The Geneva Conventions have been around a long time and, despite some serious failings, for the most part they’ve done good for the world. Some might argue that diminishing the brutality of war might have prevented some from ending sooner out of sheer revulsion by the participants, but I think overall they’ve been beneficial. But they are terribly outdated.
The Conventions were passed in a simpler time, when wars were much more clearly defined. One nation would attack another, and then they’d fight back and forth until one side won or both sides got tired of fighting. But it retained the “personal” touch — it was one government or head of state against another, and there was a certain element of peerage involved. The good guys dressed one way, and the bad guys another, and you could tell them apart at a glance.
Nowadays, especially where we (the United States) is concerned, that just isn’t the case. It’s been over 60 years since the US was openly attacked by another nation, and I don’t see it happening any time soon. We have evolved from being one of the world’s great superpowers to the sole hyperpower, and no one dares openly assailing us. Since Viet Nam, every single time we have been in a conflict, we have had the luxury of choosing the when and where of the battle, and have decisively crushed our opponents each and every single time. “Don’t tread on me” has been replaced with “don’t even think of fucking with us.”
But that doesn’t mean that everything is just sunshine and roses. We are still engaged in pitched conflicts around the world, but they don’t qualify as “wars.” We don’t have a unified enemy under one flag in one uniform with one capital. We’re fighting civilians now, waging terrorism and guerrilla warfare.
That didn’t fit any of the models we had. The closest fit we had was criminal gangs, so we treated them as such. Clinton especially treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem, and threw cops and lawyers at it. It had it’s moments of successes, but failures as well. We locked up the people behind the first World Trade Center bombing, but that didn’t prevent 9/11.
The problem is that while the terrorists commit crimes, they aren’t criminals. Criminals’ motive is personal gain, for the most part, and have a fairly healthy sense of self-preservation. Terrorists are idealists, eager and willing to lay down their lives to kill us and ours for their cause. Police and lawyers aren’t equipped to fight that kind of enemy.
Terrorists fall into a gray area between criminals and soldiers, having elements of both but being fully neither. And there is nothing in the Geneva Conventions that covers such situations.
So it’s time for a new Convention, where the United States can outline just how it will deal with such people. And this one shouldn’t be held in Geneva. Geneva is a resort community — people go there, go to the spas, eat chololate, ski, and what not. We need this new convention to be somewhere that has seen terrorism up close and personal, where the wounds are still fresh and the delegates will be constantly reminded of just what this new enemy is. My suggestions are places such as New York City; Fallujah, Iraq; Beslan, in Russia; or perhaps Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 fell to earth.
Perhaps we can start holding countries accountable for the conduct of groups within its borders, much like we did in Afghanistan. An international endorsement of the Bush Doctrine, which says that if you help our enemies, you declare yourself our enemy. Nations that fund, give shelter to, or otherwise support terrorist groups will be made to pay the price for such actions.
The United States Constitution is probably the most perfect instrument for governing people, but it’s founders knew it would have to change and evolve over time. That’s why they put in an amending process, and we’ve used it 17 times since then. (The Bill Of Rights was passed at the same time.) The Geneva Conventions simply don’t apply to these current circumstances, and we need some new rules.