March 29, 2008

WSJ on Bush and the election .. interesting


Bush the Multilateralist
March 28, 2008; Page A12

John McCain gave a major foreign policy address in Los Angeles Wednesday, and if his intention was to convey a subtle message about what distinguishes him from the current White House occupant, he seems to have succeeded -- at least with the press.

The presumptive Republican nominee spoke of the need for a "new global compact" based on "mutual respect and trust," of adding "luster to America's image in the world," and of "paying a 'decent respect to the opinions of mankind.'" The media played it all up as an attempt to distance himself from the "unilateral" President Bush, although the Arizona Republican never used that word.

We fully understand why Mr. McCain feels the need to show that his Administration would not simply be a third Bush term. But with Mr. Bush's days in office nearing an end, it's worth blowing apart the myth of the "go it alone" Presidency. The truth is that, with a couple of exceptions, he's been the model of a modern multilateralist.

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Mr. Bush came under early fire after announcing that the U.S. would reject the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, the U.S. had never ratified Kyoto, and the Clinton Administration had refused even to submit it for a vote. In 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 not to endorse any climate change pact that didn't include China, India and other developing countries, as Kyoto didn't. Voting "aye" were Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Harry Reid, among other noted unilateralists.

[George Bush]

Then came September 11 and the war in Afghanistan, which the U.S. continues to wage under a NATO flag. Unfortunately -- and despite the honorable exceptions of Britain, Canada and Holland -- few of America's allies in the theater are willing to commit more troops, much less put them in harm's way.

Iraq is where the unilateral myth settled into media concrete. But in fact, in 2002 President Bush bucked the advice of his more hawkish advisers and agreed to take Tony Blair's advice and seek another U.N. Resolution -- was it the 16th or 17th? -- against Saddam Hussein. Resolution 1441 passed 15-0. True, the Administration failed to obtain a second resolution, not least because the French reneged on private assurances that it would agree to a second resolution if America obtained the first. But who was being unilateral there? As it was, the "coalition of the willing" that liberated Iraq included, besides the U.S. contingent, some 60,000 troops from 39 countries, who have operated under a U.N. resolution blessing their presence.

The Bush Administration has since become all too multilateralist, even -- or especially -- regarding the "axis of evil." On North Korea, the Administration adhered strictly to the six party formula. Oddly, the same critics who decry "unilateralism" would prefer that the U.S. negotiate with Pyongyang directly -- which is to say, unilaterally -- and do without the help currently being offered by Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul and Moscow.

As for Iran, following revelations in 2002 that Iran had secretly pursued an illegal nuclear program for 15 years, Mr. Bush agreed to hand over the diplomacy to Germany, Britain and France, the so-called E3. Their efforts failed. So the Administration agreed to negotiate directly with Iran provided the mullahs suspend their uranium enrichment program. The Iranians refused.

Next the Administration succeeded in turning the matter over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been seeking answers about Tehran's nuclear file for five years. The IAEA's questions have yet to be fully answered. In 2006, the U.N. Security Council set a deadline for Iran to suspend enrichment. The deadline was flouted. The Security Council has since agreed to three weak resolutions sanctioning Iran. Even as his days in office dwindle, Mr. Bush has adhered to this failing multilateral diplomacy.

Shall we go on? For the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Administration arranged the so-called "road map," which is overseen by the "Quartet" of the U.S., Russia, the U.N., and the European Union. In Lebanon, the Administration worked closely with none other than France's Jacques Chirac to force the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005. With Russia, Mr. Bush welcomed its bid to join the World Trade Organization and has rebuffed suggestions -- including from Mr. McCain in his speech Wednesday -- that it be expelled from the G-8.

Mohamed ElBaradei owes his third term as head of the IAEA to the Administration, never mind that he all but openly campaigned for John Kerry in the 2004 election. On Darfur, the Administration has repeatedly deferred to the African Union and a pair of U.N. Secretary-Generals. Even after gathering evidence of secret Sudanese bombing runs in Darfur last year, Mr. Bush bowed to a special plea by the U.N.'s Ban Ki-moon to give diplomacy more time. The killings have continued. On global warming, the Administration has sought a compact with Australia, India and China to develop more carbon-neutral technologies.

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All of this goes unnoticed by the news media, which long ago settled on their "unilateral" stereotype and which has now become a Democratic talking point. Here's a prediction: Despite their campaign talk about cooperating with the world, two years into a McCain, Obama or Clinton Presidency our relations with Europe and the Middle East won't be much different than they are today. These disputes have far more to do with underlying differences in national interest and values than they do with the myth of Mr. Bush's unilateral diplomacy.

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