American Diplomacy and the Rule of Law

A call to freedom’s real arms.

September 14, 2013

U.S. Constitution. (Credit: Sascha Burkard - Shutterstock.com)

Over the past decade or so, the United States has departed from the rule of law. It is no exaggeration to say that in many ways, this is the greatest menace our freedoms have ever faced.

The happy interlude on Syria gives global rule-making another chance. We Americans must use it to reconsider our errant ways of thinking at home and operating globally.

Our country faces no external existential threat comparable to that of the Cold War. Yet, we have been building a garrison state that is eating away at our liberties — in the name of saving them. 

Peace is the climate in which freedoms grow. That is why we need an end to war. Otherwise, we fail to address the many threats to our ability to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution powerfully puts it.

Americans have always believed that societies that respect the rule of law and rely upon democratic debate to make decisions are more prosperous, successful and stable than those that do not. 

Recent efforts to impose our freedoms on others by force have reminded us that they can be spread only by our setting an example that others see as worthy of emulation. 

Freedom cannot be sustained if we Americans ourselves violate its principles time and again. This means that we must respect the right of others to make their own choices — as long as these do not harm us. 
 
Freedom also presupposes a contest of ideas. Our ideas will not prosper unless we maintain solidarity with others who value and also practice them.

That is why the first priority of American diplomacy must now be to reforge the unity of the global community behind the concept of the rule of law.

This cannot be done unless we confront and correct our own lapses from the great traditions of our republic. To re-empower our diplomacy by inspiring others to look to our leadership, we must restore our respect for our Bill of Rights as well as our deference to the dignity of the individual both at home and abroad.
 
Let me be specific.

1. We must revive the Fourth Amendment’s ban on searches and seizures of persons, houses, papers, and other personal effects without probable cause.

No more “extraordinary rendition.” And no more universal electronic eavesdropping, warrantless seizure of paper and electronic records at the border, and intrusive inspection of anything and everything in the possession of passengers using public transportation.

2. We must reinstate the Fifth Amendment’s protections against deprivation “of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  No more suspension of habeas corpus or executive branch assertions of a right to detain or even kill people, including American citizens, without charge or trial.

3. We must return to respect for the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right of anyone accused of a crime to be informed of the charges and confronted with the witnesses against him and to be represented by a lawyer. No more “secret evidence.”

4. We must reinstate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments,” including torture. And we must reaffirm our adherence to the several Geneva Conventions. We Americans can have no credibility as advocates for human rights if we do not practice what we preach.

In short, the path to renewed effectiveness in American diplomacy lies not just in wise and dexterous statecraft and the professionalization of those who implement it abroad.

It rests on the rebuilding of credibility through the rediscovery of the values that made our country great in the first place.

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Takeaways

The priority of American diplomacy must be to reforge the community behind the rule of law.

We Americans can have no credibility as advocates for human rights if we do not practice what we preach.

No more universal eavesdropping or intrusive inspection of the possessions of people on public transportation.

Freedom cannot be sustained if we Americans ourselves violate its principles time and again.

Freedoms can be spread only by our setting an example that others see as worthy of emulation.