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An American Turning Point

By Peter Dyer
August 20, 2006

Editor's Note: The new trend among Washington pundits is -- finally -- to admit that the Iraq War has been a disaster. But they are still blaming tactical errors: not enough U.S. troops, not enough realism in the hasty decision to disband the Iraqi army, not enough targeting of Shiite militias, not enough saber-rattling against Iran and Syria.

Under this new "conventional wisdom," the Bush administration's mistakes in Iraq have indeed hurt the "war on terror" by alienating and radicalizing tens of millions of Muslims. But Washington's new "group think" continues to ignore a central reason why the United States is losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic world as well as vast numbers of non-Muslims across the globe: George W. Bush.

The elephant sitting in Official Washington's living room is this intractable reality: President Bush has so thoroughly lost credibility with nearly everyone on the planet and is so widely despised that he himself has become a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. Bush has become Osama bin Laden's perfect foil, yet Bush is incapable of admitting mistakes and changing course.

Thus, no serious discussion can be held about solving Bush's disastrous foreign policy as long as Bush and his team remain in office. In this guest essay, Peter Dyer suggests the first difficult step that the United States must take is to change national leadership and to demonstrate to the world that the American people are determined to reclaim their proud history as the chief defender of international law:

If and when President Bush is impeached and removed from office, the next step should be to arrest him and the other architects of the unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq.

If Americans ever find the will to do this, as we once did to German aggressors, history will remember it as a turning point in international relations. It will go down as one of the most spectacular and complete affirmations of the very best of American ideals.

Such a turning point can’t come soon enough. On June 13, the Pew Research Group released a poll based on interviews with 17,500 people in 15 countries including the U.S. The poll showed that people in European and Muslim countries see U.S. policy in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran's nuclear program.

Because of the disdain of American leaders for international law,  manifested so vividly in U.S. aggression in Iraq, the international moral authority of the United States is at an all-time low. The post-World War II vision of a world without war, embodied in the United Nations Charter, has never seemed more out of reach.

Aggression (initiating an unprovoked war) was formally outlawed in 1945 by the Nuremberg Charter (Article VI(a)), a treaty signed and largely written by the United States. And although the Nuremberg Charter was formed for the specific purpose of trying Nazi war criminals, the words of the judgment make clear the intent of the court that the Nuremberg principles must apply to all nations and for all time.

“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. ... Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.”

In 1945, the U.S. also signed the United Nations Charter, a document which was nothing if not an attempt by the world community, as the first sentence states: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” To that end the Charter clearly and specifically forbids violations of the sovereignty of any state by any other state, except in immediate self-defense (Article 2, Sec. 4 and Articles 39 and 51).

And in December 1946, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 95 (1), affirming “the principles of International law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal.”

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution includes the Supremacy Clause which makes all treaties signed and ratified by the U.S. the “supreme law of the land.” Because the invasion of Iraq violated the Nuremberg Charter and the U.N. Charter it also violated  the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, President Bush’s disdain for many international treaties which the U.S. has ratified has made a mockery of his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” But Article VI has not been repealed. It’s still the law.

The dedication to the rule of law as well as to government of the people, by the people and for the people are absolutely central to the splendid American experiment. Imagine how far it would go towards redeeming American international moral authority if we arrested and tried our own leaders for egregious violations of international law

Imagine, as well, the chilling effect this would have on any other head of state considering aggression. If the most powerful man in the world can be held personally criminally responsible for starting a war, then clearly anybody can. Such a precedent could move humanity significantly closer to realizing the original vision of the United Nations: a world without war.

Certainly many will scorn this idea today. But 30 years ago the idea that Augusto Pinochet would ever be held responsible for his reign of terror in Chile also seemed outlandish. Since then, the law has evolved and what was once inconceivable is now happening: Pinochet is under house arrest in Chile awaiting trial for human rights violations. There is no statute of limitations for these crimes, just as there is none for aggression.

Given recent developments in international law, the time may very well come when George W. Bush will be unable to leave the U.S. for fear of arrest abroad. For so many reasons, however, it would be better if we Americans faced up to our responsibility and arrested him ourselves. The sooner the better. In the end it’s a matter of simple justice.


Peter Dyer is a machinist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004.


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