The Corner

The Coming War on Sovereignty

Although it doesn’t deal with State Department nominee Harold Koh in particular, John Bolton’s essay “The Coming War on Sovereignty” (in the March 2009 issue of Commentary) provides useful general insights on the transnationalist approach to foreign policy—and on its usurpation of domestic politics.  Bolton’s essay reviews a Brookings Institution report, A Plan for Action, that proposes a foreign-policy agenda for the Obama administration.  (Koh, incidentally, is on the Brookings board of trustees.) 

As Bolton puts it, the report’s transnational blueprint would entail “a sharp, indeed radical, turn away from the principles and practices of representative self-government that have been at the core of the American experiment since the nation’s founding.” The “pivot point” of that turn is a “shifting understanding of American sovereignty” — from the traditional meaning of “our collective right to govern ourselves within our Constitutional framework” to the modern liberal elite’s view of “transnational consensus as the proper model for the United States.” The report uses the euphemism “responsible sovereignty” to disguise its attack on the traditional notion of sovereignty. It calls for the United States to commit to “a rule-based international system” that will create the conditions for “global governance.”

The end result, Bolton warns, would be “to subject the United States to a kind of international oversight not only when it comes to foreign policy but also on matters properly understood as U.S. domestic policy.”  Through international pressure for “norming” — standardizing domestic policies across nations — “subjects of intense democratic debate within the United States” on which the Left doesn’t achieve victory would be internationalized. As Bolton explains:

[T]he losers in our domestic debate are often the proponents of internationalizing the controversies. They think that if they can change the political actors, they can change the political outcome. Unsuccessful in our domestic political arena, they seek to redefine the arena in which these matters will be adjudicated—moving, in effect, from unilateral, democratic U.S. decision-making to a multilateral, bureaucratic, and elitist environment. For almost any domestic issue one can imagine, there are likely to be nongovernmental organizations roaming the international arena desperately trying to turn their priorities into “norming” issues.

This is what “responsible sovereignty” would look like.… That is not the understanding of the U.S. Constitution, which locates the basis of its legitimacy in “we the people,” who constitute the sovereign authority of the nation.

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