Monday, March 13, 2006

George Bush, The Indian Nuclear Agreement and International Law

In the opinion of most of the world, no doubt the defining moment of the Presidency of George W. Bush was his response to the events of September 11th, 2001.

I respectfully disagree. The defining moment of his presidency, marked by a major news conference on August 9, 2001, was his decision to ban additional stem cell harvesting while letting research on those cultures already in existence continue.
My administration must decide whether to allow federal funds, your tax dollars, to be used for scientific research on stem cells derived from human embryos. A large number of these embryos already exist. They are the product of a process called in vitro fertilization, which helps so many couples conceive children. When doctors match sperm and egg to create life outside the womb, they usually produce more embryos than are planted in the mother. Once a couple successfully has children, or if they are unsuccessful, the additional embryos remain frozen in laboratories.

Some will not survive during long storage; others are destroyed. A number have been donated to science and used to create privately funded stem cell lines. And a few have been implanted in an adoptive mother and born, and are today healthy children... all Americans, I have great hope for cures. I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world. And while we're all hopeful about the potential of this research, no one can be certain that the science will live up to the hope it has generated.

I have decided we must proceed with great care....I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made.

Everything one needs to know about President George W. Bush is contained in that press release. He weighed the moral issues carefully and did not take the absolutist position of banning stem cell research entirely, but the middle-of-the-road position to continue research with the current lines, while halting the harvesting of new ones, because that is the point where the crucial moral decision is made.

President Bush doesn't believe necessarily that individuals or societies should suffer for past misdeeds, only that they should stop right now. (We didn't see anyone from the Clinton Administration prosecuted for trashing the White House computers in 2001, did we? Or analysts fired for failing to predict 9-11?)

So the President liberated Afghanistan rather than destroyed it, and corralled Pakistan into semi-cooperation rather than going to war against it. So President Bush liberated Iraq rather than follow the Ann Coulter prescription to "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Hence the President's decision on "Our Opportunity With India". On the one hand, it was argued that shunning India would enhance the stature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and international law. Of course, that would also mean snubbing the world's largest democracy and alienating an ally in the Global War on Terror.

Considering that the Non-Proliferation Agreement has proved difficult to enforce upon the rogue regimes (like Iran and North Korea) that abuse it most dangerously, and that shunning India could only add to short-term and long-term world tensions, President Bush made the decision to resume nuclear cooperation with India for "peaceful" purposes. I'm sure that I would have made the same decision.

So India gets away with it once again, as it did with the conquest of Goa, the war that split Pakistan, and numerous other issues. Pundits who object should ponder the nature and utility of international law. Domestic laws are policed and enforced, but international law reflects and codifies the current status quo for the convenience of those who profess to follow it themselves or desire to impose it upon others.

The ability to enforce international laws vary, and from country to country, as the world situation changes, so does the desire anto enforce international law. It is a self-policing system, its constitution the law of the jungle.

Is the solution a supra-national world government? Ah, but who would set the agenda of such an organization? Would the majority impose its will upon the minority? Would a minority impose its will upon everyone else? Would regional differences vanish? How could that happen except through long and terrible wars?

If human rights as we know them are to be preserved, it is at best far too early to think of a world government, or even a U.N. running its own enforcement and tax-collection. For now, until and unless humanity matures further we are stuck with muddling along.

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