The National Review describes a situation that occurs all too often. A task is undertaken which can only be accomplished imperfectly. But as Saul Alinsky once said, the Man can be beaten to death with his own rule-book; and so when the task is performed imperfectly, an extraordinary amount of money must be expended at the margins to make things “just so”. The example in this case involves 17 al-Qaeda suspects of Chinese nationality who must be released from Guantanamo. But since they cannot be released into China, which does not share the aspiration to perfection, they must be released into the US. (Hat tip: Tigerhawk)
Last June, five Supreme Court justices dreamed up a constitutional right for aliens held as enemy combatants to challenge their wartime detention in court. Now the bitter fruits of the Boumediene decision are plain to see: In Washington, a federal judge has ordered the release — into the United States — of 17 men captured near Tora Bora after the American invasion of Afghanistan….
The State Department has worked diligently to find a country willing to take the Uighurs — in fact, State has already persuaded Albania to accept five of their countrymen. China wants these detainees back, but we cannot send them there without violating a treaty obligation against transfer to a country where persecution is foreseeable. And under pressure from Beijing, to say nothing of their own security interests, other countries have refused to accept them.
None of this mattered to Judge Urbina, whose ruling makes a daunting diplomatic task even more difficult. Even allowing that Judge Urbina, appointed by President Clinton in 1994, felt the Uighurs’ pain, one might hope he’d have reasoned that people who attend jihadist camps assume the risks of jihad. The judge worries about the Uighurs’ rights, but what about the rights of the American people?
The incident illustrates another unremarked phenomenon. The US is implicitly considered the provider of last recourse, not only in economic terms but also with respect to security affairs. The Uighur case suggests that even with respect to human rights, America is expected to be the final guarantor that things work out ‘just so’. The concept is similar to dining out a restaurant where everyone eats as much as he wants of whatever he wants. But they are only expected to contribute as much as they feel like. So if the bill for ten diners comes to $1,000 and 9 diners kick in ten bucks, each the provider of last recourse ponies up for $910. (Hat tip: correction by reader below) Unless he does so he is ‘shirking a moral oblgation’.
Whether the subject is the world financial system, the preservation of world peace or the human rights of 17 al-Qaeda suspects the presumed source of all that will make it good are the American people. Judge Urbina might argue that his only job is to enforce what he considers the law. Where the resources come from to carry out his judgments is not his problem. That brings to mind an apocryphal anecdote about a former German rocket scientist who was applying to join NASA. When asked about his role in the V-2 attacks on London he answered, “my job was to get the rockets up. Where they came down was not my department.”
But ultimately it is someone’s department. Judge Urbina can optimize within the terms of reference of his legal world without regard to its impact on the larger system because of the presumption that some reserve exists to square the circle. For decades the US had the design margin to get ends to meet. But years of doing so have eroded the margin to the point where it may no longer exist. And the inability to meet that margin comes at the inopportune time when the public expects the margin to exist as a matter of right.
But the music must always play. One day one of the released al-Qaeda may commit an act of terrorism in the US but even then no blame will attach to anyone who actually released him. Even mistakes can still be retrospectively justified by the curious argument of “why didn’t you stop me from making that mistake?” Even today there are people who can say, with a straight face, it was your fault for not stopping me from stealing. For in the world of ‘just so’ we are guaranteed against our own misjudgements. The entitlement to perfection is absolute. That’s the argument the nine diners can make to the tenth who must make up the difference. ‘You knew the rules when you sat down at the table. So pay up the $910 and let’s drink to that.’