1994, Madeleine Albright, then UN Ambassador, informed the UN Security
Council during a 1994 discussion about Iraq that America “will behave, with
others, multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must” (Middle
East International [London], Oct. 21, 1994, p. 4).
her fancy way of saying that the United States will play by international
rules only when its policymakers feel that it serves American imperial
interests to do so. When those rules produce unwelcome outcomes for what
Albright later called “the indispensable nation,” then we “can't” play along
and “must” follow our own path.
It's worth looking at the full formulation that contained that
characterization of the USA:
”If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the
indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”
(NBC Today show, February 19, 1998)
An interesting example of Albright's stunningly narcissistic nationalism and
selective legalism came in 1986. For forty years prior to that year, The
New York Times recently reported, “the United States accepted the
general jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice [the principal
judicial arm of the United Nations, P.S.] in all kinds of cases against
other nations that had also agreed to the court's jurisdiction.” But when
the IJC, located at The Hague, ruled against U.S. mining of Nicaragua's
harbors in 1986, “the United States withdrew from the court's general
It didn't like the umpire's ruling so it took its ball and went home.
Another interesting example of selective imperial legalism and stunning
national arrogance in defiance of The Hague was presented for our
consideration last week. Once again the primary victims are Central
Americans. This time, however, they are caught within United States
territory -- inside the nation's burgeoning state prisons and more
specifically within our country's heavily populated and very
disproportionately nonwhite death rows. The policy that “must” be defended
in this case is capital punishment -- the state's right to kill.
I am referring to the State Department's announcement last Wednesday that
America will withdraw from an international protocol that lets the ICJ hear
disputes under a treaty called The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
This treaty gives people arrested outside their home nation states the right
to contact their national consulates.
It was one of 70 treaties for which the United States was willing to
acknowledge the continuing authority of the ICJ even though we withdrew from
that court's jurisdiction 18 years ago.
Now we only recognize the ICJ's authority in 69 treaties. That's because the
ICJ ruled last year that 51 Mexican citizens on American death rows deserved
new hearings since they were denied the right to contact their national
consulates after they were arrested in the U.S.
Well, we're out of that treaty. The White House got us free from that one
just in time, before the insufficiently fascist Supreme Court hears the case
of José Ernesto Medellín, a Mexican on death row in Texas, on March 28.
Medellin is asking the high court to enforce last year's judgment of the
The Supreme Court is considered unreliable in implementing the degree of
state repression that the proto-fascist Bushcons see as appropriate for the
post-9/11 era. The irony, noted by a law professor quoted in
The New York Times story
that reports the recent White House action is that “international
adjudication is an important tool” for serious anti-terrorism activity
across national boundaries in the “post-Cold War, post-9/11 world.”
But then, as Noam Chomsky has noted, the real purpose of US policy is
Hegemony, not Survival. (Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global
Dominance, Metropolitan, 2003): unlimited freedom at home and abroad for
a state that “stands tall” enough to hear God speak on the virtue of the
state's right to kill.
Paul Street is a writer and researcher
in Chicago, Illinois. His book, Empire and Inequality: America and the
World Since 9/11 is available from
Paradigm Publishers. His newest book, Segregated Schools: Race, Class
and Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York, NY:
Routledge-Falmer, 2005) will be available in the summer of 2005. He can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Recent Articles by Paul Street
King. Jr. and “The Triple Evils That Are Interrelated”
Motivates Us to Kill the Enemy
* Rumseld to
Troops in Iraq: “Fight Naked...Life’s a Bitch and Then YOU Die”
Apology for Dissent: Truth and Cowardice
Love, Hates, Kills, Dies
on Tape and the Broader War Criminality
* Dear Europe
* The United
States: “As Menacing to Itself and the World As Ever”
* The Fabric of
Deception and Liberal Complicity
Reflections: Resentment Abhors a Vaccum
* The 9/11
Commission Report: Bush's Negligence Didn't Happen
* Notes on
Race, Gender, and Mass Infantilization
Descending Spiral Ending in Destruction for All-Too Many”
Democratic Empire and Atrocity Denial
Predictable Failure to Make Bush Pay for Rising US Poverty
Control, Costas, the Olympics and Imperial Occupations Past and Present
* JF Kerry: “I
am Not a [Redistribution] Democrat”
* Stupid White
Men and Why Segregation Matters
* The "Vile
Maxim" Versus the Common Good: Different Approaches to November
* We Need a
New Media Relationship
States” at Home and Abroad
* Be “Part of
Something”: Sign Up With The American Empire Project
Congratulations, Mr. Bush: You Have Not Presided Over the Final Collapse of
* "Slaves Had
* Brown v.
Board Fifty Years Out: Still Separate and Unequal
* Let Them
America, Empire, and Inequality
Ferguson Speaks on the Need for Imperial Ruthlessness
A. Clarke, Rwanda, and “Narcissistic Compassion”
Honest Mistakes? The New York Times on "The Failure to Find Iraqi Weapons"
Urban Race Relations: "Everything Changed" After 9/11?
Forbidden Connections: Class, Cowardice, and War
The "Repair" of "Broken Societies" Begins at Home
Deep Poverty, Deep Deception: Facts That Matter Beneath The Imperial