When Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's troops were butchering more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslims at a United Nations safe haven in 1995, Dutch U.N. soldiers looked on passively. In fact pretty much the whole world looked on passively. A year earlier when Rwandan Hutus were taking machetes to the minority Tutsi population, the Belgian U.N. troops made a sad mockery of the old adage "women and children first" as they pushed aside frightened and doomed Tutsis. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Clinton Administration fussed over semantics: there have been acts of the genocide, State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly muttered inarticulately, but not genocide.
Ironically a year earlier the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington had opened its doors with a dozen windy speeches -- including one by President Clinton -- all pretty much saying the same thing: Never again.
Never again, that is, unless you happen to be a Rwandan Tutsi or a Bosnian Muslim, or are today a Christian or pagan in Darfur where militias from the Sunni Muslim north have been systematically killing, displacing, and starving those in the Christian south.
Now, a decade later, the geniuses at the U.N. have thought up a new plan to end genocide forever. The anti-genocide pact, expected to be tabled at this week's U.N. Summit in New York, seems like a swell idea: an international agreement that would oblige member states to intervene when there is evidence of genocide and war crimes, and when a country's government proves unwilling or unable to stop large-scale atrocities. The pact, the relief organization Oxfam says, could prevent atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide.
A great idea, that is, until one recalls that there already is an anti-genocide pact in effect. It's called the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (U.N. Genocide Convention for short), signed in 1948, while the ashes of the Holocaust were still smoldering. The convention, the brainchild of Rafael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who came up with the term genocide, requires all participating countries to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and peacetime.
How effective has the U.N. Genocide Convention been? Two weeks into the Rwandan genocide the U.N. Security Council met to discuss pulling U.N. troops out of Rwanda. In one of those charming historical coincidences it was the murderous Rwandan Hutu government's turn to sit on the Security Council and decide the fate of the U.N. presence in its country. Throughout the entire session not a word was said about the Rwandan genocide. Not surprisingly the council voted unanimously to withdraw the troops, guaranteeing the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi civilians.
NOW THE U.N. IS ASKING that the U.S. put its John Hancock (the cliche is appropriate, for once) on another ineffectual, worthless document so that when the next genocide occurs the culpability can be spread around a bit more democratically.
The Bush Administration is being blamed, as usual, for diluting the agreement, and has been tossed into the same pool as rogue states like Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Cuba, Iran and Syria -- states that are actively seeking to scuttle the pact.
"[The U.S. is] trying to water it down because it seems they don't want any automatic or compulsory agreement that countries must act," Brendan Cox, a senior Oxfam official, tells me. "Clearly we disagree with this analysis and argue that in cases such as Rwanda, that sort of wiggle room means millions are killed."
If there is one thing governments have in surplus it is wiggle room. Just as the Clinton Administration avoided involvement in Rwanda by simply refusing to call a genocide a genocide, so too will future governments employ semantics and vagaries to avoid "foreign entanglements."
Can anyone really blame the Bush Administration for not wanting to be told what to do by an impotent organization run by con men and Oil-for-Food crooks; one that counts among its voting members representatives of the Axis of Evil? As for its effectiveness, one conservative T-shirt pretty much sums up the U.N.'s track record: "Genocidal Dictators, beware our non-binding resolutions!" Too frivolous? Then how about this sketch of U.N. competence by former Assistant Secretary of State James Woods: "Under the U.N. you get your throat cut, you get mutilated, you can't defend yourself, you're put in harm's way, and this is another reason you wouldn't want to get identified with a U.N. operation."
The fact is the U.N. is like a large metropolitan high school full of envious and disenchanted brats, where our friends treat us like enemies, and our allies pretend they don't know us.
Not surprisingly the media has happily picked up on the U.S.'s reluctance to sign the pact as another example of a malevolent and egotistic superpower stubbornly maintaining its go-it-alone stance. Fortunately nearly half of Americans believe the U.S. is right not to trust the U.N. to do the right thing. An Excite Poll found 47 percent of Americans said the U.S. should refuse to sign the pact. (Compared to 42 percent in favor.) Enlightened Americans, anyway, know that if it were up to the U.N., Saddam Hussein would still be gassing his own people and invading foreign countries, and may very well have acquired nukes from North Korea by now.
More Americans are also coming round to the position that the U.S. is indeed better off going it alone. Mark Steyn, in his new book America Alone, argues that with the anti-Americanism that fuels both Old Europe and radical Islam, America will have no choice but to stand alone. The world will be divided between America and the rest, Steyn writes, and for our sake America had better win.
THE THEORY OF AMERICAN "exceptionalism" may be regarded by our so-called allies as egoism, but inwardly, they are relieved to have the U.S. fighting their battles for them.
"The reason that we so often must stand by ourselves is that the United States really is different," writes foreign policy analyst Victor Davis Hanson. "Our Constitution singularly preserves the sanctity of the individual; American culture is truly a revolutionary society that has empowered millions of free and freed peoples without regard for religion, race, or background -- and so unleashed economic and military power never before seen. The common anti-American slurs of 'exceptionalism' and 'unilateralism' are, in fact, compliments of the highest order."
According to Hanson, America going it alone (with occasional support from the UK) has been the rule, not the exception for the past 60 years:
Remember that in all the recent crises of the past, America has stood nearly alone. By 1942, Europe and most of Asia were fascist, the other continents neutral at best. England was our sole democratic ally. During the Cold War -- despite periodic appeasement in Europe and the venom of the elite left -- the U.S. stopped the spread of Soviet communism and finally bankrupted its murderous hegemony. In neither case did the League of Nations or the United Nations offer much assistance; both passed sanctimonious resolutions while millions were butchered in silence by Hitler, Tojo, Stalin, and Mao. Our recent encounter with Milosevic was thus predictable.
When U.S. leaders believe that America is exceptional only in its culpability the world is ripe for more Somalias, Rwandas, Srebrenicas, and Darfurs, with belated apologies to follow. For the first time since the Reagan Administration, our leaders seem to believe that America has the moral standing as well as a moral obligation to spread democracy and fight all forms of fascism and totalitarianism. What a bonus if our president were able to confidently and succinctly express that exceptionalism, and maybe even put it into effect in Darfur. The sad fact is America is exceptional only when it has exceptional leadership.
One more thing. Rather than the dreary daily tally of American servicemen killed by sniper and roadside bomb, it would be interesting just once to estimate how many innocent lives America and Britain have saved since Saddam's prisons and torture chambers were shut down, to say nothing of the losses had he acquired nukes. Once again a bumper sticker sums up the global situation much better than any tosh delivered from the pulpit of the U.N.: "If this is a real emergency, please hang up and dial America."
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