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Try George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin for War Crimes

The one constant of the much-remarked rules-based order is that its creators routinely exempt themselves from its requirements. This behavior continues with Washington’s proposal for a special tribunal for Russia. If the U.S. is going to pose as the world’s moral guardian, it should accept what that actually means.

George W. Bush
Image of US President George W. Bush.

The International Criminal Court has charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with war crimes and issued an arrest warrant. U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed the action, saying that Putin has “clearly committed war crimes.” The State Department called on Russian officials to be held responsible for atrocities committed by Moscow’s forces. Observed Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “Anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations.”

There is only one problem. Biden went on to admit that “the question is — [the ICC is] not recognized internationally by us either.” Indeed, Washington is impeding investigations of Russian battlefield behavior. As the New York Times reported: “The Pentagon is blocking the Biden administration from sharing evidence with the International Criminal Court in The Hague gathered by American intelligence agencies about Russian atrocities in Ukraine.” 

Why would they do that? “American military leaders oppose helping the court investigate Russians because they fear setting a precedent that might help pave the way for it to prosecute Americans,” the Times explained.

Yet this is mild compared to the Trump administration’s reaction to the ICC. Led by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a likely Republican presidential candidate, the previous administration imposed sanctions on two ICC prosecutors along with their families, for daring to “investigate US personnel.” Washington treated them like Chinese, Iranian, and Russian violators of human rights.

The West’s Artificial Lack of War Crimes

Apparently trying to square the circle of backing human rights trials while exempting the U.S., the State Department recently proposed the creation of “an internationalized national court” backed by allies to try Russians. Conveniently, such a court would conduct no embarrassing investigations of Americans. According to the State Department’s Beth Van Schaack, ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, “We are committed to working with Ukraine, and peace-loving countries around the world, to stand up, staff and resource such a tribunal in a way that will achieve comprehensive accountability for the international crimes being committed in Ukraine.” But nowhere else, shielding Washington and its allies from liability. 

Indeed, Van Schaack admitted that the administration feared setting a precedent that could be used to target Americans.

The Biden administration has good reason to worry about Washington’s potential liability. U.S. forces are active around the world, droning, bombing, invading, and occupying other nations with minimal accountability. Washington’s promiscuous use of military force has resulted in hundreds of thousands of needless civilian deaths, most dramatically in Iraq and Yemen. Neither of these wars can be justified, with the first based on a convenient lie and the second derived from a dictator’s whim.

Economic sanctions, too, have killed. They are currently being used to impoverish Syria, whose people are in desperate need. Three decades ago, UN ambassador Madeleine Albright dismissed concerns over sanctions causing mass death of children with the chilling statement that, “We think the price is worth it.” 

Europe, often complicit in American wars, is likely to go along with Washington’s proposal to sit in judgment over Russia’s aggression while refusing to subject itself to similar international oversight. The Global South, however, might not be so compliant. African governments have previously noted that international tribunals such as the ICC rarely addressed crimes committed anywhere but Africa. Moreover, after a long history of self-serving wars and sanctimonious moral posturing, the U.S. and its allies have left developing states unwilling to join the West’s campaign against Russia. 

Rules Should Be Rules

The Biden administration should offer to make American officials liable for trial if Moscow does the same. Let Washington’s leaders also be subject to review. There should be no special treatment for those who piously claim moral leadership of the world. 

To assuage concerns over possible unfair prosecution of U.S. service personnel, this process could be applied only to senior decision-makers, military and political. Let both Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush stand in the dock over their respective invasions of Ukraine and Iraq. Let Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and, yes, Joe Biden be judged for their aid to Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen. Let congressional leaders face the world for using privation and starvation as political tools, ravaging the peoples of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

If the West won’t live by the same standards that it seeks to impose on Russia, what moral authority does it possess to sit in judgment of others? This isn’t whataboutism that downplays Moscow’s criminal responsibility — Russian officials should be held accountable for war crimes. But so should leaders of other nations, whether Ukraine or America, if appropriate. As the Global South has recognized, Western nations routinely commit murder and mayhem and then move on, acting like nothing happened while leaving humanitarian disasters behind. These governments should be judged accordingly.

The one constant of the much-remarked rules-based order is that its creators routinely exempt themselves from its requirements. This behavior continues with Washington’s proposal for a special tribunal for Russia. If the U.S. is going to pose as the world’s moral guardian, it should accept what that actually means.

Author Expertise and Experience 

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire. Bandow is also a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties. He worked as special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and editor of the political magazine Inquiry. He writes regularly for leading publications such as Fortune magazine, National Interest, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times.



  1. Astrosatirist

    April 4, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    At an idealist level there should be a universal standard moral code by which people and leaders should be judged and held accountable… But anyone that is not completely naive or subject to an unrealistic level of cognitive dissonance has some understanding that the world, including ‘international’ bodies such as The Hague (or UN, WHO, etc.) is subject to self-serving, corrupt, greedy bureaucrats who enjoy their sense of power, and in their jealousy or differing mores, cultures, standards, etc. would find leaders guilty of ‘war crimes’ whether or not they had knowledge of such crimes, could have stopped the crimes, or, even though as world leaders they should, ideally, be held responsible for the actions of all those within their chain of command, would you have every world leader held responsible for the actions of rogue elements of their military, administrations, intelligence agencies, etc.?

    Regarding the ‘Iraq’ (Second Persian Gulf) War, if I remember correctly, there were both U.S. and British intelligence reports of the Saddam regime and the Baath party attempting to procure yellowcake uranium in Africa. The current narrative is that these reports were false, even though it was widely reported at the time. Additionally, there were several reports of mobile biological warfare ‘labs’ (ridiculous concept). Iraq has WMDs… but supposedly, this was false… After the first Persian Gulf War, instead of creating a power vacuum in the region by allowing Coalition forces to decimate all the remaining Iraqi forces, including Republican Guards, fleeing Kuwait (who, per Saddam’s claims, were apparently slant drilling across the Iraqi border and siphoning off Iraqi oil reserves), the Iraqi forces not completely destroyed along the “Highway of Death”, were allowed to remain under Saddam’s power, who, shortly, thereafter, had Republican Guards drop mustard gas (chemical WMDs) from helicopters decimating two Western-friendly Kurdish villages in the mountains. Iraq/Saddam had WMDs… any strawman-arguments notwithstanding, the question wasn’t whether Iraq had WMDs, it was only whether they had Biologic and/or Nuclear WMDs in addition to chemical WMDs. And while there no evidence about any Biologic WMDs, there was a Pentagon report and NYT article (no matter how buried) about a U.S. airlift to remove 500 tons of enriched uranium from Iraq, where environmentalists were concerned about the possibility of the heavy lift cargo plane being shot down by a SAM, dispersing radioactive material over the debris field (think “dirty bomb”). Now, supposedly the uranium wasn’t weapons grade, only for nuclear reactor research… but enrichment in breeder reactors and centrifuges is faster with enriched uranium than unenriched. There was also a story of a high-level Iraqi military officer that said that the Iraqis were aware of the paths and times of satellites and that breeder reactor components, centrifuges, and weapons grade uranium were being smuggled under the cover of night and driven to the middle of the desert and buried near the border to Syria until it would be safe to smuggle the contraband across the border. Naysayers argue that the information was probably obtained under torture, and, therefore, undependable, or just a lie to secure a less-harsh punishment… Did Iraq have nuclear or biologic WMDs? Unknown. Did Iraq have chemical WMDs? I think the dead Kurds and U.S. EOD teams who operated the Iraqi munition burn pits would argue, yes, Iraq had WMDs.

    Now, is George W. Bush responsible for war crimes? What about the intelligence agencies, or specifically the operatives, surveillance/reconnaissance, and analysts that reported attempts to build a nuclear WMD? What about the House and Senate Intel committee members, State Department, etc. that received and conveyed these reports? What about the near-unanimous votes to proceed with war against Iraq? Under oil embargoes, Saddam’s palaces didn’t hurt for more gold, money, etc., while Iraqi’s population starved, culled and terrorized by the Baath regime… So, George W. Bush should be solely tried for war crimes, but Saddam? Baath membership? What about rich Kuwaiti’s who were stealing Iraqi oil during the first Gulf War? How far back do we want to go? What about Benghazi, when Barack’s administration and Hillary’s State Department hung out the U.S. Ambassador who had been suspected of selling/coordinating arms to the Muslim Brotherhood for the Arab Spring, yet U.S. forces were told to stand down and not provide aid and support to a U.S. embassy under attack. What difference does it make? What about President Clinton killing innocent Afghanis in a small mountain village with a conventional Tomahawk cruise missile strike where Usama Bin Laden had been hours before… Do we want to go back to Vietnam? Korea? We know about the trials at Nuremburg, but what about FDR administration’s internment camps of Asian families for the suspicion of being Japanese spies and saboteurs? Or the Southern-Democrat Jim Crow laws used to terrorize, control, and suppress the Black vote, used by the Nazis as the template for the antisemitic Nuremburg laws. Do when want to go back to the Armenian genocide by the Young Turks? How many of them were brought before the Hague? When are we expected to see Xi or Il brought before the Hague for Crimes against Humanity?

    While ideally I agree with the sentiment, unfortunately life isn’t fair… And it never will be no matter how much you may attempt to force ‘equity’ upon nature… Feeling moment to moment that your sexual identity changes along a ‘spectrum’ doesn’t change your chromosomic gender… And, I hate to say it, America is at an internal crisis, now, as it is obviously that we cannot effectively lead the world when we cannot even maintain election integrity, all our institutions have been corrupted, hamstrung, and/or are being destroyed by Marxist-progressive fifth columnists, our government, especially our executive and judicial branches are being sabotaged by the deep state, and our innocent children are being groomed by pedophiles in positions of power throughout the country. May God have mercy on us, help us turn away from these evils and guide us toward His righteous path.

  2. David Chang

    April 5, 2023 at 6:34 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Isoroku Yamamoto is loyal to the King of Japan, and researches the strategy and tactics of USN, but opposes Japan government ministers and Army declaring war on the United States, which he thinks that Japan will lose.

    Before World War II, famous Japan law and politics scholars and Army officers and government ministers have believed atheism, they encourage people in Japan to invade other country, and declare socialism warfare on the United States. But Isoroku Yamamoto opposes the socialism Asia policy of scholars and government officers, so Japan Army officers send riflemen to the gate of the Japan Navy Command, aim on the Navy Command, and declare that Isoroku Yamamoto and the Japan Navy are traitors.

    After the first half of World War II, Political scholars, law scholars, philosophy scholars, anthropology scholars, sociology scholars, psychology scholars promote atheism to incite war.

    The wrong of government is not about police and soldiers should be under the command of civilians, but every people should confess and repent to God.

    God bless America.

  3. GhostTomahawk

    April 5, 2023 at 1:57 pm

    Try Bill Clinton, George Bush AND Barack Obama as war criminals.

    All three engaged in war crimes. Obama threw Bush under the bus for torture while he conducted a drone war that had 90% of the fatalities were innocents.

    But the ICC can’t charge American presidents because our laws will not permit it as we don’t belong to the ICC.

    If you want to change these 3 it’s easy. All 3 have massive levels of corruption and its easy to find. Now that the democrats “broke the seal” look for the political mutually assured destruction to commence

  4. Cody

    April 6, 2023 at 6:49 am

    Anyone who is so stupid and brain dead clueless to be unable to see the VAST difference between deliberately LYING the US into going to war against Iraq and also against Afghanistan, citing phony allegations of WMDs that Bush and his mostly jewish cabal of bloodthirsty neo-cons knew did not exist – and what Putin was deliberately provoked into doing by the conniving, mentally insane neo-con psychopaths who were planning to bring Ukraine into NATO and then be able to station US nuclear missile capable missile batteries RIGHT ON RUSSIA’S border, which would be able to hit Moscow within a 5 or 6 minute flight path, effectively giving Russia almost no time to react to an attack on their sovereign nation – is either a total ignoramus – or, they are dishonest, lying and conniving con artist who is trying buffalo their reading audience.

    Remember when the former USSR tried to station their nukes in Cuba and how the US reacted to that? This idiot thinks Putin is a ‘war criminal’ for taking the steps necessary to protect his nation and the Russian people from an America attempt to do the same thing to his country?

    Putin is on the right side of this conflict and I respect him for standing up for his nation.

  5. Fran Macadam

    April 6, 2023 at 8:28 am

    There is only victor’s justice.

  6. pink & blue prince

    April 6, 2023 at 9:09 am

    Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Tony Blair & many other former & current world leaders should be charged for war crimes against humanity. Obama refused to prosecute Bush & said we should move forward & not backward. Biden refuses to prosecute Bush & would say the same thing. The real reason they refused to prosecute Bush is that they can’t stand up to Republicans & they are also war criminals. Biden authorized the Iraq & Afghanistan Wars as Senator. Obama ended Bush’s war in Iraq only to restart it along with a war in Syria. He continued the war in Afghanistan which he called “The Good War”. He bombed Libya & said there was genocide going on & there was no genocide. He sent drone strikes to lots of places. He said Assad used chemical weapons & he did not use them.
    Trump may not have started wars & Russia started no wars when he was POTUS. Trump scrapped the Iran Deal, rolled back trade and travel to Cuba, sent a drone to kill Soleimani and supported Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories.

  7. Cody

    April 7, 2023 at 6:21 am

    I strongly agree that Trump’s killing of Soleimani was a unbelievably despicable and sickening decision. Furthermore, at the time it happened, I read reports that said Soleimani had traveled to the destination where he was murdered because he intended to participate in a meeting to discuss how to best achieve peace in the Middle East. So, in essence, he was probably lured to that meeting for the purpose of killing him with a drone strike.

    There is no way to spin that as anything other than a chickensh$t, cowardly bitch move and Trump lost a ton of respect for allowing Pompeo and his neocon war pig cabal to talk him into authorizing it.

    Imagine an equivalent scenario where someone carries a White flag into a conflict, calling for a ceasefire so the two or more groups in conflict can sit down and work out a mutually satisfactory end to the conflict – and the occupant sitting in the White House decides to authorize a drone strike to kill the guy carrying the White flag.

    The behavior and integrity of the rulers of America just keeps getting sicker and sicker and more dishonorable and psychopathic with each passing year.

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