Liberal Internationalism v. Transnational Progressivism, or When Will the US Join the ICC?

Liberal Internationalism v. Transnational Progressivism, or When Will the US Join the ICC?

John Fonte had this piece in the National Review just before the election on the Obama’s likely posture to international law and international institutions.  It very perceptively and succinctly describes the difference between liberal internationalists (think just about everybody before Bush, with the US looking to lead the rest of the world to enlightenment, along with anyone associated with the Truman Project) and transnational progressivism (those who believe international law and/or nonstate actors have autonomous power beyond that of states). 

Of course the top brass in the new Administration falls into the former camp (in some ways this is another way of thinking about the conversation in response to Kevin’s post below about Hillary Clinton, who is clearly a liberal nationalist).  Fonte thinks, though, that it’s the second level appointments that we should keep an eye on: 

. . . it’s not the big names that we should watch; rather, we should keep in mind the observation of Gaetano Mosca, the political theorist who argued that an understanding of modern government does not begin with cabinet members but with the second stratum of appointees: the undersecretaries and the deputy assistant secretaries. It is very likely that this lower layer of Obama lieutenants would have internalized the transnational progressives’ positions on global governance, international law, shared sovereignty, international norms, and the like.

I sort of doubt the transnational progressives will get much of a foothold even at the lesser ranks.  The transition team is dominated by Clinton-era folks (Tom Donilon, Wendy Sherman, James Steinberg, Kurt Campbell) who aren’t known for new-world thinking.  Even the likes of Samantha Power and Sarah Sewall are state-oriented.  With Hillary Clinton at State and Robert Gates at Defense, and a former Marine general as national security adviser, none of whom is likely to put transnationalists in key positions, safe to say the revolution isn’t imminent. 

There’s some self-selection here as well: if you’re a true transnationalist, you’re probably not that interested in working for what you might consider to be a dinosaur of an institution, nor are you likely to move in circles that make the appointments.  There are some exceptions to the latter proposition:  Jessica Tuchman Matthews would be an interesting and plausible Administration addition, for example.  But as a general matter, there is a natural selection effect giving the liberal nationalists the upper hand.

But how much difference will continued dominance of the liberal internationalists make?  Fonte sets out a transnational progressive agenda consisting of ratifying Law of the Sea, the Children’s and Women’s Rights Convention, and joining the ICC.  Those things are going to happen regardless of who’s in charge.  The only difference is probably in the timing.  Under the liberal internationalists, it might happen in the second term rather than the first.   That’s probably a sensible political strategy, since these moves will have to overcome residual sovereigntist tendencies.  At the same time, the juggernaut of forces chipping away at state power will likely continue its inexorable advance.

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I hope Obama understands the real significance joining the ICC will have for America’s reputation in the international community.  When President Bush withdrew Clinton’s signature from the treaty, much of the world saw it as a slap in the face to International Law (almost as much of a slap as our failure to join the Kyoto Protocol).  Joining the ICC alone would speak volumes to diplomats who are silently wishing and hoping that Obama turns out to be the internationalist they privately suspect he is.  In turn, I think we would be more highly respected as a nation, seen as more humble and less arrogant.  And I think sovereignty related objections are significantly overstated when it comes to the ICC.