Research: Commentary

Power Without Statesmanship Will Not Gain Peace

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 23, 2003 | Article


Immediately after the 9-11 terrorist attacks there was an outpouring of support for and solidarity with the United States. The world faced a new threat, and, it was believed, the United States would now, as it had during the Cold War, lead the way in confronting it, consulting with its allies and working carefully within the United Nations system as it did so. As many saw it at the time, it was an opportunity not only to defeat the terrorists, but also significantly to strengthen the international system. The United States was seen as the champion of world peace.

Tragically, in only two years time, the Bush administration has managed to reduce U.S. credibility and prestige to its lowest point in memory, has brought us indeed to be seen not as the champion but as a threat to world peace. In a poll conducted for the European Commission by EOS Gallup Europe in October, for example, some 7,500 Europeans were asked which nations they believed represented the greatest threats to world peace. Israel topped the list, with the United States, Iran and North Korea tied for a close second. And this was a poll conducted among our allies.

As was one taken for The London Times in advance of President Bush's visit to Great Britain. By a 3-to1 margin, British voters strongly disapproved of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. And almost 60 percent believed America's standing in the world had fallen seriously under Bush's leadership. Indeed, just before Bush's arrival, Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, denounced him as the "greatest threat to life on this planet that we've probably ever seen."

Sealed inside Buckingham Palace with the queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush doubtless hoped he was impressing the voters back home with the success of his "state visit." But outside, a hundred thousand demonstrators were denouncing him and pulling down his effigy, even as they insisted to newsmen that the demonstrations were not anti-American, but simply anti-Bush.

Increasingly also, the U.S. is isolated in international organizations. There were two important votes on the Middle East in the U.N. General Assembly over the past two months, for example. The United States lost one by 133-4, the other 144-4. In both cases, only Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia voted with the United States. Every other country, including Japan and all our European allies, voted against us. The vote to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba was even more overwhelming this year than in the past -- 179-3; only Israel and the Marshall Islands voted with us.

In June, for the first time ever, the countries of the Organization of American States voted to exclude the United States from membership in the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. As a Latin American diplomat in Washington, D.C., put it: "It's a symbolic rebuff -- to show our disapproval of U.S. policies."

To what policies does the international community object? Basically, those that undermine the United Nations and the collective security system that had prevailed for the past half-century. Certainly the way the Bush administration went to war in Iraq played a major role in turning most of the rest of the world against us. Saying that it had hard evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction virtually ready to fire, it ignored the Security Council and with a sneer for "old Europe," invaded, thereby seriously undermining the U.N. But there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Subsequent efforts to get France, Germany, Russia and others to aid in the task of rebuilding Iraq, but with the U.S. still in charge, fell flat. They do not trust the word or policies of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team in Iraq. And who can blame them?

Iraq is by no means the only contentious issue. Friends and allies, already appalled by the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998 and its rejection the following year of the International Criminal Court, were stunned by the Bush administration's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, considered the epicenter of the system of arms control and reduction treaties that had helped to neutralize the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.

The Bush administration also made it clear that it would not abide by the Kyoto protocol aimed at reducing global warming and, in fact, that it attached no importance at all to international efforts to protect the environment.

Perhaps most disturbing was the administration's announcement in 2002 of a new national security doctrine which abandons the policies of dM-itente and containment followed by the United States since the presidency of Harry Truman, in favor of pre-emptive military action against any state deemed by the U.S. to be a potential threat to it.

The U.S. remains the strongest nation. But military power, unless combined with statesmanship, respect for international law and a commitment to work together with the other nations of the world, will not assure peace. The Bush administration has shown itself to be woefully lacking in statesmanship, and rather than working to strengthen the international system, it seems to have adopted unilateralism as its governing doctrine. No wonder our standing in the world has plummeted.

Wayne S. Smith is a former U.S. diplomat and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Original article available here.

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