Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) warned an audience of foreign policy hands on Tuesday evening about the threat of "lawfare" on U.S. sovereignty, lashing out at the State Department, American law schools, the European Union, and the "so-called international community."
"First of all, it is important to recognize that the campaign against national sovereignty... is not going to go away anytime soon," Kyl said, as he accepted the distinguished service award at the annual gala event of the Center for the National Interest, which as of Tuesday is the new name of the Nixon Center.
The lavish event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel featured short and almost universally upbeat speeches by notable foreign policy figures, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, retired Gen. Chuck Boyd, center President Dimitri Simes, and fellow award recipient Julie Nixon Eisenhower.
But Kyl's acceptance speech turned into a 25-minute diatribe about the risk of the United States slipping unwittingly into an undemocratic system of international laws that would result in the loss of U.S. legal sovereignty. A large portion of the speech was directed at the State Department's top lawyer Harold Koh and the administration's announcement on Monday that it would honor two additional protocols to the Geneva Convention.
"Some Americans, including many leading academics and some high-level government officials, view sovereignty as an outmoded notion," Kyl said. "They want the United States to accept the authority of so-called transnational legal norms."
"In certain American intellectual circles, sovereignty is viewed not as a principle to be upheld, but a problem to be remedied. That view, with roots that reach back decades, is particularly strong among some faculty members at our prestigious law schools."
Kyl said that Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School, was a strong advocate of adopting certain elements of international law. Kyl said that Koh's philosophy was "not consistent with how laws are supposed to be made in our constitutional democracy."
The State Department announced on Monday that it would work to ratify Additional Protocol II of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which mandates stricter enforcement measures to guarantee the humane treatment of prisoners, and that the United States would voluntarily adhere to the norms established under Article 75 of Protocol I in international armed conflicts, which also prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners.
"The Additional Protocol would permit terrorist groups to receive POW privileges even if they hide among civilian populations and do not reveal themselves until just before an attack. This would give terrorists advantages over conventional forces," Kyl said. "If the United States adopted it, Protocol 1 would hamper American combat operations, increasing risks for U.S. soldiers, as well as for civilians in combat zones."
Kyl then went on to criticize the joining of sovereign legal systems in the European Union and said that the changes in Europe ran counter to democratic principles.
"Many of our friends in Europe believe that national sovereignty itself, including the sovereignty of democratic states, is problematic. They view international agreements as a means to advance progressive ‘norms' that have little support among democratic publics. And, some view it as a way to constrain U.S. power," Kyl said.
"In Europe there never was a sustained, serious, popular debate about the loss of sovereignty and democratic accountability. It just happened."
Several European ambassadors were present at the event. One of them, a critic of the EU, said to The Cable of Kyl's speech, "That was a lot of Europe bashing, even for me."
McCain's speech, by contrast, was light and self-deprecating.
"I must again ask for your sympathy for the families in the state of Arizona, because Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for president of the United States, Mo Udall of Arizona ran for president of the United States, Bruce Babbitt of Arizona ran for president of the United States, I from Arizona ran for president of the United States," McCain said.
"Arizona might be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children they can grow up to be president."
Other notables in attendance included freshman Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), former Congresswoman Jane Harman, former AIT Chairman Hank Greenberg, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, the center's executive director Paul Saunders, emcee Steve Clemons, and of course, your humble Cable guy.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.