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Jewish World Review August 13, 2001 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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In Praise of Unilateralism

U.N. racism conference shows that U.S. must be prepared to go it alone -- THROUGHOUT the 20th century, one of the keynotes of discussions about American foreign policy has been the debate between the unilateralists and the multilateralists.

In the eyes of most academics, pundits and the rest of the chattering intellectuals, the multilateralists were the guardians of the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, the champions of the failed League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations.

Opposing them were, in the view of our intellectual leaders, unenlightened cowboys who were too stupid to understand that America could never go it alone, and therefore must rely on its alliances with Europe rather than foolishly attempting to impose our will on the world.

In particular, Ronald Reagan, whose single-minded opposition to Communism offended many liberal establishment types, was often lampooned as the epitome of the blundering "ugly American," the buffoon who would have done better to listen to his European betters.

That is exactly the stereotype that many critics would like to hang on George W. Bush. But though respect in Europe and on the editorial pages of The New York Times will flatter his vanity, here's hoping that when it comes to foreign policy, Bush will prefer to play the cowboy rather than the preppie eager to fit in with the Europeans.

Because as much as it always makes sense to for America to listen to our allies and to employ multilateral diplomacy where needed, this is not the time for the president and the rest of his team to be hoping for good reviews in Paris.

For the first time since the 1970s, when Soviet expansionism and an aggressive group of Third World dictators ran roughshod over the United Nations, American diplomats are in the uncomfortable position of being a lonely minority.

Despite our status as the sole superpower, the United States is rapidly becoming isolated on issues such as missile defense, global warming, human rights and the Middle East.

Foreign-policy wonks like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times are worried that isolation on these issues means we are in danger of becoming a "rogue" nation. But Friedman and others like him are wrong to urge Bush to go along with the crowd.

A case in point is the United Nations Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa, starting on Aug. 31.

Although the stated topics of the conference are important with a capital "I," this event promises to be more than the usual U.N. exhibition of gaseous speech-ifying and world-class hypocrisy.

The event may also feature a return of the drive to falsely label Zionism as a form of racism, as well as calls for reparations for slavery from the United States.

The attempt by the Arab nations to hijack an otherwise meaningless U.N. exercise in political correctness into an orgy of Israel-bashing got the attention of some of Bush's drugstore cowboys. It prompted a warning from the administration that it would boycott the meeting unless the attack on Israel is taken off the agenda.

That incurred the wrath of African-American leaders, who see the conference as important regardless of whether or not it is used to attack Israel. And some, such as Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., have said that a refusal to participate would show that the Bush administration is "racist."

Hopefully, Bush will be smart enough to ignore the Georgian's trash talk. And if the United States sticks to its threat, it may help tone down the anti-Semitic vitriol that is rapidly becoming the standard fare not only at this meeting, but at virtually every world conclave lately.

Yet as much as the smearing of Zionism is the worst of the idiocy that this conference may produce, it is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, the grilling of the United States on slavery here during the 19th century is in direct contrast to the United Nation's determination to ignore the slavery currently being practiced in the African nation of Sudan.

The recent exclusion of the United States from a U.N. panel on human rights was also widely seen as the bitter fruit of Bush's refusal to play ball by U.N. rules. In fact, that move, as well as other similar developments, have shown yet again that the United Nations is incapable of promoting human rights in countries that have the approval of the European left and the developing world. The world organization's human-rights panel has consistently failed to condemn the vast array of human-rights violations being perpetrated in China, even as it continues to harass the United States over the implementation of the death penalty for murderers.

America does well to be out of step with these liars and hypocrites.

The United Nation's original Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, was itself a failure. It was too broad - taking in economic "rights" that spoke more about the socialist orientation of some of its backers - and it lacked specifics, such as protection for property rights.

It was, in fact, a pale shadow of much superior document, the U.S. Bill of Rights, which most U.N. members, then as now, wanted no part of. For all of its high-flown rhetoric, it did far less to to promote freedom than the unilateral efforts of the United States, such as the Marshall Plan.

On the Middle East, the knee-jerk condemnations of Israel's attempts to defend itself against Arab terrorism by the State Department - and even the White House, which termed Israel's targeted attacks on leading Hamas terrorists "excessive and provocative" - show a distressing tendency by this administration to get dragged into the failed policies of the Clinton era in an effort to go along with our European partners and the desires of the Arab nations.

This was so egregious that the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a confirmed liberal and no Washington cowboy, pointed out that Israel's attacks were entirely justified, and no different from what the United States would do under similar circumstances. Biden was correct, but there is more to it than that.

It will take courage for Bush to resist joining in the chorus of Europeans and Third World nation critics of Israel. It will also require strength of character to resist going along with appeasement of China (something that his friends in the business community also favor) and hamstringing the American economy in order to comply with the environmental edicts laid down by the Kyoto Conference, or to stick to a sensible plan of missile defense.

In particular, missile defense is an issue friends of Israel -- liberals as well as conservatives -- should be interested in. Israel and the U.S. have already cooperated on projects such as the Arrow to defend against missiles, but advances in this field are going to be necessary. Bush's instincts on missile defense should mix well with Israel's needs in this regard.

On all of these issues, Bush will have to take abuse in order to do the right thing. It is by no means clear that he is strong enough or confident enough to do that. And the influence of veterans of his father's administration is by no means benign.

Yet it appears that the more Bush risks being labeled an "ugly American," the greater his presidential stature will be.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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