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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2001 / 14 Teves, 5761

James Lileks

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Bubba gets his last licks -- CLINTON has signed a treaty that establishes a permanent international criminal tribunal. Guaranteed: The Senate will get right on this one. Top speed. Fast track. Right after they apportion $47 billion to research how many licks it really does take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Senate be damned: Clinton signed it anyway. It conforms to his self-image: the Great Peacemaker. The man who healed the Middle East. The man who solved the Irish Question. The man who gently nudged a reluctant nation towards the need to heed international law. Why, history will mourn that we didn't have a big world war during Clinton's era; no matter how many people might have been killed, it just seems unfair he was deprived of the chance to end something as big as his talents could handle.

Clinton also signed the treaty because he disagrees with it, and believes it's flawed. But by signing it, he says, we now have leverage in fixing its mistakes.

Note to the next guy who sells Clinton a house: tell him you'll discuss repairs after Bill signs the mortgage.

It's hard to oppose these manifestations of mankind's nobler instincts. What, Slobo et al should just go free? Why don't we just drive them to the Riviera, help them with their bags? That's not the point. No one wants tyrants to get off scot-free. But tyrants rarely do. Aside from the occasional African kleptocrat who retires in his 900-room French chalet to expire of a wasting disease, tyrants usually leave office feet first. It's the nature of the job. Rule by terror, and eventually the terrorized string you up by your heels and recite mocking songs as you bleed to death. Or your trusted underlings trot you down to the cellar and ventilate your brainpan.

For those who do make it out of office under their own steam, well, we can always convene a court a la Nuremburg, and try them for whatever charge we see fit. Put Judge Judy behind a tall oaken bench and let her go to work. But to have a permanent tribunal just begs for mischief. Presumably, these butchers would be permitted a defense. Thus we will be treated to Johnny Cochrane defending Saddam: łThese are the facts / if it's not anthrax / you must acquit / the fiend from Tikrit!˛ If a tyrant thinks there's going to be a trial, he might pin his hopes on jury nullification. Wouldn't it be fun to live in a world where Hitler not onyl gets off on a technicality, but stands on the courthouse steps and vows to search for the real monomaniacal genocidal tyrant.

If you took a copy of this treaty and laid it against Sen. Helms' flesh, Jesse would burst into flames. Among the smart set, of course, the very fact that the treaty makes Helms scowl like a constipated turtle is reason enough to support it. Oh, hide me from the big bad UN, Jesse! I'm so scared of losing my pwecious soveweignity, wahh!

But it is a legitimate concern. If an opponent of US policy could use the courts to bollix us up, why wouldn't they? Anti-WTO anarchists are perpetually itchy that Americans are so annoyingly HAPPY - why not drag the entire country into court on behalf of some sweatshop workers in East Malynesia? We stand accused of wearing GAP clothing, whose attractive pricing structure was made possible by the depredations of international capitalism. How do we plead? Snug Śn' Comfy, your Highness!

Ridiculous, of course - but not so ridiculous. Any political entity seeks to expand its power. Any failure of the court will be seen by some as a reason for expanding the court's reach and authority. The hard left hates the FBI for framing Peltier, hates the Supreme Court for acting politically in the last election, and hates the UN for authorizing the Gulf War. So they want to create another body to redress their grievances - and this one, unlike every other such body, will act with pure perfect justice.

When that one screws up, to whom should we appeal? To escape their jurisdiction, where do we move?

It's the same old conundrum: treaties and compacts born of utopian internationalism are useless unless all signatories conform to the same standards of civilized behavior - and if that's the case, you don't need the treaties. Canada and Switzerland do not have a nonaggression pact. They don't need one. International courts will work some day. But not yet. Unless you want Bill Clinton to face trial for bombing Monica off the front page. And even if you do, trust me: you don't.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2000, James Lileks