Some of President Bill Clinton's actions during the waning days of his presidency border on unbridled lunacy. Committing his most recent breach of common sense, Clinton authorized the United States to sign a treaty that would establish a United Nations international court to try and punish war criminals.
But he also said he will not recommend President-elect George W. Bush submit the treaty for Senate ratification.
What's that again? Our lame duck commander-in-chief recommends signing the treaty, but not ratifying it. Perhaps this time Clinton did finally inhale.
The idea of an international war crimes tribunal came about after World War II, when Nazi atrocities came to light. Nations have debated establishing a permanent war crimes court for half a century, and the fact there is still vigorous disagreement shows how difficult an issue it is.
And for good reason. War crimes such as rape and torture, detailed in the text that lists such crimes, are indefensible. But the extensive list being proposed has so many war crimes that it essentially turns all acts of war into crimes, and that's not practical.
There is even a category that makes willful killing a war crime. Destroying or appropriating property is also defined as a war crime. Ever hear of a war that did not involve willful killing or property destruction?
America has everything to lose and nothing to gain by signing this treaty. It would cause U.S. military personnel to be vulnerable to the whims of a world judicial body.
At last count, 130 nations signed the pact, many of them the same nations that enjoy a love-hate relationship with the U.S. They recognize the need for America's big hammer while at the same time they revile it on the floor of the U.N. Their support for the treaty is meaningless, since few are called on to keep the peace in remote, dangerous places like Somalia.
The U.N. must not become a world-governing body, complete with permanent, sweeping judicial powers. It is but one of the United States' diplomatic opportunities.
Nor should an international war tribunal be given powers to sanction the U.S. for violating such vague, so-called war crimes as "destroying of enemy property."
In war, there isn't a whole lot that is fair or unbiased. And as history has shown, the first casualty is always the truth, which is so often impossible to establish. It would be equally impossible for an international war tribunal to apply fair, objective standards.
Moreover, such a court could never respect the sovereignty of nations. That may not be important to others, but for Americans sovereignty is a critical national interest that cannot be compromised.