- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opens for business on July 1. One of the United Nations' most worrysome creations, it is independent of any rule of law other than its own. It has jurisdiction over war crimes ranging from genocide to environmental "crimes," which the ICC defines as causing more harm to the environment than the mission requires. Bill Clinton signed the treaty establishing the ICC as one of his last acts of contempt toward the American soldier. It must have amused him to think about boys on a battlefield worrying about which snipers were hiding near the nest of some endangered species.

When President Bush "unsigned" the treaty, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the United States "will regard as illegitimate any attempts by the court, or state parties to the treaty, to assert the ICC's jurisdiction over U.S. armed forces." Mr. Bush's decision left no room for doubt, and Mr. Rumsfeld's words sound unmistakably final. But now the Bush administration is drafting a U.N. resolution to grant U.S. troops immunity from ICC prosecution while they are serving as U.N. peacekeepers. The timing of the move is odd, given Mr. Bush's decision and opposition to it in the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council is sure to vote it down. If we have no intention of allowing the court to judge Americans, then why all the fuss?

Apparently Colin Powell's State Department is still trying to prevent unilateral action against Iraq. In the State Department's view, Mr. Bush shouldn't proceed against Saddam Hussein without the United Nations' blessing. The State Department figures that, if it can resolve the president and Mr. Rumsfeld's concerns about the court, it can still sell the idea of coalition warfare and shift control over war decisions away from administration hawks. The president should rethink the need for the U.N. resolution, considering how many places where U.S. troops should soon be operating under the U.N. banner. Of the three places the United Nations could deploy in the near future, not one would be wise or appropriate for U.N. forces. Iraq is one. The president has decided to move, and move we will with Britain and Turkey. Other nations will try to influence the war's conduct and outcome by calling for a halt before Saddam is actually removed, and seeking to insert U.N. peacekeepers and weapons inspectors again. Mr. Bush can, and will, prevent a rerun of the mistakes made in 1991. Of the other two places, one is a bad idea, and the other is worse.

Many of the al Qaeda who escaped Afghanistan are in Kashmir, trying to escalate the conflict between India and Pakistan. A U.N. mission to keep the border secure and to attack the terrorists there could make some sense. It could encourage both belligerents to pull forces back from the 1972 Line of Control. But we should not become entangled with the United Nations there, because we have unfinished business that must be done without subjecting our forces to foreign command. Our troops need to be operating against al Qaeda in Kashmir, not guarding mountain footpaths.

The second is Israel/Palestine. Arab nations often suggest that U.N. peacekeepers be put into the West Bank to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians. They hope to create a wall for terrorists to hide behind. Because the West Bank is part of Israel, the United Nations can't go in without an Israeli invitation. Ariel Sharon isn't in an inviting mood. Mr. Sharon plans to take and hold parts of the West Bank indefinitely. The fence now being built between Israel and the Palestinians is a Maginot Line, and the Israelis know it. A buffer zone, carved out of the West Bank, is a marginally better idea. But that buffer zone will be condemned in terms that were used to describe the Berlin Wall. When the first innocent is killed trying to cross the zone, the ICC will be on the scene, demanding access for its investigators and handing out indictments.

Any ICC member nation can make a complaint against any nation or person, and the United States and Israel will be favorite targets. Defenders of the ICC say that there are sufficient safeguards against abuse. Any charge brought against a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, could be investigated here, and the matter should end if we decide there is no crime to prosecute. American generals and presidents should not have their work disrupted by investigations of some nonsensical complaint to the ICC. We investigate and punish war crimes the way they should be. We cannot indulge the ICC.

Seeking the U.N. immunity resolution is a bad idea. By asking for it, we give the ICC a legitimacy that the president took away from it in May. If we need a U.N. resolution to immunize our people, what happens if we can't get it? Will our people not be immune without it? We shouldn't muddy that pond, or delay other essential action to resolve the ICC question. Every indication is that the time is right for Saddam to go. His military with few exceptions no longer has his trust. Saddam executed about a dozen of his generals in February, and arrested 85 more officers this month. We can, and should, take Iraq out before Election Day.

The ICC will be a playground for Third-Worlders that want to interfere with our war on terror. There will be indictments against American troops and maybe even some elected officials that we will refuse to honor. The European Union will rail at us for not handing over our people, and the outcry against us will make the bin Ladens of the world laugh. None of that will matter. America is now in the role of Rudyard Kipling's "Tommy," the Redcoat everyman soldier of simpler times. "And it's 'Tommy this' and 'Tommy that' and 'chuck him out, the brute.' But it's 'savior of the country' when the guns begin to shoot." Don't waste time on the ICC, Mr. President. Stick to business. The guns have begun to shoot.


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


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