Late last week, President Bush once again showed the stuff of which he is made. On the margins of his meeting with other G-8 leaders in Canada, Mr. Bush decided that the United States would exercise its Security Council veto to block UN peacekeeping mandates that failed to protect American forces from the predations of an unaccountable International Criminal Court (ICC). To the horror of the State Department, foreign diplomats and other ICC enthusiasts, the first such veto was cast on Sunday, blocking a six-month extension of the UN's peacekeeping operation in Bosnia.
This step was made necessary since the International Criminal Court claims jurisdiction over all military personnel and their civilian superiors -- even those from states that are not party to the 2000 Treaty of Rome which established the ICC on July 1, 2002. Mr. Bush had previously made sure that the United States could not be considered a party to that treaty by renouncing his predecessor's scurrilous decision to sign it at the last possible moment during the waning days of the Clinton Administration.
It turns out that "unsigning" the ICC treaty is not enough, however. Americans engaged in international peacekeeping operations must be assured that, in so doing, they are not losing rights assured under our Constitution (for example, the rights to due process, jury trials, confronting their accusers, etc.)
Commendable efforts in this regard are being made via domestic legislation by Congressional leaders like House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and Sen. Jesse Helms, the chief sponsors of the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA). ASPA would prohibit U.S. cooperation with the ICC. Still, in the absence of the sort of internationally agreed exemptions being sought by the Bush Administration, U.S. forces and officials participate in peacekeeping operations at their own peril.
Even if ways could be found and agreed upon to dispose of the menace posed by the International Criminal Court problem, there are a number of other, powerful arguments for reconsidering the Clinton practice of routinely assigning American personnel to international peacekeeping missions. Fortunately, these have just been helpfully dissected by one of the U.S. government's most knowledgeable experts in the field: Fred Fleitz, a senior advisor to Under Secretary of State John Bolton.
In his new book, "Peacekeeping Fiascoes of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions, and U.S. Interests" (Praeger, 2002), Mr. Fleitz supplies a comprehensive and highly critical assessment of the Clinton legacy with respect to peacekeeping operations. The wellspring was the same misbegotten notion as underpinned Mr. Clinton's support for the ICC: a deep distrust of American power and a conviction that only by subordinating it and putting it to the service of multilateral organizations and institutions could it be exercised safely.
Specifically, the Clinton team thought it was okay for the United States to engage in what Madeleine Albright once famously called "aggressive multilateralism," code for defining U.S. interests as dictated by some international lowest-common-denominator. During a period when Mr. Fleitz's duties required him to support peacekeeping operations, he had a unique opportunity to observe (usually with horror) as such notions were translated into policy -- most especially in the form of President Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive Number 25 (PDD-25).
From this mind set, as Mr. Fleitz ably chronicles, we saw a succession of U.S.-backed United Nations peacekeeping "fiascoes" in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, Angola, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Importantly, he recalls not only the flawed theoretical foundation of this policy but also the UN waste and corruption and the human costs that resulted from it.
In his book, Mr. Fleitz lucidly considers -- and draws valuable lessons from -- the following, among other debacles: How the failed UN mission in Bosnia led to genocide and peacekeepers being taken hostage by Bosnia Serbs to serve as "human shields"; how the predictable fiasco in Somalia and our cutting and running in its wake emboldened terrorists the world over; how the UN operation in Cambodia enabled a ruthless dictator, Hun Sen, to consolidate and retain power in Cambodia; how Mrs. Albright lied that the Clinton Administration was ignorant of genocide taking place in Rwanda and the steps that it took that actually had the effect of magnifying the scope of that genocide; and how the peacekeeping operation in Haiti collapsed, with the billions of dollars squandered on it principally benefitting Haitian President Jean-Bertrande Artistide and a handful of Clinton cronies who entered into corrupt investment deals with him.
Importantly, Mr. Fleitz offers the Bush Administration a blueprint for salvaging UN peacekeeping so as to maximize the chances that it will actually serve to advance the cause of peace in various conflicts around the world and be consistent with vital U.S. interests. It could prove highly useful to a President who wisely does not subscribe to the tenets of the failed Clinton PDD-25, but has yet fully to replace them with his own vision for limiting the use made of American troops in peacekeeping operations and safeguarding our personnel when they are so engaged.