Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exceptionalism, again

The Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1735-96), via Venice Clay Artists.
Hi, it's Stupid to say Democrats need to worry about letting ourselves get infected with the virus of American Exceptionalism.

Really? Shouldn't we be doing the opposite? Shouldn't we be protecting ourselves against rightwing accusations that we're not Exceptionalist enough, with our pacifist instinct and insistence on letting all the big bully countries do whatever they want? Shouldn't we be wrapping ourselves in the flag a little more, with symbolic gestures, to show how patriotic we are?

No, we should not, at least not in the way we've been doing it, with these big denunciations of attacks on our national sovereignty, like the one Jared Bernstein insists on tacking onto a recent routine denunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
We should eliminate provisions that allow investors to challenge sovereign laws...
The TPP is dead in any case, people, though the 3200 international agreements currently in force with provisions for Investor-State Dispute Resolution arbitrations are still there, and still don't threaten US sovereignty in any way (they can "challenge sovereign laws" but they can't make the challenge stick, or at least they haven't succeeded in doing it yet). It can't be just voted on in some Friday-night session in November; before votes can be scheduled, there need to be congressional hearings, and those would have to start in September, in the middle of a presidential campaign in which the Democratic candidate is going to have to be out proving she's really against it every day while the Republican candidate has succeeded in making it a Republican issue too. (The Republican platform committee has decided it's too hot for the convention and cut it out altogether.) There will still be Republican votes for the agreement, but not enough to pass it.

Oh, guess what, Orrin Hatch is currently against the TPP too, because it doesn't protect Big Pharma enough:
over provisions reducing American pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly control of advanced drugs known as biologics. The industry opposes the change and has a prime ally: Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Finance Committee.
In a statement, Mr. Hatch said, “If the president wants T.P.P. to be approved, he will need to work with Congress to address concerns. I’m hopeful that, at the end of the day, I, along with many of my colleagues, will be able to support a strong T.P.P.”
That's some lovely company you're keeping, TPP haters, with Trump and Hatch. Don't say I didn't tell you in advance.

Anyway, I really wanted to talk about some totally different stuff. For one thing, China, and its sacred and exceptional national sovereignty, which is threatened by the recent ruling out of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, according to which China doesn't have sovereignty over all the dots of earth in the shallow seas of Southeast Asia, which they claimed on the grounds that Chinese fishermen have been catching stuff there for some millennia, which is no doubt true, but Portugal doesn't think it owns Cape Cod. Also Filipinos and Malaysians and Indonesians and Vietnamese go fishing too. They're known for that. But that's Chinese Exceptionalism: those other countries are just stupid ordinary countries, whereas China is the Central Country (Zhongguo 中国), from which law sort of flows outward to those barbarians who are lucky enough to pick some up.

When the US criticizes China for its rejection of international law in this case, China can laugh at the United States with some justification, because the findings of the PCA tribunal are based on an international treaty that the US has refused to ratify, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, even though President Bill Clinton signed it in 1994. Republicans controlling Congress wouldn't take it up because they felt that its provisions violate America's sacred sovereignty.

Speaking on the occasion of the news from the Hague, Democrats have been reviving the discussion of ratifying the Law of the Sea convention:
“We are limited in our ability to strengthen international law… if we cannot lead by example,” said Sen. Jack Reed, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a rare public divergence from SASC chairman John McCain. ”The United States has not yet ratified UNCLOS, despite calls from our top military leaders who agree it will strengthen our national security.  The treaty is the foundation for today’s ruling, and U.S. support for UNCLOS will be critical if we are to be successful in advocating for the rule of law throughout the region.”
This is a really good development. If I could see a Democratic Congress under President Hillary Clinton ratify UNCLOS I'd gladly let the stupid TPP go, though I'm still annoyed about the way it's been destroyed by so much confusion and deliberate distortion.

The other thing is Britain, and its struggle toward an accommodation with the EU, which it would like to make like a special divorce where I still get to have sex with you exclusively but don't have to live with you or share my money. Britain's desire is that it should get all the benefits of EU membership and none of the obligations (unlike Norway, which allows complete freedom of movement and accepts all EU regulations in return for access to the single market).  That's British Exceptionalism.

In the negotiations on the TPP, the US was, quite rightly, demanding a sacrifice of sovereignty from the Malaysian and Vietnamese governments, among other things that Malaysia would have to make solemn commitments to putting an end to human trafficking on its borders and slavery-like conditions in its factories, and Vietnam would have to begin permitting the organization of Vietnamese workers into independent unions. That, whatever the merits of the agreement on the whole might have been, would have been a good thing. Even if Malaysia and Vietnam didn't do a great job, they still would be moving toward the recognition of human rights under strong international scrutiny.

In return, the other countries demanded that the US give up a little bit of its sovereignty and stop demanding special treatment for our outrageously abusive drug companies, and that certainly would have been a good thing.

That's how international law works, through negotiation in which nobody has a prima facie right to be exceptional. Fight a particular international agreement if you want, but make it on good grounds—don't tell me we can't join because it violates our sacred American sovereignty even as you agree that China or UK or Malaysia must sacrifice theirs. Exceptionalism needs to go, everywhere.

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