carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Fri Nov 7 21:19:33 MST 2003
By Fred Hiatt
As the United States fights a war with few allies
alongside it, one version of how President Bush alienated
the world has jelled into a kind of orthodoxy. Even before
beginning his Iraq diplomacy last fall, according to this
story line, Bush had doomed his chances by arrogantly thumb-
ing his nose at the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto
Protocol and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. If he had
maintained Clinton administration commitments to these and
similar multilateral ventures, other nations would have
accepted U.S. leadership on Iraq.
It would be wonderful if that were the whole truth,
because it would mean that ending America's isolation would-
n't be all that hard. Get a president who travels to Paris a
little more, quotes scripture a little less and returns the
nation to a mainstream acceptance of international law, and
the problem would go away.
Unfortunately, the problem is deeper-seated. And
nothing makes that clearer than to remember that -- the
orthodox story line notwithstanding -- President Clinton in
his way also thumbed his nose at the International Criminal
Court, the Kyoto Protocol and the ABM Treaty. He just didn't
do it as arrogantly -- or, Bush partisans would say, as
It is true that Vice President Al Gore flew to Japan
to take part in the final, grueling negotiations on the
Kyoto Protocol on global warming and that he was much ap-
plauded for taking such a political risk. It is true that
Gore signed on to the treaty, which committed the United
States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990
levels by the year 2012, even as India and China assumed no
But Gore didn't really mean it, he explained when he
returned to Washington. The administration did not intend to
submit the treaty for Senate ratification. Even as it signed
the document one year later, it called it a "work in pro-
gress"; the signing, The Post explained at the time, was "a
largely symbolic act." Beyond promising that new technolo-
gies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions without causing
any economic pain, the administration never put forward a
plan to reach Kyoto targets.
When it came to the International Criminal Court,
Clinton was as worried as Bush about exposing American
soldiers to international jurisprudence. He was dissatisfied
with concessions his negotiators extracted in the final
treaty; he complained about its "significant flaws." But
again he signed it anyway -- to "reaffirm our strong support
for international accountability," he said. Then he said he
wouldn't submit the treaty for Senate ratification and would
recommend that Bush not do so either.
Clinton was committed to the ABM Treaty with Russia,
the primary purpose of which was to outlaw national missile
defense. But Clinton also spent much of the last two years
of his presidency unsuccessfully trying to persuade the
Russians to redefine the treaty precisely to permit national
missile defense. "One way or another," Clinton's national
security adviser, Sandy Berger, told his Russian counter-
part, according to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott,
"NMD was almost certain to proceed."
The Bush people entered office full of righteous
indignation at these hedges. Signing treaties that you
didn't believe in, salvaging treaties that you intended to
undermine -- these struck the Republicans as classic Clinto-
nian attempts to keep everyone happy, to offend no one, to
kick problems into the future for someone else to deal with.
They vowed to bring straight talk to foreign policy, and
they did. Bush not only disavowed the ICC, he pressured
other countries to follow suit. He junked Kyoto without
bothering to offer anything in its place. He walked away
from the ABM Treaty. And he made a lot of people angry.
One conclusion is that straight talk isn't always the
wisest course in diplomacy. There may be times when fudging
to avoid conflict and working toward consensus is better
than forcing confrontation. Bush seemed at times to offend
gratuitously, beyond what honesty demanded. He could, for
example, have said that while he agreed with Clinton about
the impracticality of the Kyoto Protocol, he also agreed
that global warming was a concern. He hardly bothered.
But it's also fair to ask whether Clinton's fudges
would not sooner or later have proved untenable. It wasn't
for lack of sincere diplomacy that Clinton failed to per-
suade Russia to bless U.S. national missile defense, or
Europe to modify Kyoto or the ICC. Nor did he manage to win
U.N. approval for U.S. military operations in Iraq and
In each case, the refusals had to do with foreign
fears of America's unique place in the world, with resent-
ment of its status as lone superpower, unrivaled in military
and economic might. Clinton was more eager than Bush to
assuage that resentment, but he was hardly more willing to
shackle America's economy or cede judicial control over its
troops abroad to do so. To misremember the history now
understates the challenge America faces in the world, espe-
cially after Iraq, no matter who is president.
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