Warmongering Without Representation: Unilateralism is Not the American Way

 January 15, 2003

By Ambassador Robert T. Grey Jr.
San Francisco Chronicle

Sept. 11, 2001 focused the attention of the world on the threat of global terrorism, and the international community responded collectively to the threat it posed.

But the tools for collective international action are being undermined by a small, radical and vociferous minority in the United States. It is difficult to see what sort of mandate this cult of radical unilateralists has, though many of them hold influential but unelected positions within the Bush administration.

The animated congressional debate over the Middle East shows that there is strong American support for multilateral, nonprecipitous approaches to Iraq and collective action against terrorism. Yet in matters relating to international peace and security, the unilateralists subject us daily to dogmatic assertions, sneering references to international institutions, the rejection of painstakingly negotiated treaties and repeatedly strident assertions that these zealots know what’s best for all of us.

The blueprint for this radical version of unilateralism predates Sept. 11 and can be traced to documents written before the 2000 presidential election. Several high-level administration officials participated in the Project for a New American Century and its September 2002 report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” The plan calls for enormous increases in military spending; new American bases in Central Asia and the Middle East; the overthrow of unfriendly regimes; the abrogation of treaties; the willingness to use nuclear weapons; and the control of global energy resources.

The small unilateralist clan continually seeks to discredit voices of both Republicans and Democrats in the executive branch and in Congress who believe quiet, patient diplomacy leading to effective collective action is the best way to solve threats to international security.

Such an unbalanced approach will inevitably lead to serious failures. Consider the Bush administration’s efforts to muster support for an early, pre- emptive war against Iraq to achieve “regime change,” with or without the United Nations. Domestic public opinion, coupled with forceful opposition from the international community, forced the Bush administration to come to the United Nations and follow the legal, multilateral path.

Ever since negotiations on the language of a U.N. resolution on Iraq began, the Bush administration has been on a continual retreat from its initial extreme position. If the radical minority had listened to the voices of the American public and others in the first place, the administration would not find itself in this box.

Contrast the initial approach of the administration with the patient, measured way the international community, led by the first President Bush, mobilized and used existing institutions to resolve the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. You can’t effectively mobilize institutions and nations if you insult them and threaten to go it alone.

The United Nations, the international institutions and the system of alliances and treaty relationships formed in the aftermath of World War II were achieved in large part because of American leadership and engagement. While these institutions and alliances need to be modernized and revitalized, they still represent the best way of creating an international order that promotes peace and security.

New threats must be addressed collectively. If we fail to do so, we will have betrayed our values and principles and the terrorists will have won.

As John Quincy Adams observed, it is not the role of the United States to roam the world “in search of monsters to destroy.” It should be a source of pride that we Americans are not the stuff of which imperialists are made. No amount of pernicious globaloney from a cult of radical unilateralists is going to convince the American people otherwise.

Robert T. Grey Jr., a former ambassador from the Clinton and current Bush administrations, is director of the Washington-based Bipartisan Security Group, a program of the Global Security Institute. He was previously the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva from 1998 to 2001 and the leader of the State Department U.N. Reform Team during the Clinton administration.

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