Most people believe that their own country is virtuous and that only others misbehave enough to qualify as international outlaws. But the United States has elevated this popular sentiment to the level of national policy - by designating certain countries, of its own choosing, as "rogue states."
The dictionary defines rogue as "a fierce and dangerous animal, like an elephant, that separates itself from its herd." By this standard, the United States, not the piddling tyrannies named by the State Department, is the world's number one rogue.
Since it obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 - cities, not military targets - the United States has bombed 18 countries, and invaded still others, with no declaration of war nor any possibility of retaliation, at least until Sept. 11.
In the case of Afghanistan, the United States launched a unilateral war of revenge against a brutal regime of its own creation, although none of the 19 hijackers were Afghan and none of the thousands of "detainees" held in the United States and abroad have been charged with any participation in the crime. Furthermore, the alleged "mastermind," still at large, might well have been turned over to the United States through negotiations - which President Bush rejected outright from the start.
All this is defended on the ground that we are "so good" (as the President has said) and always act in the world's interest. But in fact, U.S. actions reflect the power of corporate interests. For example, the United States refused to participate in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development-sponsored talks in Paris in May 2001, on ways to crack down on offshore and other tax and money-laundering havens. For any other nation, this would now be highly embarrassing in the age of Enron, but such a thought would never even occur to U.S. policymakers.
Or consider Bush's declaration in March 2001 that the Kyoto Protocol was "dead" - all because it might harm the U.S. economy. Bush separates himself from the global consensus based on his reading of U.S. interests alone - and his stance coincides with that of the oil industry, not with the real interests of the American people.
Several U.S. unilateral positions have been geared to the demands of the military-industrial complex, and other parties advocating an aggressive foreign policy. The United States has withdrawn from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, gutting this landmark arms control accord to the dismay of virtually every country in the world. The United States has not ratified the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty signed by 164 nations; Bush opposes it. This country rejects the Land Mine Treaty, concluded in Ottawa in December 1997 and signed by 122 countries. This country was also the only nation to oppose the U.N. Agreement to Curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms in July 2001.
The United States rejects an International Criminal Court because our personnel might become subject to its jurisdiction. The United Nations is treated the same way: When the United States can get the Security Council to do what it wants - say, bomb Iraq in 1991 - it goes that route; if not, as with its invasion of Panama in 1989, it simply disregards the United Nations or uses its veto.
In Afghanistan, the administration couldn't be bothered with the United Nations or any other international body to deal with what it declared to be a "crime against humanity": It simply bombed. As for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, classified as "unlawful combatants," South African jurist Richard Goldstone points out that this is "not a term recognized by international law." If prisoners, they are entitled to POW treatment; if simply criminals, "under the U.S. Constitution, they've got even better protection."
But for U.S. leaders, international law is for others, not ourselves. Whether an action involves waging war, with the devastation and death that "precision bombing" brings to a chosen country, or expanding environmental controls, the United States is proclaiming, more loudly than ever, that it will "act unilaterally," whatever the cost to others - and sooner or later to its own people.
Richard B. Du Boff is a professor emeritus of economics at Bryn Mawr College. Edward S. Herman is a professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
©2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc