Commentary Magazine


Topic: Liberia

Justice Finally Served for Liberia

Say what you will about international law and international organizations, but it is undoubtedly a good thing that Charles Taylor, the murderous former dictator of Liberia, was just sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He thus becomes the first head of state convicted of crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials of the post-World War II era.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The New York Times sums up his gruesome record by noting that he was found guilty “of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition.”

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Say what you will about international law and international organizations, but it is undoubtedly a good thing that Charles Taylor, the murderous former dictator of Liberia, was just sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He thus becomes the first head of state convicted of crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials of the post-World War II era.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The New York Times sums up his gruesome record by noting that he was found guilty “of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition.”

Sure, it’s possible to criticize the international court for Sierra Leone, or the one for the former Yugoslavia, on the grounds that they are slow and unwieldy in delivering justice. And, sure, the international legal system theoretically could be abused to generate politically motivated indictments of Israeli or American generals and politicians—but so far that’s been more of a problem in national courts such as the Turkish court, which just issued indictments against various Israeli soldiers. By contrast, international courts are delivering justice at the end of the day for at least some war criminals. That’s more than national courts can say.

Far from this being an infringement on individual liberty, as so many conservative critics of the UN fear, this is actually a great enhancement of liberty by delivering justice for the victims of criminal states. Perhaps if such trials become a regular feature of the international community, then in the future dictators may actually think twice before committing fresh atrocities.

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Dreams of Disarmament

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Read Less




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