Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Yesterday I posed the question of whether the Bush Administration might block the U.N. Security Council from referring the matter of crimes against humanity in Darfur to the International Criminal Court without offering an alternative with a chance of stopping the killing. If Nicholas Kristof, writing in tomorrow's New York Times, is correct (and he usually is), the Bush Administration is moving strongly in that direction:

Two weeks ago, President Bush gave an impassioned speech to the world about the need to stand for human freedom.

But this week, administration officials are skulking in the corridors of the United Nations, trying desperately to block a prosecution of Sudanese officials for crimes against humanity.

It's not that Mr. Bush sympathizes with the slaughter in Darfur. In fact, I take my hat off to Mr. Bush for doing more than most other world leaders to address ethnic cleansing there--even if it's not nearly enough. Mr. Bush has certainly done far more than Bill Clinton did during the Rwandan genocide.

But Mr. Bush's sympathy for Sudanese parents who are having their children tossed into bonfires shrivels next to his hostility to the organization that the U.N. wants to trust with the prosecution: the International Criminal Court. Administration officials so despise the court that they have become, in effect, the best hope of Sudanese officials seeking to avoid accountability for what Mr. Bush himself has called genocide.

Mr. Bush's worry is that if the International Criminal Court is legitimized, American officials could someday be dragged before it. The court's supporters counter that safeguards make that impossible. Reasonable people can differ about the court, but for Mr. Bush to put his ideological opposition to it over the welfare of the 10,000 people still dying every month in Darfur--that's just madness.

Columnists for the New York Times don't ordinarily use words like "madness" to describe a president's policies. Kristof is right to do so, though. The arguments against the ICC cannot begin to justify a policy that might mean impunity for Sudan's killers. This is especially true given the fact that, internationally, the Bush Administration has lost the argument over the ICC. It's a done deal. The United States can no longer prevent its creation.

So now the strategy appears to be to sabotage the Court in any manner possible. Unbelievable.

Today I have to pose a new question: What happened to Condoleezza Rice's promise during her confirmation hearings--just two weeks ago--to build better relationships with the rest of the world?

Another question seems pertinent: How long will the rest of the world put up with American petulance?

[Update: I seem to be behind the curve on this story. According to Human Rights Watch, last week U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues Pierre Prosper presented to members of the Security Council a proposal for a new ad hoc tribunal for Darfur because, he said, "We don't want to be party to legitimizing the ICC." It doesn't get much plainer than that.]