On Foreign Policy, US Takes the 'Do It Alone' Approach

By Holt, Pat M. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

On Foreign Policy, US Takes the 'Do It Alone' Approach


Holt, Pat M., The Christian Science Monitor


Foreign policy is not much of an issue in this election. It seems not to be much on voters' minds, but it ought to be. With a few exceptions (the North American Free Trade Agreement prominent among them), both the making and conduct of United States foreign policy have become increasingly inept - thoughtless, and heedless, of consequences. Worse, in many cases, this is bipartisan, which may be why it is not a campaign issue.

The US has not found a satisfactory substitute for the Soviet Communist threat as a focus for foreign policy. The Clinton administration has trumpeted the spread of democracy and human rights. More recently, spurred by sundry acts of mass violence, the administration and Congress have jointly taken up antiterrorism in much the same way their predecessors were hooked on anticommunism.

Ignore, for the moment, that democracy and human rights are an amorphous target for focusing foreign policy. There is a contradiction between promoting human rights for their own sake and eroding them under cover of antiterrorism. We ought to take prudent precautions against terrorism, but we need to be conscious of the price. We lose something if we erect barriers around public buildings or legalize more wiretapping and other intrusive behavior by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. That was one of the costs of the cold war in the name of anticommunism. Now we see it revived in the name of antiterrorism. Both the administration and Congress assure us this will be OK, but the assurance rings hollow. To the degree that terrorist states force us to become closed societies like they are, they are winning the battle, even if they never blow up another building or another airplane. More than anything else, perhaps, is an American attitude that is increasingly churlish toward foreigners. The US is becoming harder to get along with and less considerate of "the interests" of other countries. There is much agitation in Congress and squeamishness in the administration about allowing US troops to serve under foreign commanders as part of a UN force. Yet many foreign troops have served under US commanders. Does anybody think foreigners are going to be willing to let this state of affairs continue indefinitely? How can there be partnership that way? In the UN generally, the US has stridently insisted on a multitude of reforms, on doing things differently - and better. …

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