Saturday, April 01, 2006

President Bush's Second Inaugural Address: A Revolutionary Manifesto For International Law in Chaotic Times

President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address provided a forum for the articulation of what has come to be well understood American foreign policy: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” But this articulation has a far more significant and deeper meaning for the United States and the world community.

The articulation of what has come to be understood as the basis of American foreign policy also served as the framework for declaring, perhaps for the first time in completely developed form, a new American doctrine of international law. Drawing from universal principles from the founding of the Republic, as well as the eternal “truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people” the rules of behavior between, among and within nations will be grounded in human freedom and democracy. Democracy and human dignity provide a framework limiting the power of any political community – nation, state, international organization, or the like – to organize its society. Every nation has the right to choose its own path to freedom and democracy, and every other state has the authority to help its neighbors achieve and maintain compliance with these standards. But no community outside of the nation should have the power to choose or govern the choices made by any nation within the broad framework of liberty and democracy. As President Bush suggested: “Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”

Actual implementation of the principles of freedom and human dignity are based on another set of rules also applicable to all political communities: “In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self.” Application of these principles for international action then becomes clear: It is for the people of Iraq to embrace freedom and human dignity, it was the task of the United States to help Iraq, and the resulting democratic society created in Iraq, sensitive to ethnic and religious divisions, may look very different from democracy as envisioned in the United States Constitution.

This declaration seems to turn on its head the carefully manicured structure of post 1945 American inspired internationalism. Prior to this Administration, it was generally unquestioned that a new global political community would be created through which an international managerial class would help formulate and implement binding norms on all states. These norms would be creatures of politics – developed by the actions of shifting blocks of multi-national majorities of nations, without reference to the character of those states. International law was to be developed in New York and Geneva by administrators and approved through a global political process only vaguely tied to democratic concepts of participation and accountability. Classical post-WWII internationalists thus envisioned a single political community under which all nations would be subordinate to the political will of a ‘higher law’ of the international community developed from out of pragmatic political compromise. This system, Americans were reminded by Senator Kerry, was to be the fulfillment of the American establishment’s post Second World War vision of a world tied together in peace by political forces superior to the American political community but trained in Western (that is, American) political values. Though these values might be expressed differently within the context of every polity, its basic framework, transcultural in character, would be transnational in application. The ideals of this system also guided the founders of the European Union.

But something happened between 1945 and the present that began to be revealed after September 11, 2001. The Second Iraq War finally brought the differences between classical internationalism and the Bush administration into sharp relief. In place of the structuralism of the United Nations systems, and the consolidation of political power outside the nation, the Second Inaugural Address reveals President Bush’s revolutionary new project of internationalism – a state centered system founded on individual participation. In place of the post 1945 drive to transfer and consolidate power over political and social communities – that is, nations, ethnic and religious communities -- within a remote and elite international community, the President suggests the consolidation of state centered political communities all operating under the same general set of framework norms – “that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation.” The new doctrine suggests the mission of every nation and the foundation of international law must be based on the classical ideal that ultimate political power rests with the people of sovereign political communities, but that all political communities are bound by a set of framework rules limiting their freedom of political choice. These framework rules are beyond political control, they define the baseline for universal or global interaction. The defense of these simple fundamental rules will be the primary subject of international relations in the 21st century, if the Americans have anything to do with it.

President Bush has declared: “America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” To those few who might have been listening carefully, the future is now clearer: a rejection of shifts of power from states to an institutionalized and increasingly autonomous set of international organizations, a greater margin of appreciation for local context in applying the limitations of the transcultural element of constitutional substantive norms, a return to a natural law based understanding of the source of the transcultural element in constitutional law, and a suggestion that it might be possible to find appropriate universal substantive values within autonomous institutional systems of religion as easily as within natural law or even within the autonomous institutionalized system of global governance the Americans were at such pains to build after the Second World War. The foundations of internationalism will never be the same again.

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