Lonesome Cowboy

Lonesome Cowboy


On April 11, as John Anderson notes in this issue, the International Criminal Court was scheduled to go into effect after being ratified by the required sixty nations. Although Bill Clinton signed the treaty, conservatives in Congress have opposed ratification. Now the Bush Administration is reportedly considering “unsigning” the treaty. Such an action would be but one more instance of this Administration’s commitment to a reckless, destructive unilateralism.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright liked to say that America was “the indispensable nation.” That formulation, however arrogant, at least implied a web of international obligations of which the United States was a part, even if it was sometimes AWOL (e.g., when it failed to support UN intervention in Rwanda). Bush Administration conservatives support a US policy aptly summed up by Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment: “Distrust treaties, increase defenses and assert American authority.” State Department planner Richard Haass puts it less crudely: “à la carte multilateralism.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice set guidelines in the 2000 election: We should “proceed from the firm ground of national interest and not from the interest of an illusory international community.”

But the “community” of Arab and European nations that demanded that the Administration intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before it engulfed the entire region was hardly “illusory”–witness Bush’s sudden about-face in sending Colin Powell there. Voices from overseas (along with the specter of rising oil prices and falling regimes in Jordan and Egypt) got his attention.

Unilaterally focused on the domestically popular war on terrorism, the Administration had averted its eyes from the pustulating Israel-Palestine sore. As a result, as Richard Falk writes on page 11, Bush overplayed the “antiterrorist card,” not only greatly broadening “the scope of needed response” but giving “governments around the planet a green light to increase the level of violence directed at their longtime internal adversaries.” None ran with that ball harder than Israel’s Ariel Sharon.

Israel-Palestine aside, the Administration’s Pentagon-geared, campaign-donor-friendly brand of American unilateralism has had harmful consequences for both national and international “interests.” We walk away from the Kyoto Protocol, increasing the danger that oceans swollen by global warming will inundate our coasts. We abandon the ABM treaty, opening the door to a renewed nuclear arms race that makes us less secure. We threaten “rogue states,” in the recent Nuclear Posture Review, with tactical nuclear bombs if they misbehave, thus erasing the threshold that confined the use of nukes to self-defense. We claim a military victory over terrorism in Afghanistan but fail to support adequately a multinational effort to provide food and security, protect women’s rights and rebuild the nation (see Jan Goodwin on page 21).

The British scholar Timothy Garton Ash complained recently in a New York Times Op-Ed that the United States simply has too much unwonted power and needs a counterweight–a stronger Europe. That may be, but we believe that the American future lies in supporting international norms and treaties and cooperation with other nations–not in projecting military power in pursuit of “interests” while building a garrison state at home.

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