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re: The U.N. Debate


Seth, Andrew, I’m weighing in a bit late on Senator Thompson’s off-the-cuff suggestion that we deny Ahmadinejad a visit, because I think a few valuable points remain to be made. First, in the spirit of friendship, the Lincoln quote that Seth used does not quite support his position. What Lincoln said was this: “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” He was addressing Congress on July 4, 1861, a few months after his inauguration. The country had slid into civil war. And Lincoln was explaining his decision to permit sweeping summary detentions in the Union areas, despite the fact that under the Constitution the president has no power to suspend habeas corpus. Lincoln was well aware this was tantamount to establishing an extra-constitutional dictatorship, but the alternative was the violent disintegration of the republic and its government.

If the entire system of international law were falling apart, and in order to save it, we had to deny this Ahmadinejad a visa, then the Lincoln quote would be apt. But the foreign policy of the United States still seems to presume that we are going to win the current global conflict eventually, and that we will have done so by strengthening international law, not weakening it. So long as we remain committed to international law — and to the obligation of the contracts and promises that we have made as a nation — we had better continue to treat our treaty obligations like they are made of gold, as we always have. The treaty credibility of the United States is a treasure that we have inherited from our forefathers, and we have a responsibility to pass it on intact.

Unlike Arafat’s little whatever-that-is in Ramallah, the current Iranian regime is a member state of the United Nations Organization with a credentialed delegation present in the General Assembly. It is entitled to have its terrorist-in-chief attend the Annual Plenary — and the United States is bound — not by a generic “rule” but by a solemn treaty — to extend him entry rights. That is the treaty we signed for good and ill, and that is how we have always interpreted it. Thompson’s casual suggestion that we deny him a visa is worrisome because he showed so little appreciation of what a dramatic shift in U.S. policy it would be to begin disregarding our treaty obligations without so much as a legal theory to base our action on — a casualness all the more disconcerting coming from a senator who is an attorney and who touts his experience in foreign policy.

On the other hand, in the public declarations of the president of Iran rejecting the Security Council resolutions pertaining to his nuclear program, the government of Iran has essentially abrogated the U.N. Charter. Therefore, Iran is officially no longer willing to abide by its obligations under the treaty, and its delegation and membership are therefore open to a credentials challenge. Given the current state of opinion in Europe, a credentials challenge that would “remove” Iran’s delegation from the U.N. entirely may soon be a realistic prospect.

But until that happens — or until the U.S. decides to withdraw from the U.N. Charter — there is no way the U.S. can deny Ahmadinejad an entry visa. For Senator Thompson to have suggested the contrary without out so much as a nod in the direction of America’s long-term treaty “credit-worthiness” smacks of rabble-rousing — and perhaps laziness, too. Fix the problem in the U.N. or even kill the thing off. But let’s not respond to Iran’s disregard for international law with disregard of our own — we would legitimize Ahmadinejad by reducing ourselves to his level.


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