Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We Should Do the Sovereign Thing

Monday, April 21, 2008 brought with it the news that The United States of America and the French Republic were drafting a United Nations resolution authorizing governments to chase and arrest pirates operating off the coast of that despondently ever-failing and chaotic African entity going by the name Somalia. This development came after a rise in the frequency of incidents - including a recent one which caused the price of a barrel of oil to go up significantly - after years of piratical events being more or less tolerated by the international community, except when dumb pirates chose the wrong moment to hijack a ship and had the United States Navy suddenly - to the luck of intended victims - intervene.

One who pays little attention to news events, or gives the United Nations the benefit of the doubt, might be encouraged by a combined effort by Washington and Paris to address the issue. Even I, educated skeptic that I am, have to admit I'm slightly pleased. But only slightly.

What ever happened to sovereignty, that old fashioned principle by which nations were accorded the right to make and carry out decisions for themselves? By my observation, in our modern times the United Nations and other international entities (not to mention even certain American political parties) only see oppressive, dictatorial regimes as the rightful possessors of sovereignty; countries where representative government - in some form - exists and all citizens are theoretically equal under the law see their sovereignty no longer recognized. While dictatorships are permitted to keep in their country whomever they want, democracies can no longer be so picky when it comes to who they let in...we're just supposed to let in
everybody, regardless of their respect for or understanding of domestic laws concerning our borders.

In the early 1800s, the American Republic did not need the permission of any other country or organization to go to war against the "Barbary States", whose pirates (the real kind...hardly the Johnny Depp romanticized versions) had for years afflicted international shipping and exacted tribute from supposedly strong, sovereign nations in Europe. These were the pirates, you may remember, who upon capturing non-Muslim sailors enslaved them. These were the Muslim pirates who conducted war not because there was any occupation by a "Western nation" of Muslim lands, but due to the concept of "al-jihad fil-bahr", in English "the holy war at sea" (I've written about this in a couple of previous blog postings). When going to war against Muslim terrorists 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson sought only the support of Congress - there was, after all, no corrupt international organization (such as the United Nations) to genuflect to at the time.

But these days, for the benefit of nations that wish us more ill than health, this so-called "superpower" known officially as
The United States of America willingly submits itself to the superpower kryptonite that is the United Nations...paying a hefty burden of the UN's tab for the privilege of being insulted by feted dictators before an applauding General Assembly. As if that weren't enough, New York City time and again gets cheated out of millions of dollars in unpaid traffic violation fines racked up by visiting UN delegates (ain't diplomatic immunity grand?). This means, basically, that even with the most powerful Navy in the history of mankind, the American government must first beg for permission to defend our interests - among them, maintaining the "Freedom of the Seas" - rather than do "the sovereign thing," which if you ask me, worked pretty well for us in the past.

Imagine a world in which, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had to first seek the permission or support of the United Nations Security Council before taking retaliatory action? Thank God such wasn't the case, though the United Nations did come into existence around that time...the difference being, it wasn't the name of an organization so much as an alliance of countries opposed to the Axis powers.

Despite the best efforts of the Arab League, European Union and Russian Federation, the State of Israel doesn't wait for UN permission to bomb rocket-launching sites in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Thank God for that, too, though Prime Minister Olmert & Co. don't instill me with confidence in their ability to defend the Jewish state.

These pirates making "mischief" off the coast of Somalia don't care one way or the other what the UN thinks - whether the organization supports or opposes them, they'll keep doing what they're doing anyway...and endangering lives in the process. If they have no qualms operating outside of the arbitrary legal strictures set in place by the United Nations, we should have no qualms circumventing the Useless Nuisance ourselves and exercising our sovereign right to...well, quite frankly, to do what we feel is right. What we know to be right. This, after all, is our sovereign right.

I understand, mind you, the current belief that the international system as it now stands provides something akin to societal and diplomatic stability in an otherwise chaotic world. But claiming that we must always go through the United Nations' diplomatic channels before military actions can gain legitimacy is a cop-out, an excuse made by those too scared to confront - or even recognize the existence of - the various Big and Small Bads out there needing to be confronted by America (who else will confront them? Remember the "Barbary Pirates" example). Not every issue facing the United States needs to be referred to a committee first...this is especially so when that "committee" has a known anti-American bias.

Sometimes you have to operate outside of the law (in this case, "international law") in order for that law to be upheld for the people and kept by those who serve them. Why is it only comic book writers and illustrators seem to be the ones who have, decade after decade, truly and consistently understood this reality? Batman consults with Commissioner Gordon - but doesn't seek permission from Gordon to act. One acts outside the system, and the other acts from within the system itself. The goal is the same - only the methods, motivations and tools differ.

In general - not just when it comes to dealing with pirates off the Somalian coast - we should "do the sovereign thing" and let the rest of the world whine about it to their heart's content. Why? Other countries will thank us later...more often than not, they'll see we acted in their interests as well as our own. Even if they do so begrudgingly, even if they do so clandestinely, they will thank us. They say they don't want the U.S. to be the world's policeman, yet they also don't want to do the job of upholding international law and order themselves. Well...

Well, I'm sorry, but someone's gotta do it - you can't just talk about doing it, and expect everything to be hunky-dory...wait, I take that back.

Actually, you can...if you're at the UN!

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