Tuesday, April 05, 2005

American Bogeyman; Good Riddance, Bobby!

ChessBase and Iceland - your duo for bizarre, unreflective anti-Americanism. I hate to harp on issues but new developments in the Fischer story bother me just about weekly.

First, from ChessBase's article, though it's not clear whether they are using their own words or paraphrasing Mr. Oddsson:
...Mr. Fischer will not be deported to the US on charges of having played chess in a country which no longer exists...
Presumably a change in the political structure of the Balkans, which has made the location of Fischer's crime "non-existent," says nothing of whether Fischer's acts were criminal at the time he committed them (they were) and whether it is just merely to ignore crimes after the circumstances that led to the criminalization of those acts, at that place, at that time have changed (and I do not see a good justification for letting Fischer's crimes slide in this case merely because the Balkans are not the same now as they were in 1992). After all, Fischer may have committed crimes in That-Which-No-Longer-Exists (has a volcano destroyed Sveti Stefan? It seems a poor phrasing to claim the place no longer exists...), but the institutions whose rules he broke are still very much existent. Fischer violated United Nations sanctions and broke U.S. federal law; this is very much different from saying he broke the local laws of a place that has entirely changed its political structure, changed its laws, and does not have any claim on prosecuting crimes committed under the old regime.

I did say United Nations sanctions, right? Well (from an Icelandic editorial, though it's reprinted in the linked article):
Althingi did not bring Iceland to shame with this decision; instead, it saved the United States the shame of having imprisoned Robert James Fischer for the sole crime of not having behaved in harmony with American foreign policy.
American foreign policy? The sole crime Fischer committed was not following U.S foreign policy, so presumably those UN sanctions were nothing more than American foreign policy. I was not aware the UN could impose sanctions on the say-so of one member state. This point deserves analysis. The UN imposed sanctions on former Yugoslavian states because that is one of the UN's diplomatic tools to defuse conflict. The UN almost never uses military force to end conflicts, though it did so twice, in the Korean War and the first Gulf War, because the use of force is contrary to the UN's ideals of peaceful resolution of conflict. I and most U.S. chief executives disagree with this almost pathological aversion to force, because we are more realistic, so it is safe to say that the U.S. and the UN disagree in many cases on what to do with warring states, like the former Yugoslavian states. The UN would prefer peacekeeping, economic sanctions, and the like; the U.S. would not be averse to using force is this seemed best, and President Clinton did in fact send troops to the Balkans when Milosevic got out of hand. If the U.S. agreed to economic sanctions in 1992 it was as one player in a field of countries who thought that some sort of coercive measures would help bring peace to the Balkans; it is misleading to then say that this constituted "American foreign policy."

Fischer violated the UN's rather weak but well-intentioned rules to stop people from profiting with a war-torn and pathetic region. As I've said all along, I can't imagine why Iceland would want Fischer. He's an international criminal, an anti-Semite, and a nut. It is embarrassing to want to harbor this man. Iceland can pretend Fischer was a political prisoner all it wants, and that it was defying American hegemony by giving safe haven to this pathetic, washed-out lunatic, but the issue for United States law enforcement was only ever about justice and the rule of law. If the concept is so foreign to Icelandic commentators that the idea that Fischer is just another criminal deserving of prosecution never comes to their minds, it will not reflect poorly on America.

I am rather proud of my country to have had one of the greatest chess players of all time, and to have had enough respect for the rule of law to pursue him and attempt to bring him to justice. Of what can Icelanders be proud?


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