Is U.S. Ready for High Cost of Imperialism? (Political Notebook)

By Dettmer, Jamie | Insight on the News, October 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

Is U.S. Ready for High Cost of Imperialism? (Political Notebook)


Dettmer, Jamie, Insight on the News


Fresh from military victory in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, then-president George H.W. Bush dismissed the notion that the "new world order" he talked about would in effect be a Pax Americana. "We seek a Pax Universalis, built upon shared responsibilities and aspirations," the father of the current president said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Commentator Bill Satire later said that the speech was an effort to "dissociate the U.S. from the exclusive responsibility of global policing, as well as from the attendant resentment."

President George W. Bush, though, appears ready now to embrace an "exclusive responsibility" not only to make the world "safer, but better"--an ambition that rivals the international goals of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson and one that is adding fuel to the fire of anti-U.S. sentiment in Europe and elsewhere. White House officials insist that the new National Security Strategy of the United States of America that George W. Bush unveiled in late September [see "Bush Doctrine on Free-World Strategy" p. 30] is in keeping with the Pax Universalis sentiments of his father.

And they point to the many mentions of multilateralism and international institutions in the 33-page document, coming to be known as the "Bush Doctrine" Certainly the strategy insists that "no nation can build a safer, better world alone."

A commitment to multilateralism is declared early in the National Security Strategy. "The United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States and NATO ..." it says. But the administration emphasizes in the new doctrine that it will pick and choose when to follow a course of multilateralism. And much of its support for international institutions is contingent on conditions--for example, NATO will only remain a high priority if its members are ready to join the United States in out-of-area interventions and agree to set up a rapid-reaction force.

The administration won't hesitate to act unilaterally to defend U.S. interests and to preserve global stability. "The U.S. will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community; we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary," says the document. Those sentiments received much criticism in foreign capitals, with politicians and commentators asking what kind of multilateralism it is that demands all major decisions go the American way?

Bush officials claim that the United States has no choice, for example, but to reserve the right to take pre-emptive action against hostile regimes in a world where terrorists and rogue states have the possibility to secure or develop weapons of mass destruction and wreak massive havoc. But the Bush doctrine goes further than just laying out a strategy for dealing with terrorism and pariah states, and throughout there is a note of triumphalism and a sense of manifest destiny. …

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