Magazine article USA TODAY

Isolateralism or Unilationism?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Isolateralism or Unilationism?

Article excerpt

IT MUST BE TROUBLING for the Republicans in Congress to have to try to reconcile the Clinton Administration's successes in foreign policy with the many domestic successes that were to be the hallmark of an "it's the economy ..." government. On the foreign policy front, little has gone wrong, and there have been interesting and gratifying successes. After making a mountain out of a mole hill in the Lewinsky matter, and having it rapidly turn back into a mole hill, Congressional Republicans are looking for almost any niche where they can look assertive as the nation enters into election year politics. A vote on the technical merits of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October, 1999, was apparently seen as just the right opportunity. However, the vote was symptomatic of the way retrograde thinking often directs itself. As on environmental issues, decisions were made on a tree-by-tree basis without any regard for the ecological role of forests--or even a recognition that there was a forest!

The vote rejecting the treaty projected a Senate Republican preference for a world in which the U.S. would go its own way, denying interdependence in the security as well as the economic, environmental, and political arenas. Many argued that this was not "isolationism," but, rather, a maintenance of America's ability to stand on its own--unilateralism, but without negative connotations. It was independence, a show of fortitude, fiscal responsibility, and a host of other tree-by-tree justifications to argue that it wasn't a withdrawal into Fortress America, even though that's exactly what it looked like.

Unilateralism doesn't really have any more merits than isolationism, whatever ideological or even philosophical trimmings might be put on it. Even the hint of libertarianism that was suggested in justifying remarks doesn't represent an iota of coherent or systemic thinking that might have gone into the stringently enforced, lockstep vote on the Test Ban issue.

Unilateralism, as explained in contrast to isolationism, supposedly means that the U.S. would remain free to make its own decisions in international politics, including in such matters as the use of American troops and assuring their leadership by American officers. It would suggest that the U.S. could ignore its allies in critical decisionmaking, with the implication that we know better than our allies or that our allies are sometimes not to be trusted, perhaps because they look at their own self-interest first while the U.S. does not.

To be physically in isolation is no different today than to act in isolation. That is, behavioral isolationism is still isolationism. The sole distinction between isolationism and unilateralism is that the first denies physical interdependence while the other denies behavioral interdependence. Both deny the advances of technological linkages, population growth, and environmental degradation in the face of the first two traits of the new world order. There is really so little difference between them that we might as well end the controversy, what there is left of it, and combine the two concepts. The only question is, should it be "isolateralism" or "unilationism"?

These evil twins may be simply a part of American culture and constitute an unshakable handicap from which the U. …

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