Jewish World Review July 5, 2002/ 25 Tamuz, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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No backing down on this one | The law, as Dickens famously observed, "is a ass," and now the Europeans are insisting that everyone, including us, kiss it.

The new International Criminal Court is the brainchild of the Utopians, some of whom may be bubbling over with good intentions, but a lot of whom are consumed with penal envy, and long to lock up all American miscreants. "All" includes all of us.

The Bush administration seems determined to protect American soldiers from malicious prosecution, and threatens to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council, to pull the plug on peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, to put the court in its place. Yesterday the administration hinted that it would, with its veto, pull the plug on other peacekeeping missions as they come before the Security Council.

At the moment, the United States has agreed to a 48-hour delay in the imposition of its veto to allow someone to work out a compromise. It's difficult to see what such a compromise would look like, since the court insists that it has worldwide jurisdiction and its writ is beyond the restraint or restriction of all earthly governments.

If the Europeans really want to resolve the dilemma, they could start by agreeing to clean up the messes they make. They could put George W. and his men in their place by henceforth assuming all responsibility for peacekeeping duties. This would be only fair, since the two wars that devastated the world in the century just past were the work of Europeans. This would give the United States, which has spent so much blood and treasure pulling European nuts out of European fires, a needed and deserved rest. (That ought to make everyone happy.)

European diplomats tell London's Daily Telegraph that the dispute, pitting George W. against Tony Blair (and his wife, Cherie, bidding to become the lime-flavored Hillary Clinton), "is evidence of the president's unilateralism and deep distrust of international organizations." Said the diplomat (unnamed): "It is hard to see what the United States is trying to do."

Actually, for any diplomat actually paying attention, it's not hard at all. Centuries of law and procedure, having established the principle that the legitimate authority for punishing criminal acts is the nation on whose territory the offense was committed, is to be brushed aside by judges who are largely the products of law alien to Anglo-Saxon traditions of innocent-until-proved guilty. The United States wants to stay out of it.

The U.S. government rightly fears that the court will become a redoubt of embittered and envious Europeans, radical Islamists and assorted other malcontents who are itching to take America down a notch or two. Some of them are already talking of putting Henry Kissinger and Maggie Thatcher in the dock for crimes against Vietnam and Argentina, of indicting Augusto Pinochet and Ariel Sharon (but not, of course, Fidel Castro or Yasser Arafat).

The greater threat, if the United States and even Britain submit to a European lynch mob dressed up in robes, is to their soldiers assigned to peacekeeping duties. There are already suggestions that Western (i.e., American and British) peacekeepers ought to be tried for "collateral damage" in the Kosovar and Afghan campaigns.

Tony Blair, perhaps pushed along by Cherie (who bleeds for Palestinians, but not for Jews), is hot for the International Criminal Court. Other Englishmen are not. Bernard Jenkin, the Tory shadow secretary for Defense, calls the Blair government's hand on its strange reassurance that British peacekeepers would have "protections," sort of, from prosecution by the court. He notes the government's admission to a parliamentary committee that "immunity is not quite the right word." Indeed it isn't.

"While there are some safeguards," Mr. Jenkin says, "the court can always set these aside if it is not satisfied that any allegation has been properly investigated and prosecuted.

"America is worried, just as we should be, that the propaganda operations of terrorist organizations will be constantly campaigning to get American and British soldiers in the dock for simply carrying out their duties. The air is already thick with malicious accusations of what American forces do in the world .

"We should also be concerned by Tony Blair's cavalier attitude towards Britain's principal ally, the world's only superpower, without whose involvement we cannot maintain the hard-won peace in the Balkans or hope to win the war against terrorism."

The president has Congress with him on this one, even the few faint hearts who would always rather switch than fight but understand that they dare not show public timidity and cowardice on this fundamental issue of sovereignty. For his part, George W. must not back down in the face of European tantrums. There's no sign of that, not yet, but the Republican disease - walk with a heavy tread and brandish a toothpick when the brawling starts - is an ever-present threat to all of us.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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