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The next great threat takes over the world

The next great threat takes over the world

With so much goin’ on, you may have missed this one, but a Repub filibuster in the Senate just fell apart today.

It was an effort to prevent Harold Hongju Koh, dean of Yale Law School, from becoming legal adviser to the State Department. So far as I can tell, the opposition came from the truly crazed right. We’re talking Glenn Beck and Daniel Pipes. But somehow it was brewing into the potential first big Senate floor fight over an Obama nominee.

In the end, eight Repub senators broke ranks and voted for cloture (but 31 Repub Sens voted for the filibuster). So the nomination can come to a floor vote tomorrow. Some of the losers are using a procedural privilege to stall the vote for one more day.

Koh is a highly-regarded legal scholar. Did I mention he was dean of Yale Law School? He also served in the Clinton and Reagan administrations and was mentioned as possible Supreme Court choice when Sonia Sotomayor got the nod. The filibusterers (including several who voted to confirm him the last time he came before the Senate) apparently are concerned that Koh is a “transnationalist” who believes that international law is equal to or maybe superior to U.S. law.

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Pipes also called him a “promoter of Shari’a,” which is Islamic law. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is worried that Koh will use his new position as State Department legal adviser to push for an international right to abortion. (Try to figure out how that would work.)

I took an interest in the Koh case because I covered a brilliant presentation he gave the Humphrey Institute in November of 2007. It was about how the U.S. was undermining its claim to international leadership by disregarding human rights issues. I’d be happy for you read the whole short piece (and you can see what Ericblackink looked like before it became part of Minnpost).

But if you don’t have time to click through, here’s a quick summary of Koh’s powerpoint presentation that day, in which he described the difference between good human rights policy and Bush human rights policy:

  • Good human rights policy: Diplomacy, backed by the threat of force as a last resort. Bush policy: pre-emptive war, which is a resort to force before exhausting peaceful alternatives.
  • Good human rights policy: Push for respect for human rights, based on universalism (in other words, the standards and expectations apply to everyone). Bush: Selective respect for selective human rights principles applied selectively to reward friends and punish enemies.
  • Good human rights policy: Advocate for democratization of non-democracies but understand that it must come from the bottom up. Bush: Democratize by force and fiat from the top down.
  • Good policy: Stand for effective international institutions even if it means U.S. can’t always get its way. Bush: attack international institutions because respecting them might mean U.S. can’t get its way. (Koh said that only two countries rejected the Conventions of the Rights of the Child, Somalia and the United States. “Somalia’s excuse is that they have no organized government. We have no excuse.”)
  • Good human rights policy: Strategic multilateralism with tactical unilateralism (which I take to mean a sincere commitment to trying to get things done multilaterally, backed by a willing to go unilateral as a last resort for limited purposes). Bush: Strategic unilateralism with tactical multilateralism (announce early and often that while you would be happy to have allies and the backing of international organizations, the U.S. is going to do what it is going to do, allies, international law or not).
  • Good policy: Tell the truth so the world knows it can believe you. Bush: Don’t.