Criminal thinking in Washington.

Author:Meyer, Karl E.

The tried and true barometers of American opinion recall Dr. Freud's famous analytic triad. Our Id is the stock market, which measures such raw and primal emotions as greed, panic, dark suspicion, and irrational exuberance. Opinion polls are like Ego: the conventional and unsurprising assertions of individual judgments. Serving as Superego are newspaper editorials, the righteous tocsin of principle at their best, bromidic scolds at their worst. To vary the simile, at the tavern on Saturday night, Id says, "Let's have one for the road"; Ego chimes in, "Only a small beer"; and Superego worries, "Is there a designated driver?"

With this in mind, how instructive to study what American editorialists have said about President Bush's unusual decision to "unsign" the treaty creating the International Criminal Court. That was followed by an unsettling and peculiar American threat to scuttle United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia unless U.S. soldiers were granted immunity from prosecution by the new court. Strikingly, American editorialists from first to last, from coast to coast, and with few exceptions, have disagreed with the administration. Here are salient excerpts:

Denver Post, January 7, 2001: "Treaty Approval Prudent" -- We find without merit accusations that President Clinton's approval of a treaty for a proposed international criminal tribunal was a "poison pill" for George W. Bush. By meeting a Dec. 31 deadline for signing the treaty, Clinton (who finds much fault with the proposed tribunal for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity) actually preserved some options for his successor. Had the U.S. failed to sign, it would have forfeited any significant role in shaping the court and providing guiding principles. So far, about 139 nations have signed the treaty. Even Israel, which had balked at the treaty, now says that it will sign. The next step will be ratification, with the agreement taking effect when 60 nations have ratified. A permanent court is preferable to the makeshift system used since the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials after World War II.... A permanent institution with well-defined parameters forewarns political and military leaders who may be tempted to use wholesale slaughter as an instrument of public policy that such criminal conduct is illegal.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 17, 2002: "Rejection of World Court Shows Contempt for Justice" -- The United States was a leader in establishing the United Nations and the International...

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