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Country X Doesn't Care What You Think About its Laws

When I hear that Obama has denounced anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Russia, I always wonder at the futility of this sort of thing. In fact, it's probably counterproductive. Majorities of Ugandans and Russians disapprove of homosexuality, and they want their laws to reflect that fact. Criticism from foreign countries triggers a natural reaction to dig in even deeper.

And who should know that better than the United States? Decades of criticism of capital punishment from the EU, the Pope, Latin American nations have had no impact. To the extent Americans are even aware of the EU's disapproval of the death penalty, they scoff at it. 'We have our own country,' they think, 'our own history, our own traditions, and our own reasons for having the laws we do.' You might think policy X has become a fundamental human-rights norm which all civilized nations must respect, but we disagree.

Germany is pretty much the same. The U.S. has repeatedly accused Germany of violating the human rights of Scientologists, and Germany reacts with a loud 'mind your own f**king business'. Something similar can be said for the German coalition's new plans for Turkish-German dual citizenship, which the Turkish foreign minister has denounced as a 'human rights violation'. German and especially British courts are notorious for responding rather touchily (g) to criticism from the European Court of Human Rights.

Foreign criticism of executive decisions and policies seems to have some impact, but criticism of a country's laws -- especially when passed by democratically-elected legislatures -- rarely accomplishes anything.