“But they know how to admit their mistakes … and that’s the strength of a democratic society,” said an acquaintance of mine nervously, when no other arguments remained. Some friends and I were discussing American foreign policy and its very modest accomplishments at universally spreading human rights and other standards of the world’s most equitable civilization. “Yes, and that strength is needed more and more all the time,” noted another participant, after which the conversation faded.
But I felt like returning to the unresolved dispute that had arisen, since a continuation suggests itself in an ironic, as well as a serious tone. Let’s assume that the punishment of Saddam Hussein for his malevolent schemes to develop weapons of mass destruction is the freshest example: Now officials in Washington have admitted their mistake, confirming the strength of a democratic society. Of course, terrorist acts in Iraq continue, claiming dozens of lives daily, but the mistake has been admitted, so what's the use in complaining? The same with Vietnam in general and My Lai in particular — and going deeper back in history, we come finally to the extirpation of the [American] Indians. There has been enough democracy to admit to that mistake as well, and only two details interfere with deeming the triumph of democracy a complete and total success. First of all, the torments of repentance: What about the poor descendants? They constantly have to suffer the consequences, establish reservations and ethnographic museums and all but perform taxidermy on the hastily extirpated, supposed villains — and mournfully sigh and listen to the impartial words of the residents of the numerous reservations, into which first one land is transformed, then another. Secondly, every time there’s an admission of error, an astonishing delay takes place: Couldn’t they wake up to reality after the first fits of temper or at least on the approach to Baghdad, or before only one last Mohican remains? There’s never anything of the sort; apparently things just have to be done anyway, and democratic institutions can prove their superiority over nondemocratic ones later. And the descendants suffer and suffer.
So, isn’t it about time to think of offering humanitarian aid to America, to those of its future citizens who face the prospect of a guilty conscience over the deeds of present-day leaders? After all, the international community could even avert something. Perhaps it’s too late in Iraq and Libya — the only thing left to do there is get to work on installing reservations — but a resolution, minus the application of foreign civilizational standards, is still possible in Syria. Snowden and Assange are still alive — why shouldn’t the international community help them keep their scalps until the democratic institutions of America suddenly wake up to reality and say: “How nice — at least they didn’t let us get all worked up over this one!” How necessary and timely this humanitarian aid would be — only its implementation requires possession of full-fledged sovereignty, of which few countries today can boast. Not all countries can even softly, but unambiguously, refuse the placement of international prisons on their territory (and thereby spare future U.S. citizens belated remorse and protect themselves from the contempt of their future citizens) — that’s why humanitarian aid is so sparingly received by the American people. By the way, the relief of some contemporary European leaders at being “requested” merely to close their air space to the Bolivian president’s plane appears to be very vivid; after all, they could have been requested to intercept it with the help of fighter jets under the pretext that the evil and terrible Snowden, who poses a threat to the whole world, was on board. President Morales was less fortunate, but at least the peoples of Latin America will start thinking once more about humanitarian aid to the U.S.
There’s more than sufficient cause for irony, but it’s still worth saying a few words in the dry language of protocol. Events of recent years raise with all acuity the matter — long ago decided, it would seem, but it turns out not to be so — of the priority of international legal norms over national legislatures, namely in the case of international relations. Under the conditions of the confrontation between two superpowers, thanks to the balance, a substantial majority of countries managed to preserve their independence, not only de jure but also de facto; moreover, to avert disaster, a kind of protocol was still observed, certain rules of the game, which, strictly speaking, allowed for the avoidance of worse scenarios. As philosopher Karl Jaspers noted at the time, “The world should be grateful to the atom bomb for preventing the realization of any messianic intentions.”* But those times have passed, one superpower remains, and it is possible to imagine the degree of temptation of that very power, a temptation to elevate the Bill of Rights over the U.N. Charter. Aspiration of that sort today is a threat to the world, which is not necessary to explain further to those nations to whom has fallen the role of the new Hurons and Apaches.
So, as long as world unipolarity remains a reality, it is exceedingly important to urgently assert the priority of international law in international affairs, that simple code which has not been exposed to such disregard for a long time. We should support in every way possible, even as working instruments for containing expansion, such instruments as the U.N. Security Council, with its right to veto. And remember the sad but sober truth: In the contemporary world, like never before, “sovereignty” rhymes with “parity.”
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be sourced.