Of all the words Nancy Pelosi has lately spoken on the subject of impeachment, the most telling may have come in a relatively little-noted CNN Town Hall on December 5. They didn't even concern Donald Trump, but they probably said more about official Washington's splendid isolation from the real-world effect of its actions - or inactions - than all of the recent press releases on the topic combined. Responding to an audience member's question as to why she had "resisted calls for the impeachment of President Bush in 2006", Pelosi replied that she believed that starting the Iraq War was "not a ground for impeachment", even as she asserted that she knew the Bush administration's rationale for the war to be fraudulent from the start.
Let's remember that this was a war that Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, had declared "illegal"; a war whose continuing effects can be found in today's news; a war the prospect of which provoked a level of worldwide opposition without precedent. And indeed, Pelosi reminded the audience that she herself opposed it and that the reason she knew the administration's arguments to be bogus was that she had served on the Intelligence Committee where they presented the evidence that would supposedly justify the war. "So, I knew there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq," she said. "It just wasn't there ... I knew it was a misrepresentation to the public."
And how does this all add up to "not a ground for impeachment"? According to Pelosi, it's because "they won the election. They made a representation. And to this day, people think that it was the right thing to do." In other words, in her view, the obligation of the House to pursue the truth ended when George W. Bush lied to the public in convincing-enough fashion to be reelected in 2004. Her final words on the subject at the Town Hall were that Bill Clinton had at that point recently been impeached for "being stupid", and "Now, they want me to do George. This - I just didn't want it to be a way of life in our country."
Could there be any clearer exposition of just how little weight international law carries in Washington, or how desensitized our leaders have become to waging foreign wars, or just how little the lives of faceless foreigners count for in the capital? A president is given a pass on impeachment for starting an illegal, unprovoked war that kills perhaps 200,000 people (estimates vary widely) - 100,000 of them civilians, and 5,000 of them American troops and mercenaries - because the Speaker of the House doesn't "want it to be a way of life in our country"?
When the United States ratified the United Nations Charter, we - like all other member nations - agreed to abide by certain principles, including that "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations." (Which of course means that the war would have been illegal even if the Bush administration hadn't been lying about the "weapons of mass destruction".)
The judgement of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal that tried Nazi Germany's leaders following World War II was even clearer: "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." There was a time when the Nuremberg Judgement was taken seriously in this country and even entire nations were now understood not to stand above international law. "I was just following orders" was no longer considered justification for one's actions when the orders themselves were criminal.
Or, at the least, lip service was paid to those principles. In today's Washington, however, raising these issues would probably just bring you a blank stare. After all, we wouldn't want paying serious attention to such considerations to become "a way of life in our country", would we?