The recent clash between lawmakers and the White House regarding the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) has many angered at President Barack Obama and, more specifically, his use of the presidential veto to negate the passage of said bill.
I am seldom one to defend the president’s policy decisions, doubly so when it comes to foreign policy. Yet the narrow-mindedness that propels this bill forward and threatens the national security interest of the United States compels me to speak in his defense today.
The issue addressed by JASTA – amending U.S. law to permit courts to hear cases where U.S. citizens bring a claim against the Saudi Arabian government for a (perceived) act of international terrorism – certainly appears clear cut at first glance, particularly to one not involved in the study or practice of international relations.
“Why would the president seek to prohibit American victims of 9/11 from suing a foreign government that potentially had a role in the attacks?” one might ask.
While the intentions of this bill are noble, and I do not doubt the patriotism of the lawmakers who support it, it ultimately has a far larger impact than what’s advertised and poses a legitimate threat to our national security interest and sovereignty.
This sentiment is echoed in the upper echelons of national security by legislators and intelligence officials. As CIA Director John Brennan so deftly puts it, JASTA endangers the well-being of our troops fighting overseas, our diplomats working to keep the peace and our intelligence operators toiling to keep America safe.
The role of sovereignty in international politics cannot be understated – indeed, it’s essentially the lynchpin upon which international relations rest. States, it is said, do not meddle in the internal affairs of other states. JASTA, however, changes that. By allowing U.S. citizens to bring suit against a foreign government, JASTA also inadvertently weakens our own sovereign institutions. Foreign nationals who now believe they have just cause to sue the U.S. now have a greater ability to do so.
The U.S. is more involved internationally than any other nation in history. Our military bases dot the global landscape, our ships patrol its water and our planes and satellites ensure we can see and be anywhere at any time. This awesome might, and the responsibility that comes with it, renders us vulnerable to foreigners with legitimate claims to bring against the U.S. government.
When other nations pass retaliatory laws in response to JASTA (which we have every reason to believe they will – no country will take a hit to its sovereignty without responding in kind), it is the American people who will be the most harmed.
The policy of sovereign immunity is not always popular, but it is always deathly vital to the United States’ interest. We simply cannot permit our country to be sued in another country’s courts.
Can the United States expect Doctors Without Borders to sue it for inadvertently bombing one of its hospitals full of the wounded? We can now.
Can the United States expect Yemeni civilians to sue it for contributing to an airstrike campaign that has killed thousands of civilians? We can now.
Can the United States expect Afghani civilians to sue it for causing collateral civilian deaths during a drone strike targeting militants? We can now.
Can the United States expect Turkish civilians to sue it for supporting the YPG Kurds, related to the PKK, which both Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist group? We can now.
At the end of the day, can the citizens of the United States of America expect to be more vulnerable and less sovereign?
We can now.