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Jakarta Post

Trumping international law

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 8, 2020   /   08:06 am
Trumping international law In this file photo taken on January 3, 2020, US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida. (AFP/Jim Watson)

Being a superpower comes with its own perks; one of those advantages is that rules don’t apply to you.

When some international laws and conventions are not to your liking, you can opt out and go your own way. For a superpower like the United States, it has always been “my way or the highway”.

In 2001, fearing that the Kyoto Protocol, if implemented, could hurt the US economy, then president George W. Bush decided to withdraw from the agreement. Also, in an effort to protect US leaders and citizens from being subjected to war crime investigations, the US decided not to join the International Criminal Court with little or no consequences.

This American “exceptionalism” has gone on for years and the administration of Republican President Donald Trump only took it to a brazenly new level. As if to match Trump’s bluster, US military might has been used to bring forth brute force to hit US enemies. The assassination of Iran’s leader of the elite military Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, is just the latest example.

American military forces and/or intelligence services have previously been involved in attempting to eliminate leaders of enemy nations, from Cuban leader Fidel Castro to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but these were mostly covert operations in the dark underbelly of intelligence and counterintelligence operations. The reason for such a nondisclosure policy was that the targets represented sovereign actors.

US presidents from Bush to Barack Obama have passed on the opportunity to eliminate Soleimani and although moral and legal considerations did not play a part in the decision-making by the Bush and Obama administrations, the two apparently realized that murdering a general of Soleimani’s caliber could spark wider conflagration in the region.

However, realism and pragmatism is in short supply in the Trump administration. If anything, Trump upped the ante by pledging that he would blow up 52 targets, including some Iranian cultural sites, if the Shiite nation retaliates against the US, a clear violation of international law.

In the past three years, Trump has wreaked havoc in America’s domestic political and legal system. He has shattered norms and conventions including by refusing to release his tax returns, or divesting himself of his family business and by refusing to cooperate with the House impeachment proceedings. Now the time has come for him to thumb his nose at international conventions.

We can deal with some of Trump’s previous infractions, such as when he used tariffs as leverage in a trade war or when he decided to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement.

But his decision to assassinate a sovereign actor like Soleimani could set off a major war that could inflict pain on millions of people in the Middle East and destabilize different parts of the world.

Every sensible world leader must try to stop this madness and start ramping up diplomacy to solve the US-Iranian standoff. There should also be a mass movement to dissuade Trump and his foreign policy cabal from kicking off a new stage of “endless war” in the Middle East.