Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 115: Lunch and Politics

Now that I am commuting once a week from London (where my husband is) to Oxford (where I have the equivalent of a 126 days/year residency requirement for my degree), I grocery shop, or "food shop," more in London, and eat in-hall more in Oxford.

This provides for more interaction with my classmates, which, if I can stop thinking about my to-do lists, I thoroughly enjoy. On Wednesday, this interaction produced a very enlightening discussion about international politics.

Sparked by the testimony of a UK official that the invasion of Iraq was "illegal," my table began to discuss the definition of international law against which this war was illegal. Others at my table believed the woman who gave testimony in Parliament defined international law as something agreed upon by a majority of the world's nations. Whether or not this is accurate, I didn't know, but I challenged my classmates to consider a situation in which the U.S. should act against its economic or politic, even security interests to follow the dictates of other nations (essentially a question of national sovereignty). I began to think of the question myself and began to consider such scenarios when it was decided that the specific "law" which was violated was a U.N. agreement.

This in turn veered the conversation towards needed U.N. reforms, and the expression of frustration by classmates, and one in particular from Lebanon, that the U.S. had veto power at the U.N. but was not compelled to follow agreements of that body. I took the opportunity to explain how our Constitution prevents such agreements from having the binding power of laws until ratified by a 2/3rds majority vote in the Senate, and compared this to Ireland's ability to hold up EU agreements.

Many other complaints were aired, including why U.S. citizens in Lebanon were more valuable than others, invading Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, our alliance with Saudi Arabia, that my particular friend from Lebanon is always "randomly" checked under the Patriot Act at each and every one of the many U.S. airports she has passed through, and that the U.S. was so fixated (and discriminatory) in fighting our external enemies while crime rages on our streets.

While I sympathized with her on the "random" checks, I again took the opportunity to explain a little about U.S. federalism on the last complaint - that external relations were largely the province of the federal government, and that internal policing was the province of state governments, and ne'er the twain governments meet. Nor can constitutionally compel each other.

I really appreciated the frankness of the discussion, and the respect we all had for each other which rendered it honest without giving offense. This may be the first time I have benefited from direct, personal experience with an outsider's unflattering and contrary opinion of the U.S. and had the opportunity to defend my homeland when merited. I hope it will not be the last.

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