We take it for granted that Presidential candidates say dumb things during campaigns. Sure. That’s a given.
Mitt Romney’s taking it a step farther with a letter to the United Nations he released today.
The part I take for granted is that conservatives running for the Presidency follow two main rules for campaigning on foreign policy issues. First, you’ve gotta hit the bad guys harder than your opponents do, no matter whether or not the attacks make sense. After all, the candidate with the toughest rhetoric is the toughest. The second rule is you always hit the folks who can’t hit back.
Romney’s latest letter follows both rules, but it’s way dumber than the average posturing. Romney first demands that the UN revoke its invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the upcoming General Assembly. These calls were first made last year and were properly met with guffaws.
Romney also includes in his letter veiled threats at the UN. If you don’t listen to us, he says, we’ll pull your funding and support. It’s standard campaign behavior, but given where the American public is on international institutions and foreign policy, it won’t get him very far in the general election. Either way, it’s a textbook application of rule 2, since the UN has no capacity or mandate to respond. Forget hitting back, it can’t even block.
But Romney really loses his footing when he calls for Ahmadinejad to be indicted under the Genocide Convention. I’m not a laywer, but my understanding of the Convention is that it makes genocidal intent very, very difficult to prove. So the idea is a non-starter already.
It gets more interesting than that, though. John Bolton and others have suggested that Ahmadinejad is guilty of incitement to genocide, but they have never suggested that he be indicted for that crime. That’s mostly because such a move would put imply support for the International Criminal Court — an ideologically untenable position.
I’ll elaborate. The U.S. can’t prosecute anyone for genocide because current U.S. criminal code doesn’t allow for it. The Iranian courts might be able to prosecute the crime, but I hardly believe that Romney wants to indict Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide here in the U.S. only to send him home to be prosecuted in Iran. A new international tribunal would take years and millions of dollars to set up, and it would be a non-starter with the international community.
The only other option would be prosecution at the International Criminal Court. Neither Iran nor the U.S. is a member of the ICC, but the U.S. could refer the “situation” to the ICC Prosecutor’s office for investigation.
The ICC would never prosecute — first, because there is no case, and second, since Iranian courts likely exceed the requirements for independence under the Rome Statute, the ICC still would have no jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, Governor Romney should give us details. Does he support the ICC? If not, where should Mr. Ahmadinejad be tried?
When we’re done with all that, we can come back to the importance of a universal international dialogue absent of veiled threats between countries and against international institutions. But given what’s coming out of the Romney campaign right now, that seems like way too much to ask.
— Scott Paul
Note: Two relevant details have come out in comments. First, the House passed a resolution calling for Ahmadinejad’s to be charged with violating the Genocide Convention; only Reps. Paul and Kucinich voted against. Also, a reader points out that genocide can also be prosecuted in countries whose laws provide for universal jurisdiction over genocide. However, I’d be similarly surprised to discover that Romney supports this option, since many conservatives are even more troubled by universal jurisdiction than the ICC.