Published on Monday, June 11, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune
U.S. Remains Out of Step -- Globally
by Salim Muwakkil
When we, the people, kill Timothy McVeigh, the cultural gap between the
United States and the rest of the West will get a bit wider.
The U.S. stands solo as the West's lone capital punisher. Not only has Western Europe abolished the death penalty, an all-time high of 105 nations also have ended the practice.
But a different view of capital punishment is just one of many divergences in views between the U.S. and its Western allies. The rest of the West seems to be moving to the political left, electing left of center governments that urge strong protections of human rights and the environment. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues marching relentlessly to the right--seemingly oblivious to concerns about human rights or the environment.
Although he campaigned as an emissary from the center, President Bush has veered sharply to the right and America seems to be marching with him. That's partially illusory, of course. The combined vote totals of the center-left forces embodied in the campaigns of Democrat Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader were more than enough to capture the presidency had those forces been united. In term of sheer numbers, then, the U.S. electorate actually is in step with the Western world's slow dance to the left.
Conservatives are desperate to disrupt that dance. That's why the GOP pulled out all stops in the 2000 election to capture the presidency; it takes extra effort to hold off the inevitable.
Their strategy seems to have paid off. The Bush administration clearly has become a servant of corporate interests, though it masks this subservience with an all-American, religious facade--praising prophets while raising profits. Many Americans, who either are intoxicated by entertainment or lulled by a compliant media, see Bush's cheerful class war as just another flavor of the month--no harm, no foul. His ruse of "compassionate conservatism" and his public amiability temporarily have won over much of the American electorate.
But Bush's subterfuge is less convincing to Europeans. Since he assumed the presidency, Bush has alienated virtually all of Europe, much of the Middle East (absent Israel, of course) and a good part of the East as well. With his rampaging, bull-in-a-china-shop style of foreign policy, he has ridden roughshod over the sensibilities of allies, potential allies and antagonists all.
By pushing his missile shield idea (tagged "son of Star Wars" by European critics), Bush will break a longstanding arms-control treaty and has alienated NATO allies, Russia and China. His gratuitous needling of China and North Korea has so alarmed leaders of the European Union that they have urged the U.S. to cool it and they have initiated their own diplomatic efforts.
The president's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change has earned him an international array of critics who are furious that the country spewing 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases seems so cavalier about this global problem. The Bush administration also has embraced trade policies that infuriate many of our allies-- disputes about tax breaks for U.S. exports, possible restrictions on steel imports, international data transfers and defense-industry competition all are hot.
Issues of foreign policy (particularly the Israeli-Palestinian issue) also are increasing areas of conflict between the EU and the U.S.
The area of human rights is particularly sensitive, as few U.S. allies protested when this country recently was excluded from the UN Human Rights Commission for the first time since its 1947 founding. But that action should not have been surprising.
For many years the U.S. has been the target of criticism from international human-rights groups for, among other things, a criminal-justice system plagued by police brutality, racial disparities in incarceration and abusive conditions of confinement. State-sponsored killings were criticized in general, but the executions of juvenile offenders and the mentally handicapped have been vigorously condemned. This country "has made little progress in embracing international human-rights standards at home," read the World Report on human rights, released by Human Rights Watch.
Bush will confront some of those disparities during his European trip this week. Primarily, he will be attempting to convince our erstwhile allies that the U.S. is not wielding its "hegemony" like a bully. In other words, Bush's mission is to pull the wool over their eyes.
Luckily, Europeans are not likely to be blinded.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune