WS>>Obstinate Orthodoxy

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Fri Nov 7 21:19:33 MST 2003

          By Fred Hiatt
          Washington Post

          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
     commitments whatever.

           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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