Another Blast from the Past: When Biden Teamed up With Helms

I missed Marc Thiessen’s Washington Post column a couple days ago recalling the time a senator named Joe Biden . . . hmmm, that name seems familiar, doesn’t it?—teamed up with Sen. Jesse Helms (!!!) to interpose themselves in the Clinton Administration’s diplomacy regarding the UN’s International Criminal Court:

Biden also surely remembers how in 1998, when the Clinton administration was negotiating a U.N. treaty to create an International Criminal Court, Helms did more than send a letter expressing his opposition — he sent his aides to Rome to join the negotiations and make his opposition clear. . .   Meeting with the United Nations delegates (with Biden’s aides present), we delivered a clear message from the chairman: Any treaty Clinton negotiated that did not give the U.S. a veto over the ICC in the Security Council was “dead on arrival” in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, unlike the Obama administration, the Clinton team smartly tried to use Helms’s opposition as leverage to negotiate more protections for Americans.

Helms did not simply write to foreign leaders explaining the Senate’s constitutional role in foreign policy. Together with Biden, he went to the U.N. headquarters in New York to deliver the message in person. On Jan. 20, 2000, Helms became the first U.S. senator ever to address the U.N. Security Council, where he warned of steep consequences if the U.N. failed to accept the U.N. reforms he and Biden had passed. And he explained to the gathered world leaders what a mistake it was to try to ignore the role of the Senate in foreign policy. Citing the example of Woodrow Wilson’s failure to secure congressional approval for the League of Nations, Helms declared, “Wilson probably could have achieved ratification of the League of Nations if he had worked with Congress.” Helms and Biden then invited the Security Council to Washington, where he gathered all the U.N. ambassadors in the old Senate chamber for a lecture from Senate historian Richard Baker on the Senate’s role in U.S. foreign policy.

The point about Woodrow Wilson, whom Obama channels most closely among past presidents in so many ways, is especially relevant.

Footnote: Clinton signed the ICC treaty in his lame duck period after the 2000 election, but then typically said he didn’t think it should be ratified.  In one of the better decisions of the Bush Administration, the U.S. unsigned the ICC treaty by sending a note to Kofi Annan instructing him to remove the United States from the list of signatories to the treaty.  I am not aware that the Obama Administration has tried to sign us up again, and here’s to hoping they don’t read this post and get any ideas.

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