Does Hillary Clinton Believe in International Law?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Not according to Stephen Zunes, a Middle East expert at the University of San Francisco.  He recently posted an essay on Alternet that should give progressive international lawyers and scholars pause.  Here is the introduction:

For those hoping for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration — particularly regarding human rights, international law, and respect for international institutions — the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is a bitter disappointment.  Indeed, Senator Clinton has more often than not sided with the Bush administration against fellow Democrats on key issues regarding America’s international legal obligations, particularly international humanitarian law.

This will be particularly disappointing for those in the international community who were so positive about Obama’s election as president.  The selection of Hillary Clinton, at best, represents a return to the policies of her husband’s administration.

Because the Bush administration had taken things to new lows, many seem to have forgotten the fact that the Clinton administration had also greatly alienated the international community.  Regarding Iraq, Iran and Israel, the Clinton administration engaged in a series of policies which put the United States sharply at odds with most of its Western allies and a broad consensus of international legal scholars.  And these were not the only issues during the Clinton years over which the United States found itself isolated from the rest of the international community:  there was U.S. opposition to the land mine treaty, the strengthening of the embargo against Cuba, support for Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, foot-dragging on the Kyoto Protocols, support for Turkey’s vicious military offensive in the Kurdish regions of that country, among others.

Even worse, Hillary Clinton allied herself with the Bush administration on many its most controversial actions, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, threats of war against Iran, support for Israel’s 2006 offensive against Lebanon and 2002 offensive in the West Bank, opposition to the International Criminal Court, attacks against the International Court of Justice, and support for the unrestricted export of cluster bombs and other anti-personnel munitions used against civilian targets.

I enthusiastically voted for Bill Clinton the first time — and quickly regretted it.  I hope that I don’t have the same experience with Obama, but his appointment of Hillary Clinton doesn’t bode well.  I don’t agree with everything in Zunes’ article, but it makes for a disturbing read nonetheless.

I also wonder whether there aren’t hidden risks to electing a president who is so adored around the world.  In the short-term, Obama’s election will obviously help repair America’s international image, which Bush so assiduously destroyed.  Ultimately, though, the success of Obama’s presidency will be determined by his actions, not by his skin color or his funny name.  And indeed, the stakes are much higher for Obama than they ever were for Bush: although no one outside the US was surprised by Bush’s repressive policies and contempt for international law, international organizations, and world opinion, the international community expects far more from Obama.  If Obama thus turns out to be more of the same — and his appointment of Hillary Clinton is a step in that direction — the long-term damage to the US’s reputation could be incalculable.

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/12/04/does-hillary-clinton-believe-in-international-law/

18 Responses

  1. Kevin:

    I take your point but–like you–I don’t agree with various parts of Zunes’ analysis (at least in the excerpt).  My main criticism is that he argues that Pres. Clinton “had also greatly alienated the international community.” That “also” being used to compare him to President Bush. As if that somehow made  Clinton and Bush special cases compared to other American Presidents. But hasn’t every American President since the Second World War (that is, since the rise of the U.S. to superpower status) angered/upset/alienated the international community over one or more issues?

    Bush the father: Panama
    Reagan: Don’t even get me started.
    Carter: Well– maybe the aborted Iran raid or the Olympic boycott
    Ford: OK, maybe he gets a pass; Nixon had tired us out.
    Nixon: paging Oliver Stone…
    Johnson: Good Morning, Vietnam!
    Kennedy: Bay of Pigs
    etc…

    While I made this a catalogue of acts for which I think other states were justifiably upset over U.S. activities, I think we need to recognize that at times other states are angered by U.S. policies that may be perfectly justifiable. For example, while I think that there is much merit to the ICC and, especially, in being involved in shaping it, I can understand a U.S. policy of not wanting to sign on to it. I may not agree fully with it, but I understand it. The U.S. is not flouting international law by not joining the ICC, but too often our not signing onto a treaty regime is conflated with an argument that we are actually in breach of international law.

    So, at some point, I expect that (either due to his own acts or just the mood of the other states) President Obama will do something that will anger/alienate the international community. It just doesn’t mean that he (or any previous President) was necessarily wrong in his actions. So the point is not just that the international community was upset, but why it was aleinated and what we do about it.

    The current President Bush has been particulalry alienating and has had an all but unprecedent negative effect on America’s reputation.  And, on top of that, he seemed to revel in our frustrating (and perhaps angering) foreign leaders, including our allies.

    For me the issue is that, whenever the (all but inevitable) alienation/backlash occurs, I think Pres. Obama and his team will be much better suited to engage diplomatically with those nations that are angered or aggrieved. That, already, will be an enormous difference from the current administration. 

  2. Interesting exchange … when I started thinking about Chris’s list above, the ones that most naturally occurred to me – situations in which other countries were justifiably irritated with US administrations since WWII – were mostly economic policy.  I’m thinking about Nixon and De Gaulle over the US using its reserve currency position to print lots of money and then dropping off the gold standard.  Kennedy did much the same thing via his massive tax cuts.  And I guess I would add that Carter’s human rights policy elicited anything from raised eyebrows to deep concern among our Nato allies, particularly France.  Should we add Suez?

  3. “Regarding Iraq, Iran and Israel, the Clinton administration engaged in a series of policies which put the United States sharply at odds with most of its Western allies and a broad consensus of international legal scholars.”

    I like how the broad consensus of international legal scholars ties itself to the mast of ‘the international community” and how they arrogate the world’s store of moral authority to themselves. They then speak with righteous opprobrium and appropriate moral scorn, moaning about how the monolith “world community” (they really mean the liberal intelligentsia of the West — i.e., their chums) is “alienated” by the actions of the United States. How very dare the U.S. disagree on matters of international law like a wayward child.

    Oh, the censure of international legal scholars! We musn’t have that! FFS. Get a grip. And you wonder why people are contemptuous of intlawyers and their inflated sense of self-importance.

  4. I think on some level Hillary has been playing politics with her positions on International Law issues.  I think she has been pretending in some ways to be more to the right in order to garner the votes of those who see her as a centrist.  There are many moderate Americans who are skeptical about international agreements, and the U.N. in general.  They come in two major camps.  The first group is the psuedoisolationists who prefer focusing on domestic issues, less globalization of the economy, and generally disfavor free trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA.  The other group are the sovereignty-hawks who believe each treaty signed is one more concession of power to an unruly and unjust global hodgepodge of opinion.  Neither camp is particularly educated on the importance of international law, and its stabilizing role in world affairs.  Hillary, like any good politico, is playing both sides of the isle on these issues because she knows she can win both the internationalists and the anti-internationalists if she does so.  I believe her true colors will come out as we see her operate in the role of Sec. of State.  Part of this speculation abotu her not being sympathetic to international law comes from the fact that she is the first career politician in many years to be appointed to the position.  Career diplomats can be much more open about their views, while Hillary will always play politics first.

  5. I think it is a mistake to interpret hillary as a nonbeliever in international law.  Hillary is a good politician first, and a diplomat second.  We are used to seeing her in her political role as a U.S. Senator and a Presidential Candidate.  In those roles she is forced, somewhat imprfectly, to make the types of calculated position-setting that any good politico delves into.
    She knew for example that many voters, even moderate voters, will look askance at an Internationalist Democrat.  There is still a large swath of the country that is skeptical of International Law, and the U.N. in general.  They fall into two groups.  The first group can be lebeled the “pseudo-isolationists” who prefer a focus on domestic and economic issues and generall disfavor globalization and free trade.  The second group can be called the “sovereignty-hawks” who fear that each new treaty is another concession of U.S. sovereignty to an unruly and unpredictable global community.  Both groups tend to be uneducated about International Law, the way it operates, and the impact it has on stabilizing world relations.
    Hillary is a realist, and I think once we see her become comfortable in her new role as Sec. of State her true internationalist will come out for all to see. 

  6. Yeah right. As if the progressive world opinion kumbaya types are “educated about international law.” They tend to be as ignorant, if not more so, and are only committed to the abstract notion of “international law” as a matter of political orthodoxy. As far as sovereignty-hawks _in the academy_ go, they are typically quite educated about the law thank you. Why else do you think they are _sovereignty_ hawks interested in the interplay between the Constitution and international law?

  7. John,

    Since you are a tourist guide, do you think you could draw yourself a map to an actual argument? Your empty rhetoric is looking more and more like a Potemkin Village.

  8. Well, what exactly do you disagree with? 
    It’s amusing that it’s always the same M.O. with you — falsely andfatuously accusing others of “not making an actual argument,” even when there is one. (Your reply then was a conspicuous silence.) If not that, then it’s the anonymity thing you get hung up on. Change the tune already.

    Do you disagree that there are sovereignty-hawks in the academy? Do you disagree that Bradley Curtis, Jack Goldsmith, John Yoo, Robert Delahunty, John McGinnis, Ilya Somin, Andrew Kent, and Eric Posner are properly described as skeptical of yielding “sovereignty to an unruly and unpredictable global community”? 

    Do you disagree that there are those who are committed in the abstract to the idea of international law, but functionally ignorant of the doctrinal details and substantive law? Or do you think everyone who subscribes to progressive orthodoxy is ipso facto “well educated” and a serious scholar of international law? Do you?

    Do you disagree that “progressive” intlawyers can be guilty of self-aggrandizement when they equate their opinions with that of “the international community”? International law flunkies guilty of rherotical overkill — wow, that’s a new one. We’ve never seen that happen before now have we. Zunes just happens to be an outlier.

  9. Well John, I can tell you succinctly what I disagree with:

    Your deceptive use of the term “sovereignty”.

    Your misrepresentations of what other people think.

    Your apparent dishonesty.

    In short, you read as just another drooling neo-fascist.

  10. That’s funny Charles, since I was using Michael J. Davis’s use of the term “sovereignty.” Are you accusing him of being deceptive? Or are you just being overwrought as usual just because you disagree with how he attributes certain views to “sovereignty-hawks”?

    Instead of bluster, why not identify what was deceptive, misrepresented, and dishonest in his account? If you want to be credible, you should also identify how Posner, McGinnis, Yoo et al. have not been at one time or other skeptical of institutions like the ICJ, leery of the scope of the Treaty Power under Missouri v. Holland (and by extension, wary of the scope of congressional-executive agreements), disinclined to view customary international law as federal common law, and so on.

    Can you? Put up or forever be recognized as this blog’s clown prince of rhetorical overkill. And btw, I do find it amusing that a non-lawyer international law flunky (what an apt description!) thinks everyone else is a neo-fascist while he is the paragon of honest virtue. At least you have a sense of humor. : )

  11. John,

    I don’t think everyone else is a neo-fascist, but after the last seven years, I think there are plenty of folks in this country who are — John Yoo being a prime example.

    As for sovereignty, ask a straight question and you’ll get a straight answer. What I thought was dishonest wasn’t necessarily anyone else’s “account”, but the way you were spinning your loaded  “question” (i.e. rant).

    As that goes double for this latest effusion of BS. Now you can insult me all you want, but I post under my own name and try very hard to answer any honest question put to me, which is more than I can say for some.

    I happen to think sovereignty is a highly problematic concept. I also think that a figure of speech like “skeptical of yielding sovereignty to an unruly and unpredictable global community” is:

    1) fundamentally nonsensical.

    2) typical of right-wing nationalism / neo-fascism.

    I get that you  folks don’t like treaties or admitting that we have any responsibilities to people outside the United States. The problem is that I also understand that you feel that way for about the same reasons a serial killer doesn’t care about laws or other people.

    A treaty doesn’t yield sovereignty, it is an expression of sovereignty — and sovereignty isn’t absolute, but conditional.

    Now did you have a real question you wanted to ask?

  12. Oh pity. You failed to answer any of my questions. Instead you hemmed and hawed and did an evasive dance without actually answering what was asked. Apparently they were not “real questions.” Better to disparage the questions as not “real” than to admit you can’t answer them, obviously.
    Funnier still that you take issue with the phrase “skeptical of yielding sovereignty to an unruly and unpredictable global community” as “nonsensical” and “neo-fascis[t].” That phrase was originated by another commenter above (Michael J. Davis). I merely used the description he coined. Are you accusing him of being “nonsensical” and a “neo-fascist”? If you’re accusing him of misdescribing the views of sovereignty-hawks, explain why. If you’re accusing him of being a neo-fascist for misdescribing the views of sovereignty-hawks, then you need to collect your wits and start again.
    Explain how Davis — who is clearly unfriendly to the views he describes — can originate a “fundamentally nonsensical” description of sovereignty-hawks that is wrong and yet “typical of right-wing nationalism”? If it’s typical, then the description is accurate, and not nonsensical. If it’s nonsensical, then it’s not typical, because it would be an untrue or else senseless misdescription. You’re incoherent.
    And then there’s this:
    “The problem is that I also understand that you feel that way for about the same reasons a serial killer doesn’t care about laws or other people.”
    Serial killers? What did I say about rhetorical overkill?
    And this:
    “A treaty doesn’t yield sovereignty, it is an expression of sovereignty”
    Really. I’m sure Laurence Tribe will be thrilled to learn that he’s a neo-fascist for imagining that there is a “degree to which an [international] agreement constrains federal or state sovereignty and submits United States citizens or political entities to the authority of bodies wholly or partially separate from the ordinary arms of federal or state government.” Tribe, Taking Text and Structure Seriously: Reflections on Free-Form Method in Constitutional Interpretation, 108 Harv. L. Rev. 1221, 1266 (1995). Must be the serial killer in him?
    Exchanges with you are a waste of time, Gittings. You don’t actually disagree that there are sovereignty-hawks in the academy. You don’t actually disagree that they are skeptical of international law in the ways that Davis describes. And you don’t actually think the use of the term “sovereignty” is deceptive. You’re just being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable. LOL. Bye.

  13. Oh pity. You failed to answer any of my questions. Instead you hemmed and hawed and did an evasive dance without actually answering what was asked. Apparently they were not “real questions.” Better to disparage the questions as not “real” than to admit you can’t answer them, obviously.
     
    Funnier still that you take issue with the phrase “skeptical of yielding sovereignty to an unruly and unpredictable global community” as “nonsensical” and “neo-fascis[t].” That phrase was originated by another commenter above (Michael J. Davis). I merely used the description he coined. Are you accusing him of being “nonsensical” and a “neo-fascist”? If you’re accusing him of misdescribing the views of sovereignty-hawks, explain why. If you’re accusing him of being a neo-fascist for misdescribing the views of sovereignty-hawks, then you need to collect your wits and start again.

    Explain how Davis — who is clearly unfriendly to the views he describes — can originate a “fundamentally nonsensical” description of sovereignty-hawks that is wrong and yet “typical of right-wing nationalism”? If it’s typical, then the description is accurate, and not nonsensical. If it’s nonsensical, then it’s not typical, because it would be an untrue or else senseless misdescription. You’re incoherent.

    And then there’s this:

    “The problem is that I also understand that you feel that way for about the same reasons a serial killer doesn’t care about laws or other people.”
     
    Serial killers? What did I say about rhetorical overkill?
     
    And this:
     
    “A treaty doesn’t yield sovereignty, it is an expression of sovereignty”
     
    Really. I’m sure Laurence Tribe will be thrilled to learn that he’s a neo-fascist for imagining that there is a “degree to which an [international] agreement constrains federal or state sovereignty and submits United States citizens or political entities to the authority of bodies wholly or partially separate from the ordinary arms of federal or state government.” Tribe, Taking Text and Structure Seriously: Reflections on Free-Form Method in Constitutional Interpretation, 108 Harv. L. Rev. 1221, 1266 (1995). Must be the serial killer in him?
     
    Exchanges with you are a waste of time, Gittings. You don’t actually disagree that there are sovereignty-hawks in the academy. You don’t actually disagree that they are skeptical of international law in the ways that Davis describes. And you don’t actually think the use of the term “sovereignty” is deceptive. You’re just being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable.
     

    [Apologies for the craptastic formatting in the earlier post.]

  14. John,

    You can foam at the mouth all you want; I’m not playing any gotcha games, and I’m not going to shadow box with Michael Davis or Larry Tribe either. I have no reason to suppose they are dishonest in the ways that you evidently are. You can either get real and speak for yourself, or you can blow squid ink and crawl back under your rock.

    Now if you actually want to discuss something, I”m willing, but you aren’t going to get anywhere we me spewing overheated BS like this. Did you hear me say that sovereignty is highly problematic?

    That means it’s problematic for everyone. What do you suppose the term means?

  15. “I’m not going to shadow box with Michael Davis or Larry Tribe either. I have no reason to suppose they are dishonest in the ways that you evidently are.”

    Funny, since their use of the term “sovereignty” is identical to mine. Your claim that my use of the term sovereignty is “deceptive” and evidence of dishonesty is therefore a claim that Tribe’s similar use of the term is deceptive and dishonest. 

    Your reluctance to “shadowbox” with Tribe is just another way of saying that you have no answer to my cite. You’re an incoherent fraud, Gittings.

  16. Your use of the term is identical?

    They use it to make statements that express their views. You use it to fabricate BS.

    It’s a simple question; I’m not interested in what you think anyone else thinks about it., I want to know what you think the term means. Here’s what the dictionary says:

    sovereignty
    1. Supreme dominion, authority, or rule.  2. The supreme political authority of an independent state. 3. The state itself. — 7 Black’s Law Dictionary 1402

    I can tell you exactly what I think is problematic. with the concept: the notion that any  human being is “supreme” or “independent” in anything beyond their own personal volition (and even that gets a bit problematic).

    In short, lying degenerate fascists like you and the Bush gang don’t have any inherent right or authority to use or abuse other people at will, and enacting laws or treaties which say so in plain language doesn’t give up anything more than the delusion that anyone might have such authority. Equally, if you enact a “law” purporting to give you the “right” to murder people at will, that’s just evidence that you’re a murderer or an idiot.

    Not get real or get lost — I’m sick and just don’t have the patience for much more of your drooling BS.

  17. I’ve been a long time reader of OJ, and I think that’s about to end.  Given the way that serial commenters apparently now are using this blog as a chance to blow off some rage, OJ is in serious jeopardy of jumping the shark.

  18. Well Fonz, I have to say that after the last seven years some rage is long overdue, and in case you haven’t noticed, life under the criminals of the Bush administration hasn’t exactly been an episode of Happy Days.

    The thing that enrages me more than anything else is simply this:

    When are folks like YOU going to GET REAL??

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