- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

When President Bush "unsigned" the treaty creating the new International Criminal Court (ICC), the diplomatic world issued a collective yawn. When America asked for a U.N. resolution granting immunity from ICC prosecution for American troops serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions, the Security Council failed to take him seriously. Maybe now they'll pay attention. Last Sunday, Mr. Bush drew a line in the sand by ordering the veto of a routine U.N. renewal of the Bosnia peacekeeping mission. Mr. Bush made it clear that America won't proceed, and may not allow anyone else to proceed, unless our troops are protected from ICC indictment. So far, the diplomats are listening only to themselves. Mr. Bush is listening to the commanders of our troops and remembering an important campaign promise.
From the time Bill Clinton and his crowd took over the White House, their contempt for our military and its culture pretty much destroyed the essential trust between the commander in chief and those ordered to risk or lose their lives. On Mr. Clinton's first day in office, he ordered his "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality. After that came the push for women to serve in combat arms and with it the dumbing down of physical fitness requirements so women could become qualified for those duties. When Mr. Clinton signed the ICC treaty, it was one of his last acts of contempt for the American soldier.
The troops knew what was going on and voted with their feet. Through that eight-year military Dark Age, I heard from one soldier after another that he and his peers were quitting the military because they couldn't stand the contempt they knew the president felt for them. One senior officer told me we lost almost half the commissioned officers in the Navy SEALs between 1996 and 1998. Air Force pilots left in droves and only the Marines (God bless 'em) successfully resisted most of the flood of social experimentation. For that reason, only they had no trouble meeting their enlistment goals.
In the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush promised to restore the vital trust between the troops and the White House. Vetoing the U.N.-Bosnia mission is one way he is keeping that promise. Our troops are trained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Conventions and their obligations to both prisoners of war and civilians. They have confidence in our system, and in the fact that we investigate and punish war crimes fairly. They signed on for that system, not for the ICC.
The word on the ICC is going around, as is the news of Mr. Bush's firm stand against it. Mr. Clinton never understood that loyalty is something that has to flow both ways. By telling the world that the ICC could do what it wanted to with American troops, Mr. Clinton failed to keep his end of the bargain. By telling the ICC and the United Nations to keep their court to themselves, Mr. Bush has made it clear that the president is as loyal to the troops as he expects them to be to their country. And there is a second message in the U.N. veto: Mr. Bush is telling the European Union that its continued failure to spend for its own defense cannot be excused any longer.
European criticism of Mr. Bush's U.N. veto is fueled by the fact that EU nations don't want to admit that their own cutbacks in defense spending have left them unable to go on without us. Even for the relatively small Bosnia mission, European forces can't do the job without American transport and logistics. The fault is solely theirs.
In June 2001, 11 retired British and French generals and admirals wrote a letter to the London Daily Telegraph, saying that close cooperation in the European Union "does not mean that we should dilute our forces in a common army," and pointing out that their nations' ability to protect their vital interests was being whittled away by "penny-pinching, cutbacks in procurement and force strength … [and] by committing reduced forces to increased global peacekeeping commitments, with disastrous effects on retention and morale."
If Americans pull out of U.N. missions, most people in Europe probably won't even ask the inconvenient question of why the United Nations can't continue without American participation. Criticism of Mr. Bush will become more severe, and NATO may yet question its own existence. Mr. Bush should not let that pass. He should state a reasoned but stern criticism of Europe's failure to rebuild its own defenses in the face of the global war we now fight. He should couple that with the promise to extend our ballistic-missile defense to Britain, Turkey and any EU nation that meets its obligation of self-defense. Missile defense is something else for which Europe should pay at least part of the price. Mr. Bush has sent the right message to our troops. He needs to do the same for Europe.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.


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