Beware the “Violating Sovereignty” Trope

Given the prevalence of the myth with regards to the International Criminal Court (ICC), I probably shouldn’t be surprised at the silly paranoia unleashed by this Washington Times editorial. In brief, the editorial recycles the bogus claim that joining the ICC would be tantamount to relinquishing U.S. sovereignty, while adding some entirely specious claims — interspersed with petty potshots — that the Obama Administration has “provide[d] a wholehearted endorsement” of the Court and has “gone further than any other previous administration in empowering the ICC.”

Notwithstanding the historic support that the Bush Administration demonstrated for the ICC in its final months in office — at least by the standards set by his first term, during which he “unsigned” the treaty establishing the Court — the new president has categorically not “endorsed” joining the ICC. In fact, while he has stressed the importance of the Court’s work in Darfur — which the Times editorial also, seemingly unwittingly, praises — and while there may be hopeful signs that his administration is more open to negotiating the treaty than its predecessor, Obama has been careful to take exactly the cautious step that the Times advises, expressing no intention to join the Court immediately.

No, what is more disturbing than the editorial’s errors in fact is the careless way with which it flaunts the rhetorical victory that ICC opponents have unfortunately achieved over the years. By promulgating fears that signing international agreements and joining international institutions will ipso facto “transgress the nation’s sovereignty” and undermine its security, these voices have sealed their identity as protectors of universally esteemed concepts like sovereignty and security, while casting the ICC in the role of the villainous usurper of these values. The image this rhetoric conjures is one of “tying America into another international knot,” a reluctant and painful decision that conveys no benefits and brings only headaches — or, at the myth’s most frantic, a practical invasion of the homeland.

The coup of this nefarious messaging strategy lies in the direct (and entirely fabricated) opposition that it creates between U.S. interests and those of the ICC. Rather than acknowledging and working within the common goals and benefits of the two — bringing war criminals to justice, say — opponents instead choose the route of fictitious fear-mongering, playing on imaginative extreme scenarios to create a world where the purpose of the ICC is not to prosecute crimes against humanity, but — in an almost laughable bit of hubris — to insidiously corrode America’s power, freedoms, and way of life. The example chosen by the Times editorial is proof of how fanciful this caricature has become.

Some of the world’s most egregarious human-rights violaters have called for indictments against a U.S. president, military leaders, corporate executives, and others under outlandish interpretations of “law.”

So, because Hugo Chavez spouts anti-American rants, President Bush, General Petraeus, and Bill Gates — and others! Get that? Maybe you! — are going to be hauled before The Hague. Unfortunately for those who have peddled such a fantastical agenda, the ICC operates on the codes of international justice — not the whims of bloviating dictators.