Truthdig! - March 16, 2020

"... empires, like the United States, which peddle in exceptionalism, triumphalism, and chauvinism are, historically, the world’struerogue states."

Exceptionalism, triumphalism, chauvinism. These characteristics define most empires, including, like it or not, these United States. The sequence matters. A people and national government that fancies itself exceptional — an example for the rest of the world — is apt to assert itself militarily, economically, and culturally around the globe. If that self-righteous state happens to possess prodigious power, as the U.S. has since the Second World War, then any perceived success will lead to a sense of triumphalism, and thus put into motion a feedback loop whereby national “achievement” justifies and validates that conception of exceptionalism.

Then the exceptionalist-triumphalist power inevitably runs off-the-rails, and — especially when it feels threatened or insecure — lashes out in fits of aggressive military, economic, religious, or racial chauvinism. This cycle tends to replay again and again until the empire collapses, usually through some combination of external power displacement and internal exhaustion or collapse.

Such imperial hyper-powers, particularly in their late-stages, often employ foot soldiers across vast swathes of the planet, and eventually either lose control of their actions or aren’t concerned with their resultant atrocities in the first place. On that, the jury is perhaps still out. Regardless, the discomfiting fact is that by nearly any measure, the United States today coheres, to a remarkable degree, with each and every one of these tenets of empire evolution. This includes, despite the hysterical denials of sitting political and Pentagon leaders, the troubling truth that American soldiers and intelligence agents have committed war crimes across the Greater Middle East since 9/11 on a not so trivial number of occasions. These law of war violations also occurred during the Cold War generation — notably in Korea and Vietnam — and the one consistent strain has been the almost complete inability or unwillingness of the U.S. Government to hold perpetrators, and their enabling commanders, accountable.

Enter the International Criminal Court (ICC). First proposed, conceptually, in 1919 (and again in 1937, 1948, and 1971), in response to massive war crimes and human rights violations of the two world wars, the Hague-headquartered court finally opened for business in 2002. With more than 120 signatory member states (though not, any longer, the U.S.) the ICC has the jurisdiction to prosecute international violations including “genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.” A compliment, rather than a replacement, to sovereign national justice systems, the ICC is designed to be the “court of last resort,” obliged to exercise jurisdiction only when a nation’s courts prove unwilling or unable to prosecute such crimes.

All of which sounds both admirable and unthreatening (at least to reasonably well-behaved states with accountable, responsive justice systems), but to the contemporary American imperial hyper-power, the very existence of the ICC is viewed as a mortal threat. Matters demonstrably came to a head this past week when an ICC appeals court reversed a lower-level decision and allowed its special prosecutor — whose visa Washington has already revoked — to simply open an official investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan by all three major parties to the conflict: the Taliban, U.S., and U.S.-backed Kabul-based Afghan government. This decidedly mild decision, which only allows a multi-directional inquiry, unleashed an immediate firestorm in Washington.

The reflexive reactions and responses of current and former Trump officials was both instructive and totally in line with decades worth of bipartisan U.S. disavowal of the very notion of international norms and standards. Trump’s recent hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton — now an MSNBC-DNC darling for his apparent critique of the president in a new memoir — has spearheaded opposition to the ICC since its inception, has asserted that the ICC is “illegitimate,” and that the U.S. Government “will not sit quietly,” if “the court comes after us.” After the most recent ruling, Secretary of State (and former director of the very CIA that is likely to be implicated in said war crimes investigation) Mike Pompeo declared the ruling a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body,” adding, threateningly, that “we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, unlawful, so-called court.” ...
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