Authors: Clyde Prestowitz
American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
Has America turned its back on the world? The term ‘rogue nation,’ formerly reserved for outlaw countries, is increasingly applied to the United States-not only by enemies but by people and nations who have been steadfast friends. The litany is familiar to anyone who has ever read an op-ed page. In the six months before 9/11, the United States walked away from a treaty to control the world traffic in small arms, the Kyoto accord, a treaty to eliminate land mines, the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention, and many other international agreements. After a brief flurry of coalition-building following the attack, the United States turned a cold shoulder to NATO’s offers to assist with the invasion of Afghanistan, unilaterally terminated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Agreement with Russia, and actively opposed the creation of an International Criminal Court. Then came the war on Iraq, begun despite the clear refusal of the United Nations Security Council to authorize an invasion.
Unilateralism is as American as apple pie, and in Clyde Prestowitz’s view, these actions do not signal a new U.S. hostility toward the rest of the world. On the contrary, our democratic ideals remain the hope of the world-but our allies increasingly see us as abandoning those ideals. Where we once defined our national self-interest in terms the whole world could embrace-favoring strong global institutions, due process, and the rule of law-we now seem to be thinking more narrowly in terms of our immediate military and economic security. Where we once supported international alliances such as NATO and the United Nations, we now deem those institutions irrelevant or even a hinderance.Where we once contained our foes, we now launch preventive attacks on potential threats. More and more, we act alone, with little regard for, or even awareness of, the needs and goals of other nations.
is not an argument against American dominance or the exercise of American power. It’s an argument against stupidity, arrogance and ignorance in the exercise of power. Prestowitz explores the historical roots of the unilateral impulse and shows how it now influences every important area of American foreign policy: trade and economic policy, arms control, energy, environment, agriculture. In every area, he argues, a multilateral approach, consistent with our humane and liberal core values, is also in our long-term best interests.
At Odds with the World – and Ourselves
No longer obedient, belonging or accepted, not controllable or answerable; deviant, having an abnormally savage or unpredictable disposition
—Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary
Consider that wee shall be as a titty upon a hill, the eies of all people upon us
—Governor John Winthrop
he title of this book is purposely provocative. So let me hasten to emphasize that I in no way mean to equate the United States with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or any other brutal, dictatorial regime. Indeed, I have always preferred to think of my country as the ‘citty upon a hill,’ if sometimes a bit more cloudy than shining. No, what troubles me, and has inspired my title, is that increasingly large numbers of people abroad, including many longtime friends of America, are beginning to see us, if not exactly like Saddam or other brutes, certainly as, in the words of Webster’s dictionary, ‘no longer…belonging, not controllable or answerable, and with an unpredictable disposition.’ In fact, today’s (Monday, February 24, 2003)
carries a front page story saying that many people in the world consider President George W. Bush a greater threat to world peace than Saddam. Nor is this a recent development resulting from the debate over what to do about Iraq. Listen to the
of London: ‘America, the ‘indispensable nation,’ begins to resemble the ultimate rogue state. Instead of leading the community of nations, Bush’s America seems increasingly bent on confronting it. Instead of a shining city on a hill…comes a…nationalistic jingle: we do what we want…and if you don’t like it, well, tough.’
That was not written yesterday, but in the spring of 2001 at the time of the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto treaty to control global warming.
It was at that time that I was beginning to discover the depth and rapidly expanding extent of the foreign alienation from America in a series of trips during which I interviewed leaders around the world. In fact, I was on the last leg of one of these trips when, at 3:45 P.M. on September 10, 2001, I heard the last call for the four o’clock plane from San Francisco to Washington Dulles and quickened my pace. This was the last afternoon flight before the dreaded ‘red eye.’ I was tired and not feeling well and didn’t want to miss it. So I ran and ducked into the Boeing 777 just as the door was closing. My travels had taken me to Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta, and Honolulu for a series of conferences and interviews dealing with globalization and America’s role in the world. As a sometime resident abroad and head of a foreign policy research institute, I had become uneasy with what I had been reading and hearing about widening gaps between America and its longtime friends.
The trip had not laid my concerns to rest. The picture of America as seen from abroad was increasingly ugly. In Asia, as previously in Europe and Latin America, I had heard rising criticism and even fear of a United States that was often at odds with the rest of the world as well as with its own professed ideals. Recent American moves withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, accelerating deployment of a national missile defense, and declaring China a ‘strategic competitor’ had raised fears of a new Cold War. In addition, the gospel of economic globalization preached by the United States had, in the eyes of many Asians, been found wanting in the financial crisis of 1997-1998. Developing countries in Asia and Latin America suffered devastation while American hedge funds and banks escaped unscathed. Some had even begun to see globalization as a new form of imperialism. I had also heard criticism of America’s unilateralist tendencies, as evidenced by its rejection of both the Kyoto Treaty to control global warming and the international treaty banning use of landmines in the face of nearly universal ratification by other countries, including all of America’s traditional allies and friends.
As I hurried home and brooded over these and other criticisms, momentous events with which we are now unfortunately all too familiar were in train that would dramatically escalate these questions of America’s role and behavior in the world. As my plane lifted off from San Francisco International Airport, two obscure visitors to the United States, Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz Al-Omari, drove from the Milner Hotel in downtown Boston to a Comfort Inn in South Portland, Maine. Meanwhile, a National Security Directive calling for military and intelligence operations against one Osama bin Laden and an organization called Al Qaeda continued to sit on National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice’s desk awaiting presidential approval. I arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport at about 12:30 A.M. on the morning of September 11 and drove home as Atta, Al-Omari, and their friends slept.
At about 9:15 A.M. I groped for the ringing phone, thinking it was my assistant Sonjai Harrison, calling to tell me she’d gotten me an early doctor’s appointment. It was Sonjai, but she wasn’t calling about the doctor. ‘Turn on your television,’ she commanded. After the initial horror, I couldn’t help but think that the alienation had gone much further than I realized.
At a press conference shortly after the attacks, President George W. Bush was asked, ‘Why do they hate us?’ The ‘they’ in the question were the terrorists and their backers, including what were being called ‘rogue nations’ and what Bush subsequently labeled the ‘Axis of Evil.’ The immediate answer to the question, however, came from a different, far more important and far more numerous ‘they’ who demonstrated dramatically that, far from hating, they
us. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, our longtime Cold War adversary, was the first to call the White House. He was followed quickly by President Jiang Zemin of China, another country with a history of troubled relations with the United States. Jacques Chirac, president of France flew quickly to New York and became the first foreign leader to view Ground Zero. Others followed. Of course, these were the prescribed and perhaps even calculated courtesies of diplomacy. But there was no denying the genuineness of the expressions of sympathy that poured from common people around the globe. American embassies from London to Moscow to Singapore were buried in flowers. In Paris, the French flag flew at half-mast along the river Seine, and the journal
proclaimed in a banner headline
Nous sommes tous Americains
, ‘We Are All Americans.’
A similar attack in any other country would not have released such an outpouring of sentiment. It was as if the whole world felt the same loss of innocence as the Americans. For despite the criticisms I had been hearing, people around the world still saw the United States as the ‘citty on a hill’ and all ‘eies’ were upon it now because it had the potential, if it wished and as it had demonstrated over its history, to assure the triumph of hope over fear. It seemed as if people everywhere had desperately wanted there to be at least one place invulnerable to the monsters that prowl the rest of the globe. Thus, the world joined with Americans to mourn and to resolve that such devastation would not happen again. This was the silver lining to the cloud of September 11, 2001. It provided an opportunity for America and its friends to wipe away the carping and suspicions and hurt feelings of the past and, in the words of former President Lyndon Johnson and the Bible, to ‘come to reason together,’ to get back on the same wavelength, and to be present at the creation of a new, better world order.
It didn’t happen. A year and a half later, the UN Security Council convened to consider how to handle Iraq’s lack of full compliance with UN resolution 1441 calling for Iraq to prove that it had destroyed and halted development of its weapons of mass destruction. Noting that the resolution called for Iraq to show the evidence, and not for UN inspectors to chase all over the Iraqi desert looking for it, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the Security Council to defend its credibility by issuing an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to cooperate or face destruction of his regime.
Powell was followed by the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin who called for more inspectors and more time for them to run around the desert. In a virtually unprecedented and strictly forbidden demonstration of sentiment, the gallery of observers broke into applause for de Villepin. The following weekend millions of marchers around the world demonstrated against war and the United States carrying signs calling America the ‘rogue nation.’ Thus, the opportunity for a new beginning seems to have slipped away. Instead of ‘reasoning together’ we find ourselves increasingly alienated from, mistrusted by, and mistrusting of others – at odds with the world and ourselves.
While the immediate issue this winter of 2003 is Iraq, the roots of the alienation from America go much deeper and will remain long after Saddam is gone. My purpose in this book is to try to explain to baffled and hurt Americans why the world seems to be turning against them, and also to show foreigners how they frequently misinterpret America’s good intentions. While I will be giving a sober view of America, I do not aim to bash it. I have spent much of my life in Asia, and may, for example, loathe North Korean leader Kim Jong-il even more than President Bush does. I am not a French socialist or an unreconstructed 1960
American flower child who didn’t inhale. In fact, I am an unlikely person to write this book. The product of a middle class, conservative, rock-ribbed Republican, superpatriotic, born again Christian family, I attended Swarthmore College where, in reaction to the reigning liberal (some would say pinko) orthodoxy of the campus, I founded the college’s conservative club. I went on to study in Japan and to become a diplomat in the foreign service. I volunteered for service in Vietnam, but was posted to the Netherlands instead. There in the U.S. embassy in The Hague, I was the officer responsible for defending U.S. Vietnam policy, and remained a supporter of the war long after many other conservatives had abandoned it. I went on to work for several multinational corporations and lived as a businessman in Brussels and Tokyo while traveling extensively throughout the world. In 1981, I joined the Reagan administration and eventually became counselor to the secretary of commerce in which post I was a lead negotiator in a number of commercial agreements with Japan, and participated in a wide variety of other international trade talks where I acquired a reputation as a ‘trade hawk.’ Subsequently, I founded a non-profit research organization, or ‘think tank,’ that focuses on analyses of global issues.
It is this international experience and analysis that has made me deeply worried about where we are going. For while I don’t believe the United States is evil or a rogue as Saddam is, America can be like a ‘rogue wave,’ a large swell that, running contrary to the general direction of the waves, takes sailors by surprise and causes unexpected destruction. America is a big and unpredictable nation and has a long history of an alternately generous and uncaring approach to the rest of the world. While we think of ourselves as the ‘good guys,’ we are blinded to our own sometimes irritating behavior by the strength of our mythology and the dominance of our culture. I fear a dangerous gulf is widening between America and its friends as we Americans listen to but don’t hear, and look at but don’t see, the concerns and perspectives of other countries and at the same time also fail to recognize how some of our behavior flouts our own values. Right now we are attributing criticism of American policies to envy of our success and power and to chronic anti-Americanism. That is certainly some of the trouble, but not all of it. Perhaps we should also look at how we deal with some key issues and how our behavior is perceived and comports with our values.
The list of major concerns begins with American unilateralism and what the world sees as a peculiar American brand of ‘soft imperialism.’ Tied to this is the question of globalization as Americanization and whether it is to be embraced or resisted. Energy use and global warming are two major linked issues of global significance on which there are sharply differing views. Energy use and America’s growing dependence on foreign oil, in particular, have implications for war and peace that may dramatically affect other countries. Also with great implications for war and peace are America’s views on sovereignty, freedom of action, and military dominance. Of course, the issue of Israel and Palestine cannot be escaped, and neither can we ignore the hot spots of Iraq and Korea. And the question of whether America and China will be friends or enemies lingers. Indeed, the question of who are now our friends and who are now our enemies is increasingly being asked in other places as well. In the wake of the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror, relationships seem to be in transition, with tensions increasing between old friends while old enemies discover each other’s heretofore hidden charms. Finally, there is the overriding question of what America wants to be: the bully on the block, in the words of then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell; or, as most of us like to see the United States, the city on the hill.
I discussed these issues with foreign leaders during another tour of fourteen world capitals in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East in the summer and fall of 2002. Everywhere I went I found a feeling that the United States was deliberately separating itself from other countries and blatantly asserting its right to supremacy. The best example was the situation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Recently there has been much criticism of NATO in the United States because of the reluctance of some of its members to support the U.S. drive for regime change in Iraq. But for more than fifty years, the United States made NATO the cornerstone of its security strategy. In the wake of September 11, NATO invoked Article Five of the treaty for the first time in its history. This is the provision that compels all members to regard an attack on one as an attack on all and to support a military response if necessary. The decision (and it is important to remember this in view of current American irritation with the actions of France and Germany) was unanimous even though, technically, a terrorist action by a non-governmental organization may not actually constitute an attack under NATO rules. Moreover, France, Belgium, Britain, and other NATO members not only offered but begged to be allowed to send troops to participate in the operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Pentagon took a few British special forces, but told the others, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. It’s simpler without allies. We’d rather do this ourselves. We’ll call you when we need you.’ Along with the withdrawal from the ABM treaty and deployment of the national missile defense, this manifestation of American unilateralism is causing great resistance to U.S. efforts around the globe. Indeed, a top Malaysian leader told me, ‘The way things are going, pretty soon, it will be the United States against the world.’ American talk of ‘coalitions of the willing’ and of preventive or pre-emptive war, coupled with a stated strategy of preventing the rise of any power equivalent to the United States, scares people and makes them think they are back in the jungle, or perhaps that they never left it. This fear of an imperial America, or of what the Chinese call American hegemonism, exacerbated by the ‘back us or be irrelevant’ rhetoric is part of what lay behind the Security Council’s reluctance to go along with Powell’s compelling arguments. Indeed, there is a great irony here. The effort to remove an out-and-out rogue such as Saddam, was being undermined because fear of him was tempered by fear of the United States.