Monday, 30 January 2017

The Fulbright Resolution and American Sovereignty

While all eyes have been on Trump and his executive orders, this House bill proposing that the US should leave the UN hasn't received much attention. 

The bill was introduced by Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, who's been talking about this proposal since the Brexit vote took place last June. He's also a co-sponsor of the "Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act", "Defund Planned Parenthood Act" and "Prohibiting the Usurpation of Bathroom Laws through Independent Choice School Act (PUBLIC School Act) of 2016"--a bill that says federal funding can't be denied to institutions that adhere to anti-transgender bathroom laws--as well as various other bills that you would assume an Alabama Republican would support (pro-gun, pro-flag, anti-abortion, anti-tax, etc.).

I was upset but not surprised by the bill. The thing that irks me the most is its use of "sovereignty". The United Nations does not impinge upon the sovereignty of its members. What do they think the UN is? It's very interesting, because sovereignty came up frequently in the rhetoric of the Leave campaign, as well as Trump's campaign. Supporters (of Brexit & Trump alike) talked about "taking our country back"--but from what?

"Many talk of being sovereign as if it were like being pregnant: one either is or is not. The truth is more complex. A country can be wholly sovereign yet have little influence. Britain has signed some 700 international treaties that impinge on sovereignty. Although the EU has the biggest impact, others count a lot: membership of NATO, for example, creates an obligation to go to war if another member country is attacked. It can be worth ceding this independence to gain influence." (The Economist)

Trump has talked about leaving NATO, too, ignoring the fact that the only time Article 5 was invoked was after 9/11--drawing America's European allies into war in Afghanistan. The United States has only benefitted from that particular 'loss of sovereignty'. 

The other thing that upset me about the bill was the fact that US membership in the UN was part of Senator Fulbright's legacy. The so-called Fulbright Resolution, House Congressional Resolution 25, was introduced by the junior Representative in 1943, just six months into his three decade long Congressional career. It pledged the US to join a postwar international organisation, with the precise form & details of that organisation to-be-determined.

In his statement to the House, available online from the University of Arkansas, Representative Fulbright reminded his colleagues of the importance of achieving a lasting peace this time, after having failed to do so in the aftermath of the First World War.

"To do nothing as we did in 1920 will be a decision in favor of international anarchy...All of our experience indicates that it is absolutely necessary that some positive, affirmative action be taken before the fighting is over, if we are to achieve anything of lasting value from this war."

It's essentially a commitment to internationalism, as he speaks out strongly against isolationism. The wording and content of the resolution is simple and innocuous, but it's an important statement to the world. It declares that the US is ready and willing to play its part in establishing the postwar world order, not to retreat and isolate itself as it did after the First World War. He kept the wording simple so that debates and disagreements over the details could be avoided at this early stage.

"Let us not forget that it was just such haggling and misunderstandings by the Senate in 1920, by both parties, over reservations and restrictions, many of them of little importance, that led to our renunciation of any responsibility for world order, and in a very real sense prepared the way for the savage total war of today."

It's been a tough ten days (it's only been 10 days!) of Trump being in office, with each morning's headlines documenting yet another outrageous executive order or unqualified cabinet member or 'alternative facts' from the new press secretary. It's been absolutely wonderful and affirming to see the resistance, though--from the millions who participated in womens' marches around the world to Greenpeace's Resist banner hanging from a crane above the White House, to the ACLU's legal challenge of the immigration ban and the thousands who are demonstrating against it at airports and in city centres. Tonight there are protests again--even in Leeds--and over 1 million people in the UK have signed a petition against Trump's proposed state visit. I love that people are standing up to the craziness, that the press is not backing down and accepting 'alternative facts'. About an hour ago he called the media "the opposition party" on Twitter. He means it in a derogatory way, but they should embrace it. I prefer the British term, 'her Majesty's loyal opposition'--i.e. the media is loyal to the country, and they are the opposition because of that loyalty. You can be an opposition party in service to the country--and that's just what the US media are doing right now. Let's hope they keep it up!