Entry from April 3, 2009

In “A Tale of Two Farces,” yesterday’s Wall Street Journal was very good about pointing to the irony of the thing:

Here’s the match-up. In the right corner we have Omar al-Bashir, for 20 years the Islamist dictator of Sudan and the man most responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. In the left corner we have six former Bush Administration officials who were given the task after September 11 of formulating America’s response to the atrocities. Who do you think is in the greatest legal jeopardy?

Yeah, I know, that’s way too easy. The correct answer has got to be the former U.S. officials against whom the radical Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, has instituted proceedings in order to ingratiate himself with Europe’s — and America’s — anti-American progressives and those who, like Joe Wilson, would be only too happy to see any number of former Bush administration officials frog-marched into a courtroom, even a European courtroom. Equally of course, it is only to be expected that Mr Bashir should be gallivanting around a number of Arab countries in spite of being the subject of an arrest warrant for his crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court. The Arab countries, it seems, don’t mind about these things so long as they are being committed against non-Arabs. That’s the honor culture of the Islamic world for you.

Then, in today’s Journal, one of the Bush administration six, Douglas Feith, rightly points to the unprecedented nature of the Spanish prosecutor’s claims to global jurisdiction and the intolerability, to U.S. sovereignty, of the idea “that a foreign court should punish former U.S. officials criminally if the judge thinks their official advice to the U.S. president violated international law. Whatever advice any of us offered the president on these debatable issues, it would be an unprecedented outrage to make our participation in government policy making a subject for second-guessing in a foreign criminal court.” I’m sure he’d like to think that any conceivable American government would resist any such foreign claims to U.S. jurisdiction in the strongest possible terms; I’m equally sure that he must have his doubts about the Obama administration, beholden as it is to lefties hardly less loony than Se or Garzón. That’s what we think of honor in the U.S.A. today.

But the ironies go deeper than even The Wall Street Journal knows. The Times of London in its news story about the Sudanese dictator’s carefree travels in Arabia morally deserta points us towards an even more remarkable one:

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, made a pilgrimage to Mecca yesterday, threatening the credibility of the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for his arrest. Mr al-Bashir”s journey to Saudi Arabia was his most daring act of defiance since he became the first sitting head of state to be named a fugitive from international justice last month and the court”s highest-profile target. The court, designed to dispense justice based on the premise that there are universal moral standards that apply to all human behaviour, wants Mr al-Bashir to face trial for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region of Darfur. . . Mr al-Bashir was given a boost by the Arab League at the conclusion of its summit, which he attended in Qatar on Monday. “We reiterate our solidarity with Sudan and our rejection of the measure of the … International Criminal Court against his Excellency,” it said in its final statement. Embarrassingly Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, was also at the summit and in the same room as Mr al-Bashir, though he was careful to avoid any contact. The UN set up the process that led to the creation of the court under the Rome statute of 1998.

The Times gets less than full marks for not knowing that the ICC and the UN already had little or no “credibility,” owing to their inability to enforce even such decrees as that against Omar al-Bashir. But it does point us towards one of the central truths of our post-honor society. This is that honor — or “credibility” to use the word preferred by The Times — still applies to us even when we repudiate it in favor of “moral standards that apply to all human behaviour.” For those standards, as the honor-obsessed Arab countries teach us, are meaningless unless they are honored — as, of course, they are not by the Arabs. And part of the reason why they are not is that the ICC is part of a liberal Western legal culture that has, as the Times rightly points out, only advertised its own weakness by applying those standards — or a version of them — only to those who are powerless to resist. It’s no coincidence that that’s just what Mr Bashir is doing with his own, rather less enlightened “standards” in Darfur. His “credibility,” at least, appears to remain intact.

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