Click here for a video link to Ambassador Bolton’s interview with Bloomberg Television on September 2, 2011 on Libya. The interview took place at the annual Ambrosetti Forum in Italy.
The following is a transcript from Ambassador John R. Bolton’s appearance on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom” on August 29.
Editor’s note: New reports says the man known as “The Lockerbie Bomber” is on his death bed, once again. The following is from an interview with former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Fox News Channel anchor Martha MacCallum on August 29 on “America’s Newsroom.”
MARTHA MacCALLUM, ANCHOR: We’re now told that The Lockerbie Bomber is indeed dying of cancer at his Libyan home. His brother spoke to journalists outside the home. Listen to this:
LOCKERBIE BOMBER’S BROTHER: The Lockerbie case is over. He came back to Libya because of a decision from the Scottish Justice Minister. He is a sick man.”
MacCALLUM: You know, I guess you can’t blame his brother for saying that, the family would like this to be over, they have their family member back home, and you know, it’s understandable that that’s their perspective, but a lot of people believe that since Qaddafi’s regime has fallen that maybe we would get another crack at Al Megrahi and getting him back where he belongs.
FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS/FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: JOHN BOLTON: Technically he’s still a Scottish prisoner. He’s basically out on parole, compassionate release, they call it, but you know, the terms of the deal under which he was tried under Scottish law ten years ago really were violated by Qaddafi through and through. He didn’t cooperate with the investigation. So I think it’s perfectly legitimate to look at another trial of Megrahi if we can do it before he dies.
I personally think this time the United States insist he be extradited to the United States. I think it was a mistake to agree to try him over Scottish law. Okay, that’s water over the dam but let’s get him back and see what we can do this time.
MacCALLUM: I’m reading a statement that was just released by an assistant to the first minister in Scotland and basically they’re saying this is a closed decision, they’re saying speculation about Al Megrahi in recent days has been unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed ill informed, as has always been said he is dying after terminal disease and decisions about his medical condition should be stopped there, they say they want to stop the running commentary on this issue so Scotland says this is not up for renegotiation. Who besides Scotland would we deal with if we want to force this issue and get him back to where he should be?
BOLTON: Speaking to someone whose heritage is Scottish, I have to say that that’s the most ridiculous thing, the way Scotland has conducted this is ridiculous, they don’t have the unilateral authority to make this decision.
It was a joint agreement with Britain, Scotland and the United States and they released Megrahi two years ago on the theory he was going to die in three months without adequately consulting us; I think they did it at the behest of the British, for British oil interests, but in any event, I think that now it is proper, it is appropriate, for the United States to insist to the new government, the Transitional National Council in Libya, that Megrahi be handed over to us, and I think we should have no hesitation in doing that.
MacCALLUM: But ambassador, the TNC said yesterday they see no reason to turn him over, that they will not turn over a Libyan citizen to the West, so this doesn’t say much for the TNC’s relationship with the rest of the world in terms of how it might have changed with regard to this issue to be sure.
BOLTON: Right. Well so much for gratitude. I understand this morning the transitional government has issued a retraction to that–understandably. They are still a little confused.
So I think we ought to give them a chance to make a decision to hand Megrahi over. I think this is entirely consistent with justice.
He killed 270 innocent people in cold blood, he served an average of two weeks per murder in that Scottish jail, just over ten years, before he was released. Two weeks for murder is not an adequate sentence.
I think we deserve another shot at him
MacCALLUM: A lot people, the families of those killed [on Pan Am 103] say the health–sorry to say it, but his health is really irrelevant in this case. If he dies in prison, so be it. A lot of people die in prison.
BOLTON: Yeah, look, compassion is entirely misplaced here. Think of those 259 passengers and crew on Pan Am 103, falling through the cold dark sky from 30,000 feet, then ask me why this man deserves compassion.
Check out Ambassador John Bolton’s interview with Sean Hannity on August 23, 2011. Topics include Libya and (briefly) Vice President Biden’s comments on China’s ‘one child policy.’
By John R. Bolton
Friday, July 29, 2011
While the outcome of NATO’s intervention in Libya is still uncertain, the ongoing drift toward a negotiated solution is fraught with potentially debilitating problems for the Western alliance. Ousting Qaddafi remains a possibility, and could have been achieved much earlier with swift and decisive action, but the prospects for a clear NATO victory are now quite uncertain.
The collapse of NATO’s resolve came in several stages, with the seeds planted right at the outset of the military action. First, President Obama signaled hesitancy and weakness by waiting until Qaddafi’s forces had nearly taken Benghazi , the rebels’ key stronghold, and then held NATO hostage to approval from the Arab League and the UN Security Council.
Second, after very robust U.S. participation in the opening days of the attack, Obama, demonstrating his penchant to “lead from behind,” ordered U.S. strike activity diminished almost to zero. While American forces assigned to NATO continued to provide vital command, control, intelligence and logistical support, the bulk of the strike mission fell to Britain , France and smaller NATO members, on which the strain began to show relatively quickly. America ’s hesitancy and Europe’s inadequacies have significance well beyond the constraints they imposed on the action in Libya , foreshadowing both future failures in U.S. leadership and a far broader hollowing out of Europe ’s contributions to NATO.
NATO’s credibility, in the region and globally, is already deeply wounded because this minor military operation, for ostensibly humanitarian purposes, has lasted so long with the outcome still uncertain (and Ramadan fast approaching). If NATO cannot rapidly depose a rogue like Qaddafi, why should other rogues fear the prospect of NATO intervention? Even if Qaddafi is ultimately toppled, the palpable risk is that NATO will be perceived to have stumbled in its own backyard, undercutting its ability to shape conflicts further afield, such as Afghanistan.
Third, in the wake of these military deficiencies, increasing political splits among NATO members became all too obvious. Germany was opposed from the outset, even abstaining in the Security Council with Brazil , India , and Permanent Members Russia and China on Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force. This public distancing by Europe ’s largest country demonstrated to Qaddafi at the very outset of NATO’s attacks that time was likely on his side.
Then, on July 7, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi admitted publicly that he had always been a reluctant supporter of the military effort, and had essentially been forced to give Italy ’s assent because of outside political pressure, presumably from France and Britain . Berlusconi said that his “hands were tied” once the Security Council voted to authorize force to protect innocent Libyan civilians, but that seemed only a pretext to hide an otherwise embarrassing admission of ambivalence.
Shortly thereafter, on July 20, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced that France was open to negotiation with Qaddafi, including the dramatic concession that Qaddafi could be allowed to remain in Libya if he stepped down as head of government. The rebels quickly rejected any negotiated solution that left Qaddafi in country, stressing the obvious reality that as long as he remained, he would be a threat to any successor regime. One can only wonder how France and other Western governments missed that point.
Fourth, also in July, both President Obama and the U.S. Congress, after months of inattention, complicated matters further. The House of Representatives, in essentially contradictory floor votes, could not muster a majority either to authorize U.S. military involvement or to cut off funding, thereby sending, at best, a signal of indecisiveness. Then, even worse, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton publicly supported Russia ’s proposal that it step in between NATO and Qaddafi to mediate the crisis. If implemented, such a suggestion would give Russia a potentially dominant role in shaping the post-Qaddafi government in Libya, a breathtaking “unforced error” by Washington.
Finally, the United States and NATO have yet to fashion a rebel leadership committed to establishing a successor government based on popular sovereignty and individual rights, with at least a modestly pro-Western orientation. It would be the cruelest irony if NATO’s military intervention simply substituted one group of thugs for another. Although the shape of post-Qaddafi Libya may not be as bleak as it seems on the surface, time and the West’s internal divisions work against us.
The solution is plain: NATO and the Libyan rebels must prevail militarily, ousting Qaddafi and installing a new government that will abstain from terrorism and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. An outcome where Qaddafi remains at large in Libya, in control of any part of it, or any kind of power-sharing arrangement, is simply a formula for the conflict to reignite, and probably sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, with Obama concentrated on the domestic American debate over the federal budget deficit and the ballooning national debt, and Europe ’s attention similarly diverted by the Euro’s ongoing crisis, the prospects for decisive leadership appear remote. This failure of leadership, especially on Obama’s part, will almost certainly haunt NATO well into the future, long after the “kinetic military action” in Libya has ended.
Weary NATO forces and the Libyan rebels signaled recently that they might allow Qaddafi to stay in Libya, so long as he stays out of politics.
In a press conference Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said said Britain would accept an agreement allowing Qaddafi to remain in Libya after stepping down from power.
“He must never again be able to threaten the lives of Libyan civilians nor to destabilize Libya once he has left power,” Hague said. “Obviously, leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people they no longer have to live in fear of Qaddafi. But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”
The announcement came after rebel leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil said Libya’s rebels signaled they would be willing to allow Qaddafi to stay under certain conditions.
“Whether he remains in Libya or whether he goes elsewhere, it is for Libyans to decide through a national dialogue that will be implemented under the aegis of the National Transitional Council,” Jalil told reporters, referring to the rebels’ administration.
And in July 20, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told French TV that “one of the hypotheses that’s envisioned is, indeed, that (Qaddafi) stays in Libya on the condition he very clearly leaves Libyan political life”.
The statements are a dramatic shift from earlier rhetoric. British Prime Minister David Cameron said in March that Gaddafi must be exiled. And Hillary Clinton said in April that the Libyan leader must “step down and leave Libya.”
The U.S. has ceded the brunt of military operations to its NATO allies, mostly Britain. A column by The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall laid out the challenges Britain faces moving forward.
“Public support for Nato’s open-ended military campaign in Libya, never strong to start with, is waning,” Tisdall wrote. “Nato members such as Germany refused to get involved in the first place while others, such as Norway, have curtailed active involvement. Backing from Arab League countries, militarily at least, has been disappointing, and from African states nonexistent.”
Meanwhile, what’s left of Qaddafi’s government has said it won’t sit at the bargaining table until NATO air strikes cease.
“This aggression needs to stop immediately, without that we cannot have a dialogue, we cannot solve any problems in Libya,” Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi told a news conference after talks with a visiting U.N. envoy.
John Bolton | www.bloomberg.com July 7, 2011
Confused U.S. Policy to Blame for Libya’s Muddle:
Illustration by Chris Nosenzo
Although it is sensible for the allies to remove the dangers posed by Muammar Qaddafi’s threatened return to international terrorism, to date there is little positive to say about the political leadership of the operation.
Last week, French authorities acknowledged parachuting “light weapons” (including machine guns and rocket launchers) to rebel forces in western Libya. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, immediately criticized the move, arguing that it violated a United Nations Security Council resolution from March that imposed an arms embargo on Libya.
France responded that it had authority to supply weapons to the rebels because of a subsequent council resolution authorizing military force to protect Libyan civilians, under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. China, which with Russia had abstained on that resolution, sided with Moscow. Britain, meanwhile, disclosed that it was supplying the insurgents with body armor and uniforms, having earlier acknowledged sending military advisers to Libya to assist them.
In a further development last week, Spanish officials expressed concern that weapons from forces loyal to Qaddafi were coming into the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM. Either Qaddafi was conveying the weapons directly to help the group carry out terrorist attacks against the West, or his disintegrating forces were selling their arms to finance their post-Qaddafi way of life.
Either way, AQIM capabilities are being enhanced because of the inability of the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to bring the Libyan conflict to what we used to call “victory” in the less-nuanced, less-sophisticated days before President Barack Obama took office.
These most recent signs of incoherence in our Libyan intervention underscore the broader risks of failure there. Despite efforts to reset relations with Russia, which in several cases have been little short of appeasement, Moscow remains dissatisfied with U.S. policy. Indeed, Lavrov’s recent caustic comments about the Libyan operation suggest that the Obama administration’s approach is reaping what accommodation often produces: demands for yet more accommodation. Although Beijing hasn’t yet been as vocal in its criticism, the Chinese undoubtedly perceive the same U.S. weakness and indecisiveness.
Obama set the tone for this exercise in Libya at the outset. He limited the military mission to protecting civilians; by his own admission, he waited to act until the very last minute when rebel strongholds were under imminent attack; he declared publicly there would be no U.S. “boots on the ground”; and he insisted on advance approval by the UN Security Council and the Arab League.
Then, after U.S. forces dominated the first days of the “kinetic military activity,” his administration abruptly ceased most U.S. strike missions, even as it continued to supply the logistical, operational and intelligence backbone for air operations by NATO. By pretending to abdicate to our alliance partners, we behaved as if NATO hadn’t from its inception been U.S.-led and dominated, leaving our allies shaking their heads.
On March 18, Obama expressly said he wanted Qaddafi removed from power, but that we wouldn’t use force to do so: “We are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.” This is the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which countenances force for humanitarian purposes, at least as defined by those dropping the ordnance.
Subsequently, NATO strikes have killed one of Qaddafi’s children and three of his grandchildren, and the regime claims numerous other civilians have also died. NATO has admitted to mistakenly attacking rebel convoys on more than one occasion.
Even humanitarian interventions can cause tragedies.
This inherent confusion among our stated goals, the numerous restrictions imposed on NATO forces, and Obama’s unwillingness to do what is necessary — namely, removing Qaddafi — means that the Libyan operation has no end in sight.
Here is where the self-gratifying, morally smug concept of the “responsibility to protect” unravels. The dispute between Russia and France over the terms of Security Council resolutions isn’t legalistic quibbling about almost incomprehensible UN- speak. Instead, it reflects a real disagreement over what the appropriate and necessary action is, and equally importantly, who can authorize and control it.
Violating Arms Embargo
Improbably, Moscow actually has the better analysis; the resolution authorizing force to protect civilians reaffirmed the earlier arms embargo, meaning governments must adhere to both provisions, not choose between them. France’s interpretation requires arguing that the resolutions are ambiguous or internally contradictory, though that wouldn’t be a first for the Security Council.
The lesson Russia and China will learn is that Obama’s understanding of hard power and cold steel is inadequate at best, and that his leadership is in rhetoric rather than action. They will see the Libya episode as a further signal of the decline of U.S. resolve and of our capability to act decisively in distant lands.
The lesson for the U.S. is that it shouldn’t always ask permission from foreigners when pursuing its interests, but can ask forgiveness later if necessary. That, of course, is the conclusion Obama is least likely to derive. The absence of clear U.S. leadership on Libya has produced the current impasse, both diplomatically and militarily. Although NATO should ultimately prevail, it is wrenching that our president has caused so many of the problems we now confront.
(John Bolton, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the administration of President George W. Bush, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By John R. Bolton
Last Friday’s House of Representatives vote on President Obama’s Libya policy was characterized widely as reflecting bipartisan dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama’s failure to consult with Congress. There was indeed ample Capitol Hill disagreement with his handling of Libya — for a variety of reasons — but the real story is even more troubling.
Certainly, Mr. Obama has ignored the War Powers Act, but so have all his predecessors since its enactment, and rightly so, given the statute’s manifest unconstitutionality. Undoubtedly, Mr. Obama’s approach in Libya has grown increasingly incoherent even as NATO slowly comes closer to achieving the one legitimate U.S. national security interest involved: overthrowing Col. Moammar Gadhafi .
But what was most disturbing in the legislative maneuvering before Friday’s vote – and vastly underreported by the media – was the near total absence of Mr. Obama and his White House staff from the political field of battle. Not only is the president unable to conceal his general disinterest in national security policy, but neither could he be bothered to exercise political leadership within his own party at a critical moment.
Observers across the political spectrum concurred that the proposal offered by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, harshly criticizing Mr. Obama’s handling of Libya was very likely to pass the House. To the growing dismay of the Republican House leadership, Mr. Kucinich was gathering support from an unusual coalition of members dissatisfied with the president’s Libya policy, questioning its underlying objectives, its absence of an intelligible American strategy and its flawed implementation.
Some Republicans disagreed with the Libya intervention, and others sought to show that the disarray in Mr. Obama’s Libya strategy demonstrated his general foreign-policy ineptitude. But the more fundamental problem was that House Democrats were defecting in droves from the White House, which was doing little or nothing to bring them back into line to support their president.
While passage of the Kucinich amendment would have had no operational effect because it surely would have died in the Senate, the political signal internationally would have been debilitating. Washington’s credibility and staying power would have been called immediately into question, and not just in Libya, but in Afghanistant, Iraq and elsewhere. That may be precisely what many congressional Democrats, increasingly vocal in their opposition to the war in Afghanistan, intended.
House Speaker John A. Boehner recognized the national security implications of a Kucinich victory. To head it off, Mr. Boehner crafted an alternative amendment, highly critical of Mr. Obama’s actions in Libya, to be sure, but not a text that would call into question U.S. resolve in Libya or elsewhere. Mr. Boehner’s holding action succeeded, thus buying time for the administration to get its act together on Libya. Nonetheless, Mr. Kucinich’s near success has already caused significant damage.
Mr. Obama’s incoherence on Libya exemplifies the failed approach to national security issues characterizing his administration from the outset. First, Mr. Obama’s objectives in Libya have been unclear and contradictory, and they have shifted over time. He started by declaring that the use of force was to protect Libyan civilians – not to topple Col. Gadhafi. Today, however, the obvious military objective is the removal of the Libyan leader but, apparently, not to admit it publicly, and to accomplish it slowly and ineffectively. Had Col. Gadhafi’s downfall been the initial, unambiguous objective and had Mr. Obama moved swiftly and decisively, our intervention likely would have been concluded successfully by now and we could be working to secure a pro-Western successor regime.
Second, Mr. Obama’s aversion to U.S. leadership and his decision to retreat behind the facade of NATO and the U.N. Security Council was clearly mistaken. No one was fooled about America’s continuing central role militarily, but the charade has impeded finishing the job. Mr. Obama’s weakness and indecisiveness continue to risk having Libya descend into anarchy or split into two states and undercut our credibility and commitment elsewhere.
Third, as last week’s near-debacle in the House showed regarding Libya, Mr. Obama seems unwilling to defend and explain his policies, implying a dangerous lack of confidence or interest in his own leadership. By inexplicably not attempting to rally fellow Democrats to support his actions in Libya, he risked a self-inflicted political wound that could have undermined our national security policy in many other international arenas. Even worse, particularly when it comes to impending decisions on U.S. force levels in Afghanistan, is the possibility that Mr. Obama or his White House staff actually agree more with the anti-war Democrats than with our war-fighting generals. It is as if Mr. Obama’s heart is not truly in the military effort in Afghanistan that he has commanded these past 2 1/2 years. Either explanation is deeply troubling.
Mr. Boehner and the House Republican leadership saved the Obama administration from itself last week and thereby did the country an important service. But this surely is a thankless task, one not easily replicable in the months ahead as the 2012 elections draw ever closer.
by John Bolton | The Boston Herald
Opponents of the Vietnam War — that seemingly endless, inconclusive, increasingly unpopular and ever-more-deadly and costly conflict — called it a “quagmire.” They said it was unwinnable and should never have been fought, and that America must avoid similar future wars. Today, our real risk of “quagmire” is Libya.
Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has gotten things badly wrong. By demanding Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster while restricting U.S. military force to the more limited objective of protecting civilians, Barack Obama has set himself up for massive strategic failure. Continue reading “Obama wobbly on Libya”
John R. Bolton |
Support for the International Criminal Court is an article of near-religious faith on the political left, a central component of its “global governance” vision. In actuality, however, the ICC has been marginally effective, poorly administered, and its priorities diffuse–much like its feckless, irrelevant sister, the International Court of Justice, and many other international bodies.
The ICC has avoided irrelevance in one key case–Sudan. But it has actually made that desperate humanitarian crisis harder to resolve.
Specifically, the ICC indictments in July 2008 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other regime figures accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity have clearly had the opposite of the intended effect: Rather than pressure Bashir to stop the killing, they’ve strengthened his domestic position and hardened his already intractable line on “concessions” to inhabitants of Darfur.
This sad turn of events has provided virtually clinical proof of warnings by ICC critics that the court’s “independence” was a defect, not a virtue–leaving it disconnected from the legitimacy of representative government, and also from the global reality of power and conflict.
Yet it is impossible to act responsibly in Sudan without an understanding of power and conflict. Although recent attention has focused on Darfur, in the country’s west, the ethnic and religious north-south conflict that preceded Darfur’s suffering is also a candidate for the “genocide” label and remains unresolved. A 2005 agreement halted it, but postponed resolving the underlying issue of independence for the south.
Add in the separatist tendencies in the eastern region of Sudan (exacerbated by the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict), and the country as a whole is a slow-motion disaster, with three potential breakaway regions.
Darfur’s day-to-day level of violence may be lower than at the height of the slaughter by Khartoum-backed militias, but millions are still in displaced-persons camps–their villages and livelihoods ruined; their security still uncertain.
Peacekeepers and outside political efforts, first from the African Union, then in a hybrid with the UN, have been ineffective, with “settlements” collapsing in the swirling, increasingly international conflict. The Security Council’s recent one-year extension of the UN peacekeeping mandate didn’t change these fundamental operational and diplomatic realities.
The Obama administration entered office seemingly determined to resolve the Sudan problem, but has instead suffered from public displays of internal disagreement.
Last week, Special Envoy Scott Gration suggested to Congress that Sudan be taken off the US terrorism list, thus laying the basis to lift heavy sanctions previously imposed on Khartoum. Gration’s outspokenness (which produced mass confusion at the State Department’s daily press briefing on Friday) revived his earlier disagreement with UN Ambassador Susan Rice on whether “genocide” in Darfur is ongoing or receding.
But these disagreements only mask a larger problem for both humanitarian and political efforts in Sudan–a problem centered on the ICC indictments.
Pressed by Europeans, the Bush administration was essentially cornered into supporting the investigation leading to the indictments. In fact, the ICC process simply provided a fig leaf for the Europeans, who wanted to avoid any serious action about Khartoum, while pointing to the ICC as “doing something.”
Tragically, however, by taking the focus off the hard, unpalatable choices that could have made a difference in the real world, the ICC indictments have backfired, making it harder to pry loose concessions that once seemed within reach. Moreover, the ICC’s approach generated support for the regime among Third World countries (particularly the African Union) that saw indictments and UN peacekeepers as “Western imperialism.”
Khartoum thus turned what Westerners thought would be their bargaining chip to leverage concessions from Sudan into a Sudanese precondition barring further progress until ICC investigations and indictments are quashed.
This political jujitsu has unnerved ICC supporters, but even their “bargaining chip” idea was far from the original robust arguments for the ICC. Indeed, it is (in Sudan and elsewhere) completely backward.
Since the ICC strategy itself was effectively a charade to hide the West’s continuing distaste for effective action (military or clandestine) against Khartoum, fears of imperialism were a fantasy. The indictments, a Western display of feel-good moralism, are now more than unneeded complications: They are insuperable barriers to real progress, political or humanitarian.
A real political resolution for Sudan requires a new regime prepared to hold al-Bashir and his cronies accountable, and to negotiate peacefully with the country’s separatist regions. But regime change won’t come without outside help, decidedly unlikely during the Obama presidency, which views such policy with undisguised distaste. As for the Europeans, rhetoric is too often the sharpest tool in their national-security arsenal.
Abetted by the ICC’s unfortunate intervention, the prospects for Sudan remain decidedly unhappy. We will now have to see whether President Obama can square his devotion to international law and “open hand” diplomacy with the reality of a ruthless regime accused of genocide.
John R. Bolton | Liberal
The recent indictment of Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir, by the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) graphically demonstrates why the ICC is fundamentally flawed. Criticizing the ICC, of course, is not equivalent to defending Bashir for his actions in Sudan’s Darfur region. We can simply assume, and probably correctly, that Bashir is guilty of every offense the ICC has charged.
Bashir’s evil, however, does not justify the ICC’s indictment. The ICC is a potentially huge source of unaccountable power, exercising the weighty executive authority of prosecution, and the enormous judicial power of trial and sentencing, all without the slightest accountability to real people or their elected representatives. Moreover, for Americans, mixing executive and judicial powers in one self-contained institution is itself deeply troubling.
ICC advocates respond that it is responsible to the 108 governments now party to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC. But this defense actually demonstrates the ICC’s unaccountability: an international meeting of 108 governments is rarely capable of anything but platitudes, and certainly not the hard decisions required to oversee sensitive prosecutions.
Because the ICC lacks effective oversight, there is every risk it will take actions that have unforeseen effects in difficult crisis situations. In real governments, decisions can be coordinated to form an overall national policy. The ICC, however, is disconnected and autonomous, causing consequences for which it bears no responsibility.
In fact, Sudan’s decision to expel Western humanitarian aid groups in retaliation for Bashir’s prosecution now threatens to make the grave humanitarian crisis in Darfur even worse. While the Security Council has tried for years to create an effective international peacekeeping force in Darfur to reduce the violence and provide security for humanitarian relief deliveries, the ICC’s indictment has simply made matters worse, and will continue to have that unfortunate effect well into the future.
For too many Westerners, the ICC is a substitute for a truly effective response against the repression and violence taking place in Darfur. Unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to resolve the Darfur crisis, these Westerners are content with “gesture politics,” symbolic acts which may make them feel better about themselves, but which have no positive impact where the tragedy is actually occurring. The world’s hard men, like Bashir, are not deterred from committing outrageous and inhumane acts for fear of being arrested if they travel to the great capitals of Europe. That may deter those who create institutions like the ICC, but Bashir and his ilk are quite content to stay in the world’s Khartoums and run their cruel and authoritarian governments as they see fit. Moreover, many other governments around the world, attracted to Sudan’s rich oil reserves, will happily finance Bashir and those like him, making Sudan’s current government essentially immune from economic pressure.
Although many sincere people argue for “humanitarian intervention” in Darfur, or “the responsibility to protect” its suffering population, no government has yet been willing to take the difficult steps to actually carry out such an intervention. Nor is there any prospect for such action in the foreseeable future because of the tangible–if unpleasant–reality that stopping the Darfur atrocities is not sufficiently in any other country’s national interest that it will order its own citizens into harm’s way to end them.
The most logical answer to Bashir’s murderous ways is not to indict him from the safety of The Hague, but to empower the Sudanese and others to overthrow him. Then, with new, legitimate authorities in place, the Sudanese could themselves deal with Bashir and hold him accountable for the crimes he has long committed in their name. That is a far better way, if there are to be prosecutions, than trying to hold Bashir accountable in a court thousands of miles away from the crime scene.
A representative Sudanese government might, in fact, chose not to prosecute Bashir and his cohorts, but instead follow South Africa’s route after the end of apartheid. There, the new democratic government created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring to light the facts of apartheid’s cruelty, and thereafter to move forward. One can advocate either prosecution or reconciliation, but that decision should ultimately be for the Sudanese to make. Removing the decision from them nurtures false but superficially appealing charges of “Western imperialism,” and ultimately impedes Sudan’s own political development
Even among the most outspoken Western critics of Bashir, no one is lining up for “regime change.” That should tell us something, and no one knows it better than Bashir, faced with the ICC indictment. He had no fear in expelling non-governmental organizations providing aid to the very people the indictment is theoretically supposed to be vindicating. Until the West understands the inherent conceptual defects of the ICC and the consequent real-world risks of its actions, we can, unfortunately, simply expect more tragedy like this in the future.