Andrew Sullivan noted that the US has declined to sign a UN treaty “prohibiting governments from ‘disappearing’ individuals or keeping anyone in secret detention.” While I agree with Sullivan that this is shocking, I don’t think there’s anything particularly Bush-ish about the move. In fact, this would seem to be a continuation of a thread in US foreign policy that goes back to his father and continued throughout the Clinton presidency – and it’s important to note the continuity.
This common thread has been for US officials to work with other countries and the UN behind the scenes on a particular international agreement, and directly or by proxy (i.e., Canada and the land mine treaty some years ago) get it to the point where it becomes a viable international treaty, and then refuse to sign on. Usually the inability of getting anything through a divided Congress is cited – but you can easily make the case that the overarching but quiet US policy is to engage in extensive international rulemaking that will compel others to act in well defined ways both internationally and domestically – while exempting itself from those same agreements. In a way, it’s a continuation of a two-century-old vision of US exceptionalism – but this time the effort is to formalize this as a matter of law around the world.
Examples include the aforementioned landmines treaty, Kyoto, the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty, the International Criminal Court, etc. If I had done a PhD, this was likely going to be one of my research subjects – international rulemaking and power in the post-cold-war era. (BTW I also raised this point in 2002 and in 2001 among others.)