How to Tell If Obama is for Real (on Liberal Internationalism)

by Julian Ku

I have been resigned to a President Obama for at least a year or more, but the prospect of the real thing is still quite weird. I was, not surprisingly, for the other guy but I am mildly optimistic that a cautious President Obama will not usher in radical change in the areas of U.S. policy toward international law.   But who knows? Until recently, I had no idea he was buddies with the apparently corrupt Gov. of Illinois Rod Blagovich? Still, here are four international legal flashpoints where Obama will likely reveal whether he is the real deal liberal internationalist that most readers of this blog, for example, have been waiting for. Or whether he is just “more of the same.” 

 1)   Extraordinary RenditionsThis NYT op-ed predicts that Obama will make a big fuss about shutting down Gitmo, banning waterboarding, and such, but then quietly continue renditions a la the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Interesting question: will the NGOs keep on him on this issue, or will they let it drop after Bush leaves office?

2)   Enemy Combatants – In the upcoming Supreme Court argument in Al-Marri, assuming it is not mooted out, the Obama administration will have to decide whether it will embrace the power of executive detention of enemy combatants pursuant to the September 11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force  that was sort of recognized in Hamdi back in 2004. Or will it simply argue that it has no such power? An interesting dilemma.  

3)   Reservations, Understandings, Declarations – I have little doubt that Obama will push for the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the Senate for ratification.  But will his administration also suppport the now-standard package of Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations (RUDs) that will limit the domestic effect of CEDAW, ones that were submitted by the Clinton Administration back in 1994?  I assume he will, but a bold Obama will send it in clean, and since this is a pet issue of his VP, this might happen.  

4) Raiding, Bombing, and Otherwise Invading Pakistan et. al — As the NY Times revealed a few weeks ago (and as I discussed here), the U.S. military has been engaged in cross-border operations against Al Qaeda around the world since at least 2004. This includes raids, assassinations, and who knows what? Will Obama rescind this order? If he doesn’t, will he be lambasted for his violations of international law (highly doubtful).

One Response

  1. To be clear, Obama was never “buddies” with the Illinois Governor.  They, surely, had endorsed each other for their respective positions, but to use the term “buddies” implies that they were close friends – which is absolutely false. 

    On the topic of RUD’s to the CEDAW, I expect that Obama will allow some RUD’s.  It would make little sense not to acknowledge that we can only submit to the treaty as far as our federal system will allow, for example.
    Also, I am pretty sure Obama has already voiced some intent to continue operations in northern Pakistan.
    I remain convinced that Obama skeptics have been jumping to premature conclusions.  Obama was always more of a realist than the conservatives gave him credit for. 

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