Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Add this Weekly Standard article to the evidence for the Guelfs vs. Ghibellines hypothesis that I made a first stab at articulating here, and added to with this post. My claim, which is related to Robert Kaplan's argument in his brilliant essay "The Media and Medievalism", is that an intellectual polarization is emerging today which is analogous to the Guelf-Ghibelline rivalry in the Middle Ages: a struggle for the moral high ground between a great military power and an entity whose power was less tangible. Then it was the empire vs. the papacy. Today the US and the UN head the antagonistic parties.

But is the UN a plausible antagonist for the US? I believe that the UN is easy to underestimate, because we often fail to understand the power of ideas, and the strategic importance of the moral high ground. But what would the UN's version of Canossa, 1077 look like? This article has a clue of the answer.

Last June, a distinguished Argentine human rights attorney, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, took office as chief prosecutor of the new ICC. Earlier this year, with the ink barely dry on his appointment papers, Moreno-Ocampo unveiled his jurisdictional views... that officials of multinational corporations could be held accountable before the ICC for directly or indirectly facilitating conduct that leads to violations of international law. So, the ABA journal relates, if companies engaged in trading natural resources pay money to a government that uses it to fund soldiers who commit war crimes, those companies have arguably facilitated war crimes, and their officials could be prosecuted...

Moreno-Ocampo's remarks imply that the ICC may be willing to use the threat of prosecution as a goad to cooperation from multinational corporations. That strategy would transform the ICC from adjudicator of past crimes to active multinational policymaker--and a policymaker not accountable to the U.N. Security Council or its member states...

If such rules come to be laid down de facto by a pattern of pronouncements or prosecutions at the ICC, there will be significant effects on the world economic system, and they will be the product of nothing more accountable than the intentions of supranational prosecutors and judges.


Things could go further than that. Multinational firms might find themselves paying protection money to the ICC-- and thence, perhaps, to the UN. If the ICC rules that some future American action is illegal, it might authorize international boycotts on firms that did business with the US military, or that were headquartered in the US. Many Americans-- the Democratic Party, for example-- would likely side with the UN in such a scenario. Our power depends as much on the invisible, mysterious webs of international finance as on the US military. If the ICC or the UN can claim the moral high ground from the US, it can pull those webs in its own way, and use them to bind us.

I think this Guelf-Ghibelline struggle will be good for humanity, by the way, even though my side (I'm a Ghibelline / a Bush supporter) is likely to lose.

[UPDATE: Let me add that the International Criminal Court could do some good-- by authorizing operations like the recent invasion of Iraq. The irony right now is that while the International Criminal Court is being authorized to punish crimes against humanity, Kofi Annan has called the one action that has effectively punished crimes against humanity recently, the US-led coalition's removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, "illegal."

However, I think the left has quietly learned a lesson from the war in Iraq, and in future I doubt that the UN or the international left will oppose operations like those in Iraq. People don't like to admit that they're wrong, of course, but the anti-war movement has detached the left from the principles like human rights, freedom, democracy, opposition to mass murder, and so on, that ought to give them their raison d'etre. For all their rhetorical efforts to dodge the charge, history cannot possibly avoid the judgment that they were allies of Saddam Hussein. The left chose the wrong battle, and comprehensively lost it. Saddam fell; Blair survived challenges to his leadership; much of Europe lined up with America; John Howard won re-election; Bush won re-election; the Republicans gained more power than at any time since the 1920s. Many of the left's most conscientious and eloquent members-- Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel-- were driven to desertion by the perversity of the anti-war movement. Now the Nelson Mandelas of Iraq-- courageous and articulate democrats like Iraq the Model-- are on the other side of the fence, and the only ones on the side the anti-war movement took are regime loyalists, terrorists, and journalists (with their myopia for blood).

If the ICC is to do any good for the world, Iraq will have to serve as its model. Will the ICC serve to stop murderous dictators, or will it tie the US's hands in the world by menacing US businessmen and military personnel with arrest? Likely, both. And I may take the ICC's side in the future, for all my nervousness about it, particularly if America ceases to be a force for good in the world. If John Kerry had been elected, I would now be welcoming external forces that reduce American power.]

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