Happy Inauguration Day, Mr. Bush!


Congratulations to George W. Bush! He is a lucky man. The vote for our new President was so close that victory could be claimed by almost any group, from parakeet owners to absentee landlords at Forest Lawn.

But the newest pressure group in American politics can make an unusually strong claim for the credit. Millions of Arab-American and Muslim voters supported Bush by a huge margin, and a single Arab-American citizen, Ralph Nader, was the real, though unintentional, swing-and-kingmaker of the election. The Jewish vote, of course, went overwhelmingly to the Democrats as usual, and Arab-Americans are expected to outvote them by the year 2010.

So one might expect the new administration, with oilman Bush at the helm, to tilt towards Arabia. But Bush has selected of veterans of the Iraq war for VP and secretary of state, giving the Arab world more cause for pause than joy. The new line-up signals business as usual – the USA will go its own way, the UN, the EU and any other alphabets be damned.

Yet according to one minority view, today’s underdogs may have the last laugh someday. If world organizations ever break away from American domination, the US could truly have hell to pay.

Already our closest allies, the British, are a problem. They are known for their perennial soft spot for animals, good on bank holidays even for children. UK public opinion is queasy about the cold-blooded massacres of the young by US-armed troops in the old Palestine mandate, and the devastation of a generation by economic warfare on Iraq. The UN has definitively voted our client state Israel guilty of crimes against humanity, or genocide as defined by the Nuremburg tribunal.

In 1998 virtually the entire world voted to set up a permanent war crimes tribunal, the ICC, or International Criminal Court. Only half a dozen “rogue” regimes voted Nay – and the only Western “reticent old gentleman” was Uncle Sam, with Israel in tow. On behalf of the US foreign policy establishment, Sen. Jesse Helms instructed the Senate to “veto” the treaty, as it would limit our officials’ “liberty of action” in repressing rebellion if Israel attacks its neighbors again. With such memos around, our ruling elite might someday succumb to the fate of Hitler’s henchmen, hung at Nuremburg by their own detailed paper trail.

The American establishment obviously thinks that “combating terrorism” is an end that justifies absolutely any means, no matter how brutal. Recently a mainstream British newspaper, The Independent, published an indignant editorial against the recommendations of the CSIS, the Center for Strategic International Studies. This Washington-based, taxpayer-supported establishment think tank aired a “draft” document detailing criminal tactics like torture expected of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority to prove its sincerity in “combating terrorism”.

The USA is surely the nation that most insists on extraterritoriality, the application of our laws abroad. For example, foreign branches of US firms must obey US laws against bribery, even in regions where corruption is endemic. You can sue a foreign government in your state or federal courts for equal protection abroad. But can you sue the US for bombing you offshore? This “clean hands at home – dirty tricks abroad” syndrome is a glaring contradiction to our precedents of extraterritoriality, and that could backfire in a big way.

What is there to keep American relatives of a kid killed in Gaza from filing murder charges against the US and Israeli governments in their county court, or banding together in a class action suit? For the moment, the laws on sovereign immunity take precedence, but law is evolving and the trend is for basic rights to prevail.

How ironic that on New Year’s eve, Mr. Bush got a nicely wrapped present to match his gift of a throne from Arab-Americans. It is a Sword of Damocles from Bill Clinton: the US signature on the International War Crimes Treaty.

Make good use of your gifts, Mr. President.

Mr. John-Paul Leonard is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)