John Bolton, prominent conservative foreign policy adviser, visited Stanford Law School yesterday afternoon (compliments of the Federalist Society) to give a speech entitled “The Coming War on Sovereignty.” Speaking to a collection of undergraduates, law students and law professors, Bolton mixed humor with his famously blunt commentary.The graduate of Yale Law School and practicing lawyer devoted most of the talk to his relationship between the United States’ tradition of constitutionalism and the international organizations and norms. He argued that the U.S.’s now long-standing devotion to its Constitution should supersede international pressures.
He cited the death penalty as an example of this tension. A common complaint in the international legal community is that the U.S.’s continued support for execution is all that prevents international norms from condemning the practice to the ash heap of history. Bolton points out, though, that the existence of the death penalty is perfectly legitimate in our national democratic framework; debate is lively and individual states set their own policies. When Americans don’t want the death penalty, it will disappear. Until then, we have a right to practice it, regardless of international norms.
This line of thinking, as expected, invoked cries of “American exceptionalism” from the tweedy audience. (Though Mr. Bolton himself used the phrase as well.) One law professor, a former laywer at the State Dept., pressed Bolton on the issue by asking what the difference is between, say, America’s ability to puruse its own political ends in the name of sovereignty and Russia’s sovereign ability to “defend itself” and invade Georgia.
Mr. Bolton’s answer did little to clear up the seeming double standard, however. He replied that each case must be taken on an individual basis based on a close examination of the facts.
I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing below the other highlights of Mr. Bolton’s talk:
- North Korea – According to Bolton, the North Koreans have no reason at all to give up their nuclear program. It is their “trump card” in the face of American, Japanese, and South Korean hostility. That, and the regime is insane.
- Iran – Again, Mr. Bolton thinks that diplomacy alone cannot stop nuclear proliferation. In the case of Iran, the U.S. and E.U. have been in negotiations for over six years with little progress to show for it. This plays right into their hands according to Bolton; more than anything else, Iran needs time to get the darn thing working.
- **Spanish indictment of American officials – **Needless to say, Bolton was not a fan of a Spanish judge’s recent indictments of Bush Administration figures. He described it as a “lousy” to be treated by a treaty partner.
Check back with the Review in a few weeks time to get in-depth coverage of the event.