The doctrine of American exceptionalism – which holds that the United States, by dint of its unique virtue and obligation to lead the free world, must not be burdened with the restraints faced by other countries, in particular the law of nations – has always been a fascinating piece of solipsism, and never more ascendant in Washington than it is right now.
Exceptionalism suffuses American policy to such an extent that even intelligent, educated, reasonable Americans tend to take it as normal, or at least for granted.
For example: The United States is all in favour of prosecutions by special tribunals of the United Nations, targeting certain foreign leaders and officials suspected of crimes against humanity. It, in fact, helped create the UN prosecutions of murderous individuals in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Lebanon.
(The Americans were particularly enthusiastic about the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, because its targets were mainly members of Hezbollah. The U.S. government provides funding to that tribunal to this day, despite the fact that after years of investigation and hearings, it has not succeeded in bringing a single defendant before its courtroom in the Hague.)
The UN’s International Criminal Court, though, is another matter. U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, recently pronounced the International Criminal Court (ICC) an “illegitimate court” that is “outright dangerous.”
Bolton was expressing the generally held conservative view that national leaders and their subordinates should be held accountable for crimes against humanity, except for Americans or any nation America supports. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)
This, of course, is consonant with contemporary White House rhetoric. Don’t forget, Trump himself regularly tweets that the special counsel investigation of collusion with Russia, led by former FBI director Robert Mueller and created on Trump’s watch by Trump’s own Department of Justice, is an “illegal witch hunt,” and has said that co-operating with his own federal prosecutors should be illegal.
But it flows from the same self-interest. Trump clearly believes the law should apply to all Americans equally, except for him and his associates; Bolton was expressing the generally held conservative view that national leaders and their subordinates should be held accountable for crimes against humanity, except for Americans or any nation America supports.
Because of course America’s wars are always defensive, and American officials never commit war crimes. When American agents torture or kidnap abroad, they do not merit punishment. When the United States invades a country based on faulty intelligence, unleashing a hideous slaughter, as it did in Iraq, it’s an honest mistake, and no one’s fault.
The ICC’s globalist, leftist fans just don’t seem to understand that.
Furthermore, the ICC is now getting intolerably close to some of America’s allies, opening inquiries into the death squads deployed against drug dealers by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (a fellow Donald Trump admires), and into Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, including ordering its soldiers to open fire on unarmed civilians across the Israeli-erected fence that contains Gaza, and into the actions of Afghan security forces, which of course have worked for nearly 17 years in concert with the Americans.
Those ICC cases are not just horribly wrong, said Bolton, but probably illegal. In vowing to use “any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said the United States will, in turn, prosecute ICC judges, prosecutors and staff in American criminal courts. He also made it clear Washington will punish to any company or state that dares assist the court in any investigation of an American.
Apparently two decades of U.S. efforts to secure promises from other countries never to surrender an American citizen to the ICC have fallen short. Dozens of countries, usually under threat of reduced U.S. aid or cooperation, have signed the so-called Article 98 agreements, but most signatories have been Third World nations, Israel being the notable exception.
For the record, Canada has not only not signed an Article 98 agreement, it actively supports the ICC, in all its illegitimate, downright dangerous, criminal glory. On its website, Global Affairs states that Canadians are proud of the crucial role they played in the court’s creation.
For that, said Bolton, countries like Canada will be noted, and dealt with.
In fact – and this may or may not be relevant to Ottawa’s ICC support – the administration in Washington has made it clear that Canadians can expect to be on the sharp end of another bit of exceptionalist enforcement.
Todd Owen, a senior official of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, recently gave Politico a detailed account of how the agency plans to deal with Canadians who acknowledge consuming cannabis now that parliament has passed a law legalizing marijuana, or with anyone who invests or participates in the cannabis business.
In short, a lifetime ban. America considers consumption or trafficking in cannabis a crime of moral turpitude, and grounds for permanent exclusion from the country.
In practice, that will be interesting, given that in several provinces, the cannabis business will be run by provincial governments. By Owen’s reckoning, any official of, say, Ontario’s or Quebec’s proposed new cannabis stores, or anyone involved in the planning of legalization, or marketing or sale, or any investor in any of the government suppliers will be guilty of moral turpitude and banned from America. This is Trump nation. It could happen.
I’d actually enjoy being a fly on the wall if and when Owen’s agents regretfully inform Julian Fantino, former Toronto police chief, former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, former Conservative minister in the Harper government and newly minted cannabis-growing executive, that he is a morally turpitudinous character, and that if he wishes to ever enter the United States again, he needs to beg for an official waiver.
But back to the exceptionalism of all this.
The position of the American government is that anyone who consumes, grows, sells or enables legal cannabis is guilty of an offence, and merits punishment. Except for American citizens. (Chris Ensing/CBC)
The recreational use of cannabis is perfectly legal in nine states representing a huge chunk of the American population, and in Washington, D.C. Officials in all those state governments are therefore guilty of moral turpitude, and so are the millions of American citizens in those stages who consume the drug. And so are the investors and the store owners and the growers, etc., etc.
But of course none is being pursued legally by the Trump administration. States’ rights, and so forth.
So, more precisely framed, the position of the American government is that anyone who consumes, grows, sells or enables legal cannabis is guilty of an offence, and merits punishment. Except for American citizens.
Here’s a suggestion: Every single Canadian who has ever consumed cannabis, from ordinary workers right up to our prime minister, should make a point of declaring it next time, and every time they cross the border. Millions of people every year, in other words. Let Owen’s officials deal with that.
It’s an exceptional suggestion, but we live in exceptional times.