When to Protect Americans Abroad (Hint: Not All the Time)
To what extent must Americans sacrifice to protect their citizens abroad? This question was recently raised by the sitting American president as he sought to avoid the death penalty for a notorious Mexican national who had raped and murdered a young girl on U.S. soil. Obama's concern, not unconsidered by many other Americans, asserts that if America executes foreign nationals, traveling Americans may be subjected to the judicial decisions of far less civilized countries, perhaps unfairly.
However, the question does not actually concern whether America will protect her traveling citizens, but rather whether America will establish justice for her own citizens at home. In such a dilemma, it is only right to consider that the number of American women, whom American men have a primary duty to protect, far outweighs any number of traveling citizens. And if Americans abandon the pursuit of real justice for the majority at home, they cannot reasonably seek to protect the minority abroad.
But aside from arguments relating to the number of people protected and their likelihood of danger (as it is in the interest of every tourism-reliant nation to ensure the safety and comfort of its visitors), there is a circumstance in which foreigners may not be released to their home country after committing a crime on American soil. In the event of terrorist plots, failed or otherwise, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may hold foreign citizens indefinitely, supposing ICE has enough evidence against such persons. The question is, why?
Considering that an act of terrorism is, though not necessarily an act of a state, a declaration of war, the country which finds itself under attack can only rightly be given authority to act with full force against its aggressor. But this act of war is not restricted to terrorist activity. In Second Treatise of Government, chapter III, John Locke clearly explains that an act of war is any which seeks to place another person under total control, or to kill, enslave, or render the victim totally dependent, for purposes unrelated to self-defense or legitimate pursuit of justice. This understanding of what it means to war -- and, in response to that reprehensible act, to establish united and authoritative protection of life, liberty, and estate -- is central to the declaration of American independence and crucial for the propagation of the American Dream.
Therefore, supposing such a heinous act is not directed toward a country, but toward an individual citizen within -- even considering that said act was unrelated to political motives -- to consider such an act any less than a declaration of war would be to strip civilization of its very right to defend itself. And in this retaliation against acts of unjust war, states are granted an entirely different set of options, such as the unalienable right to detain and execute foreigners, supposing those foreigners clearly intended to place, attempted to place, or succeeded in placing one of their citizens in such a position.
For all philosophical and moral purposes, an act of rape or murder falls into this category of war. It does not matter if the man who infringes upon those unalienable rights is Osama bin Laden, King George III, or one's next-door neighbor.
Of course, it is arguable that such a position places Americans in danger. But for too long have Americans considered themselves so privileged when traveling that they see little need to exercise prudence in their decision-making. Too often are tales told of Westerners who believe foreign countries exist for the purpose of inexpensive drunken revelry, believing themselves too secure to consider whether there may be serious legal ramifications to their injudicious behavior abroad. It is time for Americans to begin reading books about the countries they intend to visit, to learn the laws and customs, and to respect them as we should demand that others respect ours. And supposing the reason for travel is not related to missionary activity, perhaps Americans should reconsider whether to visit the world's more barbaric nations.
It has been my personal experience, having lived overseas during my youth and having spent a good portion of that time in dishonorable company, that American civilians sometimes live without fear of foreign authority. In southern Italy, I often saw walls covered in American graffiti, a plain declaration that our youths were running nearly unchecked and without a shred of respect. I have heard stories both infamous and little discussed about our citizens behaving similarly in the Far East, running amok and causing great trouble for local store owners and citizens alike. And though members of our military overwhelmingly behave honorably, I have seen enough of their children (and enough of the unruly sailor) to know that some Americans ultimately feel too safe to care about the honor of their nation and their image abroad.
This portrait, of course, does not reflect the overwhelming majority of American travelers, and it would be unreasonable to demand that the American government totally refrain from interceding on behalf of its citizens. But if in our protection of those who behave dishonorably we strip this nation of its right to protect its own citizens within its own borders, to bring justice to the unjust, and to protect and reward the noble, then Americans have lost their primary purpose: to make America, and not the world, safe for Americans. American citizens do not export their businesses and capital to uncivilized nations, as the conduct of those nations cannot be relied upon for security and stability. It is time Americans hold tourism to the same standard and establish justice where we alone make justice possible.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.