Serbia

decwarsAmericans judge U.S. intervention abroad based on the success of the military operation, concludes Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin in an insightful analysis published today. Americans’ hindsight perception of military success – or failure – matters more than whether the President in power had the foresight to secure congressional authorization for the operation, Bravin adds.

He bases his analysis on a survey of the “mixed record” of military operations, dating to the 1941 declarations of war that launched U.S. military involvement in World War II. (credit for photo of President Franklin  D. Roosevelt signing declaration against Japan) Considered inter alia are:

doc_098_big► Interventions conducted pursuant to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (right) that led to escalation of the U.S.-Vietnam War, the 2001 post-9/11 authorization that preceded the U.S.-led counterassault in Afghanistan, and the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq.

► Many interventions that were not preceded by congressional authorization – including the United States’ role in the months-long 1999 bombardment of Serbia, waged, as Bravin put it, “to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s forces from attacking in Kosovo.”

Nacionalni_automobil_Yugo_1999The Kosovo effort emerges as a foreign policy success in American eyes – Bravin writes that it was “conducted under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, subdued Milosevic; resulted in no U.S. casualties; and ended 12 days before the 90-day deadline the War Powers Resolution of 1973 sets for a president to withdraw U.S. forces unless he obtains congressional authorization.” (credit for 1999 photo captioned “A street in Belgrade destroyed by NATO bombs”)

In short, the Kosovo operation’s perceived success as a matter of policy – its contravention of the terms of the U.N. Charter is an altogether different matter – depended in no small way on its limited character. That policy lesson of constraint also informs Bravin’s quotation of my own comment on the draft Authorization to Use Military Force in Syria that the Obama Administration has sent to Congress. Here’s my quoted critique:

‘The draft uses multiple verbs to characterize the ‘objective’ of intervention – deter, disrupt, prevent, degrade. All are vague and thus susceptible to expansive as well as restrictive interpretation. The breadth of the authorization, and the consequent potential for an eventual widening of operations in Syria, should spark concern even among those who favor a limited strike.’

?????????????????????????????A lightning-rod figure in international criminal law has left the bar: Jacques Vergès died in Paris Thursday. He’d been born in what was then Siam 88 years earlier – “theoretically,” according to Le Monde. The obituary hedges because Vergès’ birth, to a Vietnamese mother and a father who was the head of the French consulate, may in fact have occurred many months before the date that his parents married and proclaimed his arrival. Vergès made that personal history part of his public identity, even titling a 1997 memoir Le salaud lumineux (The Shining Bastard).

As an attorney, he took part in the defense of persons charged with heinous international offenses, such as genocide and crimes against humanity. These included Klaus Barbie, the German Nazi officer charged and eventually convicted in French national courts of World War II-era crimes (prior posts); Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Serbia who died in custody midway through his trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (prior posts); Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, still on trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (prior posts available here) (credit for 2008 photo of Vergès at the ECCC); and Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Côte d’Ivoire who awaits trial before the International Criminal Court.

Vergès’ signature technique was the défense de rupture, a turning of the tables that put not the accused, but rather the judicial institution and the instant prosecution, on trial. Such challenges compelled close examination of the courts and the proceedings. Put succinctly, Vergès’ techniques gave concrete reality to the notion of adversary proceedings. French legal experts remembered him as “courageous,” “provocative,” “intelligent.” And infuriating: his opponent in Barbie, attorney/author Serge Klarsfeld, told Le Monde (my translation):

‘Having conveyed my hostility to Jacques Vergès sufficiently while he was alive, I will refrain from speaking at this moment of his death.’