Double Standards in Modern Politics
1.3 International Law
The International Court of Justice
The United Nations plays an important role in the establishment of international law. Israel is confronted with many new issues where international law falls dramatically short in meeting reality. In this area as well, Israel has become an indicator of the failures of Western society.
Yehuda Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, says that some fields of international law have greatly assisted society at large. He mentions as examples the law of diplomatic relations, the Law of the Sea, and the Law of Treaties. Blum adds:
One field where international law has failed in recent years is where it relates to the use of force. Its main weakness concerns the law of war, belligerent occupation, and so forth. Since these are usually acute problems, they highlight contemporary international law's weakness.
Another major failure of international law is to cope with the recent international terrorism. International law is premised on the existence of states, which are bound by its norms. In this particular case, we are confronted with a different phenomenon: armed groups perpetrating many crimes without any state taking responsibility for their actions.
There is often no possibility to hold any particular state accountable for these actions. Al-Qaeda is like an octopus, which has spread its tentacles all over the world. It was headquartered in Afghanistan where it has been disposed of. International law has been unable to develop the necessary adjustments to this novel situation.
Blum adds that for many decades the Europeans have been unwilling to confront the new reality of terrorism. "It started with hijacking of planes and the kidnapping of their passengers in 1969. At that time because it was an El Al airliner, there was little concern among the Europeans about the outcome." He adds that Israel has been at odds with Europe on matters concerning international law for several decades. "I think that the major sticking point in our relationship with the Europeans is their lack of ability or willingness to understand the perils of the current situation."
Two Types of International Law
International lawyer Meir Rosenne, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and France, expresses an even stronger opinion: "There are two types of international law. One is applied to Israel, the other to all other states. This comes to the fore when one looks at the way Israel is treated in international institutions."
One finds this attitude also in many aspects of customary practice. In 2004 at the Athens Olympics the International Olympic Committee did not commemorate the murder of the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A private ceremony of the Israeli ambassador to Greece in Athens was all there was. The president of the Olympic Committee attended, but not the Olympic Committee as such. And this was their attitude despite what happened on September 11, 2001.
Rosenne mentions as a typical example of international law's double standards the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the Israeli security fence. "In its judgment the Hague court decided that the inherent right of self-defense is enforced only if one is confronted by a state. If this were true, that would mean that whatever the United States undertakes against Al-Qaeda is illegal. This cannot be considered self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter because Al-Qaeda is not a state."
2. US double standards at home and abroad
2.1 Double standards at home and abroad
The Bush administration is attempting to soothe the Turkish government’s apoplectic reaction to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s label of “genocide” on Turkey’s slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, which occurred almost a century ago. The administration fears that an enraged Turkish ally, already threatening to invade northern Iraq in order to suppress armed Turkish Kurd rebels seeking refuge there, will also cut off U.S. access to Turkish air bases and roads used to re-supply U.S. forces in Iraq. The administration essentially wants to allow the Turks to continue to deny a historical fact that preceded even the existence of the current Turkish system of government.
Similarly, the United States has never been too enthusiastic about criticizing Japan’s denial of having used Chinese and South Korean women as sex slaves (so-called “comfort women”) during World War II. More generally, the United States never really says too much when the current Japanese government regularly tries to whitewash in school textbooks the atrocious conduct of the Imperial Japanese regime before and during World War II. Again, a principal ally who does not face up to important historical facts is not reproved.
Yet the administration is still repeatedly bringing up Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s December, 2005 denial of the historical fact of the Jewish holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. That’s because the U.S. government chooses to get along a lot less with the Iranian government (than it does with the governments of Turkey and Japan); because Israel, Iran’s nemesis, is a U.S. ally; and because the administration can win points with its domestic Israeli lobby.
In the same vein, the administration is supposed to be supporting the expansion of democracy overseas—that’s why the United States invaded Iraq, right?—but does so only in less friendly countries, not close allies. The United States has pressured weaker Arab countries near Israel to hold elections and make democratic reforms, for example, among the Palestinians and Lebanese, but it has not pressured Israel to remove the second-class citizenship of the Arab population living within its borders. The administration has aided opposition forces in Iran, even though the groups don’t want the support, while making only half-hearted attempts to democratize its autocratic allies in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Of course, the United States doesn’t really need to coddle despotic regimes just to win their lukewarm support for the “war on terror,” their promise not to attack Israel, or their agreement to pump oil which their own economic interest would cause them to sell on the world market anyway. But neither does it need to meddle in the internal affairs of adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.
But if the United States were to have the same standard for all countries—both friend and foe—and join the international community in identifying and strongly condemning all documented cases of genocide, other war crimes, and repressive behavior by all countries, then perhaps there would be a chance that history might not be repeated.
First though, the United States needs to clean up its own act. Other countries may have acted terribly in the past, but U.S. citizens should not be blinded to the sins of their own government. Since World War II, in terms of numbers of military adventures, the United States has been the most aggressive country in the world. And many such interventions cannot be blamed on the need to combat international communism. Even after the United States’ major foe—the Soviet Union—collapsed, the U.S. expanded its informal empire and stepped up military activities across the globe. The United States bombed Serbia and Kosovo; invaded Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice); and intervened in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Furthermore, the United States has kidnapped people and illegally rendered them to secret prisons in countries where torture is perpetrated, or simply had the CIA or U.S. military do the honors. These prisoners have been denied both the rights of prisoners of war and the rights of the accused that the U.S. Constitution guarantees—for example, their right to challenge detention using a writ of Habeas Corpus. It’s likely that a substantial portion of these inmates are innocent.
If the United States is going to criticize other countries’ behavior, both historical and current, it should eliminate the double standard at home and abroad, and clean up its own act first.
2.2 American exceptionalism and common criticism
American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among the nations of the worldin terms of its national credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions and unique origins. The roots of the belief are attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, who claimed that the then-50-year-old United States held a special place among nations, because it was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy.
The theory of American exceptionalism has a number of opponents, especially from the Left, who argue that the belief is "self-serving and jingoistic" (see slavery, civil rights and social welfare issues, "Western betrayal", and the failure to aid Jews fleeing the Nazis), that it is based on a myth, and that "[t]here is a growing refusal to accept" the idea of exceptionalism both nationally and internationally.
Criticism of United States foreign policy encompasses a wide range of sentiments about its actions and policies over time.
Support of dictatorships. The US has been criticized for supporting dictatorships with economic assistance and military hardware. Particular dictatorships have included Musharraf of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran, Museveni of Uganda, the Saudi Royal family, Maoist regimes in China,warlords in Somalia, President Museveni of Uganda.
Opposition to independent nationalism. The US has been criticized by Noam Chomsky for opposing nationalist movements in foreign countries, including social reform.
Interference in internal affairs. The United States was criticized for manipulating the internal affairs of foreign nations, including Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, various countries in Africa including Uganda.
Support of Israel. The US has been accused of condoning actions by Israel against Palestinians.
Democracy promotion. Some critics argue that America's policy of advocating democracy may be ineffective and even counterproductive. In World On Fire, Yale professor Amy Chua suggested that promotion of democracy in developing countries is not always a good idea since it may result in breeding ethnic hatred and global instability. Zbigniew Brzezinski declared that "[t]he coming to power of Hamas is a very good example of excessive pressure for democratization" and argued that George W. Bush's attempts to use democracy as an instrument against terrorism were risky and dangerous. Analyst Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agreed that imposing democracy "from scratch" was unwise, and didn't work. Realist critics such as George F. Kennan argued U.S. responsibility is only to protect its own citizens and that Washington should deal with other governments on that basis alone; they criticize president Woodrow Wilson's emphasis on democratization and nation-building although it wasn't mentioned in Wilson's Fourteen Points, and the failure of the League of Nations to enforce international will regarding Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in the 1930s. Realist critics attacked the idealism of Wilson as being ill-suited for weak states created at the Paris Peace Conference. Others, however, criticize the U.S. Senate's decision not to join the League of Nations which was based on isolationist public sentiment as being one cause for the organization's ineffectiveness.
Imperialism. According to Newsweek reporter Fareed Zakaria, the Washington establishment has "gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement" and added "This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy." Allies were critical of a unilateral sensibility to US foreign policy, and showed displeasure by voting against the US in the United Nations in 2001.
Hypocrisy. The US has been criticized for making statements supporting peace and respecting national sovereignty, but military actions such as in Grenada, fomenting a civil war in Colombia to break off Panama, and Iraq run counter to its assertions. The US has advocated free trade but protects local industries with import tariffs on foreign goods such as lumber and agricultural products. The US has advocated concern for human rights but refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US has publicly stated that it is opposed to torture, but has been criticized for condoning it in the School of the Americas. The US has advocated a respect for national sovereignty but supports internal guerrilla movements and paramilitary organizations, such as the Contras in Nicaragua.The US has been criticized for voicing concern about narcotics production in countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela but doesn't follow through on cutting certain bilateral aid programs. The US has been criticized for not maintaining a consistent policy; it has been accused of denouncing human rights abuses in China while supporting rights violations by Israel. However, some defenders argue that a policy of rhetoric while doing things counter to the rhetoric was necessary in the sense of realpolitik and helped secure victory against the dangers of tyranny and totalitarianism. Another agrees.
Undermining of human rights. President Bush has been criticized for neglecting democracy and human rights by focusing exclusively on an effort to fight terrorism. The US was criticized for alleged prisoner abuse at Guantбnamo Bay, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, according to Amnesty International. In response, the US government claimed incidents of abuse were isolated incidents which did not reflect U.S. policy.
American exceptionalism. There is a sense in which America sometimes sees itself as qualitatively different from other countries and therefore cannot be judged by the same standard as other countries; this sense is sometimes termed American exceptionalism. A writer in Time Magazine in 1971 described American exceptionalism as "an almost mystical sense that America had a mission to spread freedom and democracy everywhere." American exceptionalism is sometimes linked with hypocrisy; for example, the US keeps a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons while urging other nations not to get them, and justifies that it can make an exception to a policy of non-proliferation. When the United States didn't support an