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American opinion on international law

by MarekNYC Mon May 29th, 2006 at 05:18:44 PM EST

Among some left wingers there's seems to be a belief that there is something intrinsically 'wrong' about Americans, that even with Democrats in power the United States won't act as a reasonable member of the international community, that it is likely to be a permanent rogue state and that other countries should plan accordingly.  A recent poll suggests that is not the case.


Two in three Americans say the United States should change the way it treats detainees at Guantanamo Bay as prescribed by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Americans generally support giving international courts broad authority to judge compliance with treaties and seven in ten reject the idea that the United States should receive exceptional treatment under such treaties.

Respondents were told that the UN Commission on Human Rights has determined that the United States has violated international conventions at Guantanamo Bay by holding certain individuals for interrogation without charging them with a crime. Sixty-three percent said the United States should follow the Commission's prescriptions and change this practice, while 30% said the United States should not.

A very large majority generally favors the idea of international adjudication of compliance with treaties. Seventy-six percent said that, "As a general rule, when the US enters into international agreements," there should be "an independent international body, such as a court, to judge whether the parties are complying with the agreement." The statement had bipartisan support: 66% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats.

Americans show little support for the idea that the United States should have a special exemption from the judgment of international bodies. For example, only 25% agreed that as a general rule US compliance with human rights treaties should never be "subject to the judgment of an international body," while 69% thought the US should not claim a "special exception." This included 63% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats.

The highest profile controversy over international adjudication in recent years has been about the United States' refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court. Seventy-four percent favored US participation in the ICC. When respondents were asked a longer version of the question, which included the US government's argument that "trumped-up charges may be brought against Americans, for example US soldiers who use force in the course of a peacekeeping operation." support was only a bit lower at 68%. Support dropped further among Republican respondents. While 77% of Republicans approved in the simple version of the question, 52% were opposed in response to the question that highlighted US government objections.

[...]

At the same time, Americans show concern about the costs and risks of international adjudication. When presented pro and con arguments, majorities did find convincing the argument that "judges from other countries cannot be trusted to be impartial"... "because there are so many people in the world who are looking for opportunities to try to undermine the US" (65%) and that "submitting to international courts would violate the United States' sovereign right to protect its citizens and its interests" (58%). However, the arguments in favor of international adjudication were found convincing by larger majorities (69-85%). When finally asked to weigh both pro and con arguments together, 71% came down in favor of international adjudication.

In light of the continuing controversy over the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, US public attitudes on torture gain particular relevance. When a government has not taken action against individuals who may have engaged in torture, 70% favor giving an international court the right to investigate. Further, asked, "When acts of torture have been committed, who do you think should be held responsible?" 77% said both those who gave the orders as well as those who committed the torture.

via Beautiful Horizons

Display:
DeAnander will vouch for my ability to defend my countrymen.  And women.

But as much as I'm glad you've posted this information because the world needs to know we are not all neo-con sycophants, I think you are just terribly oversimplifying the matter.

First off, when you make statements like your opening paragraph, you really should cite something to support such a claim.  

I know a lot of lefties, from both here and abroad, who think there is something intrinsically wrong with the economic or electoral system in America.  Who think there is something intrinsically harmful about the lifestyle choices (cars, fast food, TV, wasteful consumption, etc.) of many or most Americans.  Who think that there is something intrinsically evil about the agenda of the cabal currently in power.  Who think that when Democrats have been given the opportunity to rectify our current situation or to even speak out against it, they have taken a pass, and therefore it is no stretch of the imagination to assume that they will continue to act in this manner.  Especially since a majority of them have benefited from the economic and electoral systems which are intrinsically "wrong," or biased.  It has been a while since our leaders have made foreign policy decisions which have not harmed, badgered or neglected the international community, and many of us also believe that acts of global irresponsibility are intrinsically "wrong," or hurtful to the welfare of the citizens of the earth.  There may be some on the left who feel that our position as a rogue nation is a permanent one, but I don't hang out on those listserves.  The majority of us, as evidenced by Kos and ET and Booman and comparable on-line communities, as well as those in the real life communities we inhabit, feel that with hard work, raising awareness, holding leaders and media accountable, whether supporting candidates in the system we already have or bucking the whole thing altogether, we can radically change what most non-lefties have accepted as a permanent situation.  Until then, many of us believe it is in the best interest of the rest of the world to recognize our current administration for what it is and ... act accordingly.  It won't help us fix this nation if the rest of the world is appeasing the idiots who've broken it.

Most Americans have a surprising amount of common sense, empathy, decency and courage.  I think most lefties, most American lefties, would agree that there is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what is right with America.  We're just sick to effing death of being told we can't say that there is anything wrong with America!  How can we fix the problems if we aren't allowed to acknowledge and discuss them?  

Concern for our future, disgust resulting from the actions of our government and the people who support them, disappointment in our reality given all of the possibilities, and the driving desire to face reality however bleak or horrible or politically incorrect it may be should not be mistaken for some judgement on the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of this country.  A country can't even be right or wrong.  I personally resent those who try to even tell me what "right" or "wrong" is.  Words like "wrong" have little meaning.  

But the people, leaders and governing systems of a country can very well be irresponsible, harmful, ignorant, cruel, biased, arrogant, sick and unreasonable.  No country can be intrinsically any one of these things, though.  And to propose otherwise is just intellectual laziness.

I'm not necessarily directing this comment at Marek (except the part about citing proof of this sentiment), just at anyone who supposedly embraces it.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 11:32:04 PM EST
I'll add to this great comment by poemless my own two cents:

(Please note this is not my point of view, just one I think needs to be added to the debate.)

Some in the left (both from inside the US and outside) look at the foreign policy actions of administrations from both parties over the years and conclude that whilst Bush's cabal has taken things further than usual, it is not the sea change sometimes presented.

That is to say, there is something in the US system of government that lends itself to foreign adventures and something in the US doctrines (CFR perhaps?) that crosses both parties and lends itself to interventions careless of human rights of people on the ground.

Some take this thesis and run with it all the way to "there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans."

Just to emphasise again that I don't believe this, but I do think it's not a completely irrational point of view in the milder form. I'd sum up the critique this way:

The US is (at least in the theory) a country whose internal political system is quite a model of democracy and justice that has lessons for most of the world.

BUT, many people confuse that with an instant legitimacy in the foreign policy arena. The facts of US actions in many parts of the world are that they have involved a goodly amount of anti-democratic, violent, anti-human rights behaviour. This record spans administrations to some degree. Thus we have to conclude that whatever the internal goodness of the US, its system of government does not make it instantly a "hyperpower who should always be acceded to."

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:37:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anything and everything I'd have wanted to point out has been said in these two comments by poemless and Metatone, so I'll just thank them and give them my backing. :-)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:43:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had a long discussion with Drew over why the US is unable to project soft power, its foreign policy options being military action or isolationism. I was not able to get a coherent answer to that [the why, the how and what are more-or-less clear], and I don't fault Drew, he was honestly trying.

So the question is still open: why can't the US project "soft power"?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 06:09:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there is an issue that the US has an almighty military machine, currently eating 50% of all elective Govt spending.

So, however, nuanced all issues are, the fact is the Govt has paid for an almighty hammer, it's probably hard to stop your problems from looking like nails.

Also, there's the machismo factor. Soft power looks like compromise. Compromise looks like weakness. Weakness only encourages enemies. And you can't be doing that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 08:59:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't the US military machine currently eating also 50% of the world's military spending?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 10:51:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How big was the US military machine at the time of Commodore Perry?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 11:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

 It's an interesting question.  I'd like to think about it some and read your discussion with Drew and then offer my thoughts on it.

 At first glance, it may be that there have been some rather too-isolated instances of the US' use of "soft power".  

 One thing I'll need is a much clearer idea of exactly what that term means, as you use and understand it.

  Good question, though.  Interesting question.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:39:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My definition of soft power is "defending your national interests without military intervention".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:22:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or the threat of military intervention...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:25:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the case of the US it amounts to the same thing because of "credibility" issues. For the threat of force to be credible it needs to be exercised.

"Establishing credibility" is an interesting concept I first heard from Noam Chomski on Pacifica Radio. I think the transcript is here>

Establishing Credibility

And the US doesn't want to present evidence because it wants to be able to do it, to act without evidence. That's a crucial part of the reaction. You will notice that the US did not ask for Security Council authorization which they probably could have gotten this time, not for pretty reasons, but because the other permanent members of the Security Council are also terrorist states. They are happy to join a coalition against what they call terror, namely in support of their own terror. Like Russia wasn't going to veto, they love it. So the US probably could have gotten Security Council authorization but it didn't want it. And it didn't want it because it follows a long-standing principle which is not George Bush, it was explicit in the Clinton administration, articulated and goes back much further and that is that we have the right to act unilaterally. We don't want international authorization because we act unilaterally and therefore we don't want it. We don't care about evidence. We don't care about negotiation. We don't care about treaties. We are the strongest guy around; the toughest thug on the block. We do what we want. Authorization is a bad thing and therefore must be avoided. There is even a name for it in the technical literature. It's called establishing credibility. You have to establish credibility. That's an important factor in many policies. It was the official reason given for the war in the Balkans and the most plausible reason.



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:29:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Okay, thank you.  When I have more time, I'll read that excerpt and your discussion with Drew and let you know my views.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:42:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Migeru,

 Here's a start---

      So, Migu, I read the dialogue of____ on Soft power.

    The most obvious and direct answer--and Drew brought it out himself--is  that « soft power » is indeed in use constantly by the US and all other governments.   When it works,  you don't see it except via indirect indications.  The professionals who are involved, however, see the effects of the closed-door discussions, the back-channel dialogues.   These are literally daily  phenomena.  « Soft power » is in use whenever high-level talks produce a trade-off, a quid  pro quo between governments.   Trade agreements are soft power; development aid, foreign loans, investment in foreign capital and infrastructure; the granting of memberships in international bodies; the relaxation of barriers; cooperative scientific research; all of these, or, conversely, their denial, are elements in soft power tactics.  There are of course other sorts of  incentives--direct  bribes in cash or resources, the offer of military cooperation; espionage intelligence sharing; technical assistance in areas where a  nation is particularly needy.  The only reason to look upon it as somehow sinister in nature is that it is so often so largely un- or under-reported  and that the interests being so well catered to are the same largely or exclusively corporate ones which happen also to give so generously to political campaigns--nota bene: both Republican and  Democratic party campaigns.

    The one thing that I'd stress in difference to Drew's picture is that the Democrats as office  holders, and as governing  administrations are in no way strangers to these habits.   This  goes on administration in and administration out, without regard to political party.  Differences of emphasis occur as when, for example, the senior Bush administration came into and then left the White  House and  then returned again in 2000.   With each arrival of the Bushes,  the Saudi Arabian regime found itself once more in a relatively more privileged position vis-a-vis the people in the White House.

    I also agree with Drew's view--expressed variously by the difficulty of pinning them down as neatly definable--concerning the fluid character of these « interests » of the U.S.  

To follow your line of  quesioning, then, you would like to know why it isn't used more, or, ideally, why it isn't used exclusively.

 For that there are numerous possible explanations; but the most obvious to me is that there are a number of "interests" which simply don't lend themselves to being pushed and achieved by soft means.

 In particular, there are the too frequent and recent examples of Uncle Sam whipping forceful discipline--or trying to on those of his wayward erstwhile obedient client-state tin-pot dictators.  With these, the "soft" techniques have been tried and proven ineffective; then Uncle Sam gets really, really angry.

But that is only the first example I can think of.

  More, perhaps, later, if you're not satisfied with this response.

  I also agree with Drew's observation that, in general, the great majority of Americans are simply not interested in or aware of or informed about international political affairs.  It's already more than they can manage to interest themselves in their own domestic political affairs !

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:13:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I also agree with Drew's observation that, in general, the great majority of Americans are simply not interested in or aware of or informed about international political affairs.  It's already more than they can manage to interest themselves in their own domestic political affairs !

It depends on the domestic issues we bring up.  Americans were certainly paying close attention to the Social Security debate, and the collective view was quite clear.  They were quite clear on the Terri Schiavo case, as well.  They're certainly becoming more and more clear on their collective opinion of Iraq.  But, as I told Migeru, Americans simply don't seem to give a damn about international affairs unless it is a case that might call for military action.  If soldiers are not headed into harm's way, they'd rather watch Oprah than the BBC.

An example: Most Americans probably haven't the slightest idea of what happened at Versailles after WWI, but most seem capable of speaking with at least some intelligence about WWII -- probably because they've grown up hearing stories from their grandparents.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 01:41:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The American opinion on international law is that if the US isn't a party to a treaty or an international convention, then it doesn't have to follow it.

I noticed the old bugaboo about the international criminal court. We never signed on to that one, so if any US government official is sent to the Hague, then that's an act of war.

The US has never been in favor of symbolic treaties, or at least hasn't been since the Coolidge administration.

There are all sorts of so-called "human rights" conventions which are subscribed to by most countries in the world and then plainly ignored.

The US is attacked for not subscribing to many of these things, and is thus assumed to be breaking "international law."

If the US isn't a party to a treaty, then it's not bound by it. Simple, no?

by messy on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 12:17:12 PM EST
This continues to baffle me.  I've never signed on to any agreement with my government, but I'm beholden to the law nevertheless.  If anyone can just choose to be beholden to the law or not, the law isn't really law at all, but some kind of gentleman's agreement.  Which is hardly any way to go about ensuring the rights of the citiens of the world.  And then how is the ICC legitimate if there are no legitimate international laws?  

Drives me crazy.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 12:25:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've never signed on to any agreement with my government, but I'm beholden to the law nevertheless.

I partly agree but largely disagree.  Unless we agree to hand over our right to make our own laws to another body is certain cases, then we should be under no obligation to follow laws we have not signed on to.  I've never read the laws, but I'm assuming that there is no law allowing an international organization to force us to accept an institution like the ICC.  The correct analogy is not "My Government and I" but "My Neighbor and I".  Imagine your neighbor suddenly saying to you, out of the blue, "Hey, pal, your lawn is 3/4s of an inch too long.  Fix it."  You wouldn't take him seriously and would probably tell him, "It's my lawn, jackass.  Piss off."  And you would be right to do so.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:11:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Imagine your neighbor suddenly saying to you, out of the blue, "Hey, pal, your lawn is 3/4s of an inch too long.  Fix it."  You wouldn't take him seriously and would probably tell him, "It's my lawn, jackass.  Piss off."  And you would be right to do so.
You have obviously never had to deal with city planners.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:15:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As someone who lives in a second-floor apartment, I don't have a lawn, so it's a non-issue.  But, yes, there are plenty of other issues we could dive into wth my analogy.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:19:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but VERY messy...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 12:44:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The American opinion on international law is that if the US isn't a party to a treaty or an international convention, then it doesn't have to follow it.

Sort of. In the case of the ICC which you cite below American opinion is that America should be party to the treaty.  In any case America is a party to many international treaties that it is currently violating - the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on Torture. These are incorporated into the US civil and military criminal codes.

We never signed on to that one, so if any US government official is sent to the Hague, then that's an act of war.

That is a deeply ironic statement for an American to make.

There are all sorts of so-called "human rights" conventions which are subscribed to by most countries in the world and then plainly ignored.

Absolutely true. And if you're fine with a situation where American statements about the importance of human rights are treated the same as those coming from, say, China or Russia  - i.e. as a bad joke, then good for you.    But if that is to be the permanent US attitude, I really hope that the Europeans dissolve NATO, kick out our bases, and bar overflights by our aircraft. Because that sort of attitude in a superpower with an aggressive policy translates into rogue state status. Fortunately, however, the poll makes it clear that Americans do believe that their country should adhere to, and be held to higher standards.   The Lieberman response to Abu Ghraib 'al Qaeda didn't apologize for 9/11, why should we' or the right wing talking point  'but Saddam was worse' is not one that most Americans share.  

by MarekNYC on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 12:53:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The American opinion on international law is that if the US isn't a party to a treaty or an international convention, then it doesn't have to follow it.

Right.  Legally the US would be under no obligation to follow it.

The US has never really been in favor of treaties unless it is allowed to exercise a large amount of control over them.  The poll suggests that Americans see a role for institutions like the UN, but the UN (to continue with the example) is too easy a target for the right wing.  Fox News commentators can point out that China is a member of this or that council on human rights at the UN, and immediately the UN will look ridiculous.

We need international laws governing human rights, but, if there is no way to enforce those laws, they're useless.  The current international legal system is a joke, in my opinion.  (And, yes, that is thanks, in large part, to the actions of my country's government, but George W. Bush is not the only problem here.)

Even if the US had signed on to the ICC, there would never come a day when a high-level US official would be arrested.  Let's not pretend that the ICC would ever prosecute (say) Bush.  As gutless as the Democrats have been in the face of the GOP, the international community has been equally gutless, and elections have done little to reverse the trend.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:00:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The ICC treaty says the ICC can only try people that cannot or will not be tried in their own countries. That is to say, accusations of war crimes would have to go before US courts first. The US opposes the ICC treaty because it has no intention of prosecuting war crimes at home. If it did, there would be no reason to worry about "politically motivated prosecutions" or anything like that, which are just propaganda talking points by opponents of international law.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:12:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
US militarism has gotten out of hand. As has been pointed out above 50% of the discretionary federal budget is devoted to this sector:

http://www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm

There have been other periods in time when the military budget was such a large fraction of the GDP, but these were in times of emergency like WWII. What is new this time is that starting in the 1990's there was no enemy, but the military continued to grow anyway. Threats have been exaggerated or manufactured in order to justify the continuing level of spending. Just yesterday Bush tried to equate the cold war with the "war on terror" as a justification for permanent unchecked spending.

In addition the military/industrial sector has gotten much smarter in the last 50 years. Projects are now spread over many states and congressional districts to insure that legislators have a local interest in keeping projects going.

While all this has been going on other sectors of the society have been allowed to back slide. The poster child being the Katrina preparation and response. Similar failings can be seen in education, the manufacturing sector and civil engineering projects.

I hate to bring up Rome, but the US is starting to look a lot like the end of empire. None of the recent critics of current policies have been able to offer any suggestions on how to turn the ship of state around.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:14:44 PM EST
There have been other periods in time when the military budget was such a large fraction of the GDP, but these were in times of emergency like WWII.

With all do respect Robert, that is completely wrong. US military spending as a percentage of GDP was higher than current spending, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, for virtually the entire Cold War.  During WWII it was much higher - almost 40% of GDP.

see the data here for the period through FY 2003.

by MarekNYC on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:33:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, Marek.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 08:44:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is new this time is that starting in the 1990's there was no enemy, but the military continued to grow anyway. Threats have been exaggerated or manufactured in order to justify the continuing level of spending.

I'm sorry, Robert.  You may want to believe this, since it jives with your "Crumbling of America" view, but this, too, is demonstrably false, if you follow Marek's link.  As a percentage of GDP, military spending steadily declined during the 1990s.  In fact, it appears to have declined in every year from 1993 to 1998, and then flatlined from 1999 to 2001 at 3% of GDP.  Military spending has not approached 10% of GDP since the late-1960s.  Even Reagan never went above 6.2%.

Even as a percentage of discretionary spending, the military budget fell in every year from 1987 to 2001, and is still not incredibly high by historical standards -- though, in fairness, the numbers I have only go as far as 2003.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 09:16:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 I have a couple of comments;

one concerns care in interpreting poll responses in cases of questions which call for a response in which the respondant can reasonably be supposed to be subject to the feeling that a fully candid answer may reflect badly on him-- and this is true even though the interview is usually an 'anonymous' one done by telephone-- that is, even though the respondant is confident that his responses shall be part of an aggregate in which he is anonymous.

 My favorite standard example of this problem concerns polls which ask respondants to declare whether or not they believe in God, in Heaven and Hell, in miracles such as the immaculate conception, etc.  My view is that in practically every such poll, the results may be safely assumed to under report the actual proportion of people who do believe in the things just listed.  That is for a fairly common-sense reason: in answering such questions, there is little or no reason to imagine that those who do not believe in these notions shall reply falsely that they do.  On the other hand, there are always some proportion of the public which is reluctant to admit their religious beliefs out of the concern for the impression that would make on the interviewer; thus, in an random telephone poll, they'll report that they do not believe in such things even though in fact they do.

  Stating one's opinion on such sensitive questions as whether or not the US--as a people or a government--should be responsible for their actions abroad, and, more importantly, should be liable to be held accountable by some real or potential independent authority is just the sort of question that is liable to elicit false statements of approval or agreement, as in "Yes, I believe the US govt., etc., should be held legally accountable for..." .  Again, my hunch is that such polls shall always over-report the number of responses which conform to the socially-accepted and respectable response, thus masking the true number of people who in fact do not hold these respectable opinions.

My second comment concerns the notion of what we are talking about when we speak of "the United States" does, or did, this, that or the other; for all practical purposes, the "United States" really only exist as a present-day collectivity of people.  Though that seems obvious, it is not necessarily always what people have in mind when they argue over what the US (or any other nation, for that matter) once did or is now doing, or what they have to been proud or ashamed of.

  To illustrate this, many people are proud of what they think of as "their nation" having done in the past.  As in, for example, "the US won the Second World War and liberated Europe."  Many people easily accept that what some of their forebears did once upon a time is a matter which reflects positively on their own present-day worthiness.  They do not, somehow, accept the converse, that the disreputable acts of their forebears should be regarded as reflecting poorly on them--as they disavow any responsibility for such acts of long past generations.

  Of course, a nation is, for better or for worse, the sum of its present-day population's acts and beliefs, broadly speaking.  It is of no account what some generations of Americans may have done long ago in determining, especially, whether or not "the United States is a democratic nation".  It may very well have once been--or, that is, the American people of another time may very well have been more or less "democratic" than are the American people of today.  But the only meaningful question is, "What are Americans doing now?  Not, "What is the best and most noble thing we can point to about ourselves from the past?" and claim that as exemplary of what "we really are" today.

  What we really are today is of course to be determined by what we really are doing (or not) today.

  By that measure, we are perhaps not such a free and democratic nation as we may like to believe.  But that doesn't prevent people from taking as their ideal of what their nation is, the glorious portions from its most respectable past.

  Finally, about the treaty obligations of the US; I had an interesting (to me) discussion with a member at Dailykos on this very topic.  I argued that, according to the terms of the US Constitution, when the Senate ratifies a treaty, and the president signs it into law, it becomes the law of the land and has the same force and authority as the various provisions of the US Constitution itself.  Not so, replied the other person.  As he claimed to know, under a long ago ruling of the US Supreme Court, the provision of the Constitution which makes treaties part of the law of the land along with the federal Constitution, is interpreted as meaning only that the several states of the United States are legally bound to respect the treaty's terms.  Interestingly, by the Court's ruling, I learned from this fellow in the Dailykos that the US government--that is the federal government is not bound by any treaty from the moment that said treaty's terms come into conflict with a subsequently passed law of the United States.  Thus, apparently, if the US have obligations under the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war, it is the opinion of the Supreme Court, according to this ruling--I've now forgotten which one and can no longer find this exchange in the archives of the Dailykos, sorry-- that those obligations become null and void as soon as the Congress passes and the president signs any legislation to the contrary.  All of that came to me as flatly incredible.  My view has always been that the treaties were valid and in theory enforcable even if in fact that was not the case;  here I learn that, no, all that counts is what the last-passed and enacted laws may say on any given treaty issue.

 Amazing!  So, I asked the other fellow, "So, tell me, whether or  not the Supreme Court's case law is as you've described it to me, do you personally agree that this is how things ought to be ?

  At that, he ran out of time to answer and explained that he wouldn't be able to answer.  There ended the discussion.  I'm really sorry I couldn't link to it.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:35:04 PM EST
As he claimed to know, under a long ago ruling of the US Supreme Court, the provision of the Constitution which makes treaties part of the law of the land along with the federal Constitution, is interpreted as meaning only that the several states of the United States are legally bound to respect the treaty's terms.  Interestingly, by the Court's ruling, I learned from this fellow in the Dailykos that the US government--that is the federal government is not bound by any treaty from the moment that said treaty's terms come into conflict with a subsequently passed law of the United States.
Bullshit, or else I can't understand why Texas insists on flaunting the obligation to put any foreigner that is arrested for a crime in contact with the consular representation from their home country and nobody does anything about it. There are many cases of foreigners on death row who did not have proper legal representation and were never given the option to contact their embassy/consulate. I forget whether there have been any executions, but I think at least of Mexicans there have been.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:42:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm... there is something to that...
The United States takes a different view concerning the relationship between international and domestic law than many other nations, particularly in Europe. Unlike nations which view international agreements as always superseding national law, the American view is that international agreements become part of the body of U.S. federal law. As a result, Congress can modify or repeal treaties by subsequent legislative action, even if this amounts to a violation of the treaty under international law. The most recent changes will be enforced by U.S. courts entirely independently of whether the international community still considers the old treaty obligations binding upon the U.S. Additionally, an international agreement that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution is void under domestic U.S. law, the same as any other federal law in conflict with the Constitution, and the Supreme Court could rule a treaty provision to be unconstitutional and void under domestic law, although it has never done so. The constitutional constraints are stronger in the case of CEA and executive agreements, which cannot override the laws of state governments.

The U.S. is not a party to the Vienna Convention. However, the State Department has nonetheless taken the position that it is still binding, in that the Convention represents established customary law. The U.S. habitually includes in treaty negotiations the reservation that it will assume no obligations that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution. However, the Vienna Convention provides that states are not excused from their treaty obligations on the grounds that they violate the state's constitution, unless the violation is manifestly obvious at the time of contracting the treaty. So for instance, if the US Supreme Court found that a treaty violated the US constitution, it would no longer be binding on the US under US law; but it would still be binding on the US under international law, unless its unconstitutionality was manifestly obvious to the other states at the time the treaty was contracted. It has also been argued by the foreign governments (especially European) and by international human rights advocates that many of these US reservations are both so vague and broad as to be invalid. They also are invalid as being in violation of the Vienna Convention provisions referenced earlier. (wiki)



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:46:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Yep.  Like I say, outrageuous !

  You tell me: is Uncle Sam a member in good standing of the community of law-abiding nations ?

  LOL!

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:56:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This says nothing about being a member in good standing, or about abiding by law. It does spell out the basic attitude towards the community of nations, and about international law.

You could say that the US is not in good standing is, for instance, it did not pay its membership dues to the UN (oops), or if it had disregarded unfavourable rulings by the World Court (oops), or if it had carried out wars of aggression after seeking and failing to obtain Security Council authorisation (oops)...

The basic attitudes spelled out in the quoted paragraphs are: US law is above international law. Within the conceptual metaphor of "the community of nations", this attitude is asocial [in a libertarian individualistic kind of way], maybe anomic or even sociopathic. This still does not say anything about how "well adjusted" this asocial individual is. I would say that after 9/11 it's clearly become maladjusted.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 08:19:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually the USA is a party to the Vienna Convention itself.
It opted out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 2005.

The protocol requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad.

The United States initially backed the measure as a means to protect its citizens abroad. It was also the first country to invoke the protocol before the ICJ, also known as the World Court, successfully suing Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979.

But in recent years, other countries, with the support of U.S. opponents of capital punishment, successfully complained before the World Court that their citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:50:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Could you go into wikipedia and correct the article with a reference?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:40:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

 Actually, in the very case you refer to or another one with essentially the same set of facts (as Texas was not the only state found to have "forgotten" to notify the (usually Mexican) defendant's consular officials of his arrest, the State of Texas was found to have violated the law in failing to notify, and the "relief" granted the appellant was that the conviction was voided and returned for re-trial.

  Thus, the appellant won only a new trial, I believe, under the theory that, had the consular officials been aware, they may have been able to offer assistance that may have changed the outcome--this is according to my faulty memory as I have not gone to the trouble of checking FindLaw on this case; but it seems to me I read a news report that the State of Texas was ordered on appeal to start respecting the treaty obligations to notify consular officials of the arrest of Mexican nationals--which happens often in Texas, of course.

  I say, good for the appeals ruling! and Shame on you, Texas!

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:54:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I partially agree with the misreporting. People are more likely to respond in what they consider to be "acceptable". (In the words of our favourite clown Michael Moore: "Everyone here approves of what the president is doing. Ma, Pa, the kids, even the dog. You approve, dog!")

However I think your example about religion is precicely the opposite of what's happening. But do ask me again when you have an atheist president (or a few Governors. No, Jesse Ventura does not count! :) )

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sapere aude

by Number 6 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 05:58:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I know, I can't spell.
"Precisely"

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 05:59:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 My point, if correct, would suggest that there are actually more, not fewer deeply religious --read, superstitious and credulous believers in miracles--people than are indicated in even rigorously and methodologically sound polling suggests there to be.

  Therefore, if an atheist US president were to be elected, the first thing I'd do is to quickly check on the most basic laws of physics to see if these, too, were suddenly no longer operative.

  Before Americans knowingly elect an avowed atheist to the presidency, rocks will float up from the ground into the upper atmosphere.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:03:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for clarifying this.
Looks like I read it backwards and upside down. :)


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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 04:44:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Go to C-Span and search their video archive for 'Scalia Foreign Law American Enterprise Institute'. Particularly interesting is the Q&A segment after Scalia's speech on foreign law, when he tells law students that they are stupid, ignorant, cannot think straight and that they must SIT DOWN! and BE QUIET!. In two instances kids are thrown out of the conference room. Scalia approves of it but urges the AEI security guys to NOT use violence against the law students. He also barks at a German student who asked him a question about the Iraq war and torture and tells an American student to SHUT UP. Great performance of supreme court justice A. Scalia!

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:45:33 PM EST
I have to check that out sometime when I feel strong enough.

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 06:02:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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