefully some of the Serbian nationalists who've welcome Johnstone (Borojevic, for one) have read this book. Pol Pot? Pinochet? Sure, she has a lot of good stuff to say about Serbian nationalism and Milosevic and so forth, but are they fully aware of what they have signed up for here?

In the final two paragraphs of Chapter Two, the mask comes off.

"If presidents are to be tried in criminal court for acts committed during war, incidents immediately come to mind that could justify putting U.S. presidents on trial." What about the repsonsibility of the U.S. president for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

I have not encountered any proponant of the ICC who has suggested that presidents should be tried for crimes committed by individual soldiers or civilians during wartime; this isn't a nuance of meaning she is missing here, it's the fundamental premise of international justice. I don't understand how Johnstone can compare LBJ's responsibility for My Lai to Pol Pot's responsibility for the Cambodian genocide so glibly, but she does. Johnstone has succeeded in changing the terms of debate, but by way of creating an absurd caricature of the original issue.

The first sentence of the final paragraph says it bluntly:

"A major obstacle to any universal justice at present is the obvious fact that the prime suspect in truly international crimes is likely to be the U.S. government..."

The defense of sovereignty is really a battle in the war against globalization; which, in turn, is just US/Western imperialism. At the end, this long chapter just turns out to be a slightly more sophisticated version of Michael Parenti's "whatever bad things you can say about Milosevic, at least he was against the Americans" revisionism.


And with that, believe it or not, Chapter Two is finished. I plan to review what I've written so far, and correct misspellings and some grammatical errors; then I will invite anyone who is interested to email me, and I'll send you Word files of the entire review so far. After a few days reflection, I hope to have some final thoughts and observations about Chapter Two and the book so far. Then I'll be ready to tackle Chapter Three.


Anonymous said...

Johnstone said: "A major obstacle to any universal justice at present is the obvious fact that the prime suspect in truly international crimes is likely to be the U.S. government..."

That's one of thousands one-sided views that she is using in her book trying to convince ordinary reader how bad western democracies really are. In her view, they are imperialists, globalist, and unjust to the people of Serbia, people of Iraq, etc. Little does she mention about sick dictatorship politics that Serb leaders put their and other Balkan people under. In fact, she is overly simplistic and she quickly comes to defense of socialist ideas, including dictators who were challenged by the western democracies.

Shaina said...

Kirk I miss your posts! I hope everything is okay with you.
Hope you had a great thanksgiving as well. Shaina