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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of July 31 - August 6, 2002

Opinion Column

Our ever-shrinking interest in the world

We seem to be tacking against the general winds of the world—that of increasing political, economic, environmental and judicial cooperation.

Express Arts Editor

When the Bush administration announced last week that it would withhold $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund—an organization committed to women’s reproductive health and family planning—it was roundly criticized for bowing to the conservative groups Concerned Women for America and the Population Research Institute.

The issue barely beneath the surface was, of course, abortion. There is no denying it was a pointed political move. The administration had itself asked for the funds last year but, subsequently, balked when conservative groups charged the U.N. organization facilitated forced abortions and sterilizations in China. The White House sent a fact-finding team to China in May, which reported back that the U.N. program neither directly nor indirectly had any such coercive role in China.

More than insight into the trench warfare of abortion politics, however, this latest decision by the president is one in a series of signals of a bigger political ideology at work: that of a steadfast commitment to maintaining America’s unilateral perogative in a rising tide of globalism. In a sense, we are having the federalism argument—Hamilton vs. Jefferson—all over again, this time on a global level.

An early sign of this new foreign policy approach was the administration’s opposition to the Kyoto accord—an agreement by the industrialized countries of the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are believed to contribute to global warming. Despite the fact that the United States is the world’s largest polluter, and despite the fact that the European Union and 54 other nations signed the accord, we have decided short term economic self-interests outweigh long-term, global environmental and, eventually, economic interests.

A second sign of our retreat from the global community was our decision to impose 30 percent tariffs on steel imports. Because the big steel companies in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio are losing the competition with foreign producers, the administration decided to improve big steel’s chances with tariffs. That these three states will have pivotal House seats up for grabs in November, and account for 46 electoral college votes, no doubt figured into the decision. Regardless, the country that touts free market economics suddenly has no will for it when it starts to lose in a competitive marketplace.

Third, there is the issue of the United Nations International Criminal Court—a new entity as of July 1 that is charged with addressing global war crimes. The Bush administration has refused to join the court unless U.S. citizens receive immunity from any sort of future prosecution. It is hard to fathom the justification for demanding everyone play by the rules except us.

Finally, there was just last week a failed attempt by the U.S. to block a plan at the U.N. to bolster the 1989 convention against torture. The plan calls for United Nations’ Economic and Social Council to conduct regular inspections of prisons and detentions centers around the world to check for abuses. The concern of the administration is that the U.N. body will gain access to the detention camp at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where "enemy combatants" and the suspected al-Qaida members are being held. Other U.S. prisons would be subject to inspections as well, though how the states’ rights would factor into the equation is hard to know. It seems a place like Guantanamo Bay, however, is a perfect candidate for inspections. I would hope we weren’t torturing people, and it seems unlikely we would be, but, if so, why shouldn’t the world know about it? Torture is torture, no matter who is doing the torturing and no matter who is being tortured.

Curiously, the proposal enjoyed wide support among Western European and Latin American countries, while those opposing it included the United States and conservative Muslim states.

I don’t doubt that President Bush considers himself a leader and the United States to be the leader of the world. But the president’s inclination to avoid multilateral agreements and organizations belies a true sense of leadership. To lead is to be part and parcel of a group, to be engaged and involved with the members of a community. We seem to be tacking against the general winds of the world—that of increasing political, economic, environmental and judicial cooperation.

As the Gulf War and the bombing campaign in Afghanistan proved, we need the help of other countries to achieve our goals. In the latter case, it seems obvious that to simply protect ourselves on our own soil from terrorists requires tremendous cooperation and involvement with the global community. We may be big and powerful, but the course of history is showing us that that does not afford us the ability to act unilaterally without consequence, as we did in the mid and latter part of the 20th century. I would venture to say the global political and economic model President Bush holds in his mind’s eye is a relic of his father’s generation.

It’s not that our greatness has diminished; it is that the rest of the world has become a stronger and more cohesive force. President Bush would do well to reconsider participating in global affairs. He just might become the leader of the free world. The alternative is to become marginalized as just another leader of an American political party.



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