- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Stanford, Calif. — For all his new and indeed well-earned stature on the international scene, President Bush remains a bit of an enigma to our friends and allies abroad. Is he really the internationalist they dearly want him to be and whom they have embraced since September 11? Or does the old "down with Kyoto" Bush, the despised, reputed isolationist, still lurk beneath the surface?
The transformation from one Bush to the other has been so abrupt and the president's learning curve in foreign affairs so steep that suspicions remain, despite the support the United States has received from abroad following the terrorist attacks. A mirror image of these concerns is found among the president's critics on the domestic right. Here, the worry is that the unilateralist they helped elect, the man who would look out for America's interests and not apologize for it, has turned multilateralist on them.
The answer to the question is no small matter for it contains the seed of American foreign policy in the next three, possibly seven years.
International suspicions were aroused once again last week by the Bush administration's move to end negotiations in Geneva on the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and this in the midst of a war on terrorism that has already included the first anthrax attack ever on the United States. The reaction was shock and horror. What was the administration thinking?
However, the fact is that the treaty has not succeeded particularly brilliantly. If we have had a treaty, why are we now irradiating U.S. mail and fumigating offices on Capitol Hill? Why is the U.S. government in the process of ordering enough smallpox vaccine to inoculate every man woman and child in the United States? The answer is, of course, that treaties without enforcement are worthless. Sometimes, treaties with enforcement mechanisms are, too. The Anti-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty comes to mind. It never prevented Saddam Hussein from pursuing his nuclear dreams.
The problem with the proposed enforcement body and protocol of the Biological Weapons Convention as discussed in Geneva was, as usual, that it would expose U.S. industry to an undue burden of on-site inspections, while at the same time leaving countries like Iraq and Iran, the real threats, untouched. The reaction to the U.S. move to end the conference was immediate and shrill, even though the Americans only proposed a "cooling off period" until November 2002. "Sabotage" was the charge leveled by the Federation of American Scientists.
George P. Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and now a fellow at the Hoover Institution, believes this is an example of the Bush administration's approach to international institutions. It is not an approach any more likely to please our allies abroad than was the Bush reaction to the Kyoto Treaty. "From the beginning, the Bush administration has been resisting turning over power to the international organizations," he says.
Speaking in his office overlooking the Stanford campus, Mr. Shultz told me that, "If you put your fate into a big agreement on biological weapons, you are going to get into a lot of trouble." What Undersecretary of State John Bolton told them in Geneva was "to get real." He believes this is one example where the nation-state comes in, though the concept in itself has suffered a decline in the past 50 years, eroded from below by the influence of non-elected, non-governmental organizations and from above by the supranational institutions.
Only nation-states can be held accountable, and Mr. Bush has repeatedly stressed that they will be in the war against terrorism. What does that mean for the relationship between the Bush administration and multilateral bodies? The United Nations comes to mind, whose secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has just been (incomprehensibly) nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the first steps, taken after September 11 by the White House,was to ensure that outstanding U.S. dues to the United Nations got paid. After that, the administration ensured passage of a U.N. resolution condemning terrorism, a piece of paper that has been useful in sustaining international support for the war in Afghanistan. And after that, Mr. Bush went to New York to throw down the gauntlet to the U.N. General Assembly, stating that "those who are not with us are against us."
Internationalism based on dealing with strong nation-states rather than multilateral organizations seems to be the model by which the Bush people operate. It is closer to the Reagan model than to the "new world order" model of the senior Bush administration or the permanent appeasement mode of the Clinton years, of course.
Nevertheless, as the president tries to get his hands around issues like money laundering, nuclear smuggling and international terrorism, all of which require cross-border cooperation, his foreign policy could become a balancing act. This is a president who likes to keep things in simple terms which may not be so easy as he faces the long struggle ahead.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide