Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Foreign adulterants

For a nation that likes to describe itself as "The Great Melting Pot" it is amazing how we Americans respond to things foreign. But I say that especially for our Republicans, who often seem of two minds.

For a time they wouldn't eat "French" fries. Democrat John Kerry was afraid to utter a simple "Bonjour" for fear of being called "Frenchified." Meanwhile George Bush was making speeches in an unknown tongue when he should have been studying Remedial Spanish.

But where the contradiction really comes into relief is between the Republican reaction to foreign influence on the courts versus foreign influence on the intelligence services.

There are so many articles on U.S. reliance on foreign intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war that my selection is random. Let's take this from a blog,

The Senate Intelligence Committee, in its report issued last week, blasted the Central Intelligence Agency for poor intelligence gathering and analysis, and concluded that the U.S. "intelligence community depended too heavily on defectors and foreign government services" to make up for America's lack of human intelligence in Iraq. The credibility of these outside sources was difficult to ascertain and, as a result, the United States was left open to manipulation by foreign governments, the Senate report concluded.

In particular, the Senate report claimed, America had become completely dependent on foreign sources to evaluate Saddam Hussein's ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. On this front, the Senate committee concluded that the foreign intelligence was "credible." On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, however, the Senate report concluded that the United States relied on incorrect intelligence to argue that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Any direct references to Israel were blacked out of the published version of the Senate report, but an earlier report issued in March by a Knesset committee made it clear that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies were working together and exchanging information.

Then there was the famous Colin Powell speech to the U.N. Security Council that relied upon ... British intelligence—which in turn was based upon "recycled academic articles."

You would think that for the tens of billions of dollars flowing into the CIA's coffers, they might produce something more than foreign hand-me-downs. But even more, you might suppose that the Republican Congress would be well and truly outraged. At the very least, you might have expected some heads to roll. But to the contrary, they were quite restrained, even sympathetic.

Now compare that with their reaction to foreign influence on the Supreme Court. Again, the Republicans have spoken on the matter so often that there is an embarrasment of examples, but I'll take this MSNBC account by Tim Curry from March 11—

.... Republican House members are protesting the court’s increasing use of foreign legal precedents in interpreting the Constitution.

Republican House members Tom Feeney of Florida and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, joined by more than 50 co-sponsors, will propose a non-binding resolution next week that would express the sense of Congress that judicial decisions should not be based on foreign laws or court decisions.

While Feeney and Goodlatte, who are members of the House Judiciary Committee, can’t summon the justices before them to defend their use of foreign precedents, they hope to fire a rhetorical shot across the bow of jurists who increasingly look to foreign legal trends, especially in death penalty and gay rights cases.

Feeney even used the “I” word, impeachment, in an interview with in his House office Wednesday.

“This resolution advises the courts that it is improper for them to substitute foreign law for American law or the American Constitution,” Feeney said. “To the extent they deliberately ignore Congress’ admonishment, they are no longer engaging in ‘good behavior’ in the meaning of the Constitution and they may subject themselves to the ultimate remedy, which would be impeachment.”

So the Republicans were mildly disturbed when foreign intelligence services provided the basis for leading the nation into an illegal war at the cost of many lives and God-knows-how-much money, but find it unthinkable for the Supreme Court to take into consideration foreign jurisprudence out of—as Justice Breyer said, quoting from the Declaration of Independence—a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind."

Go figure.

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