Published on Sunday, July 29, 2001 in the Boston Globe
President Bush's World is Turning
by Robert Kuttner
THE BUSH administration's alarming penchant for going it alone in world affairs could have one unintended and salutary effect: Europe, however reluctantly, is learning how to lead. And Europe could lead the way to a more balanced global order.
Consider the following events of recent months:
Europe and Japan decide to go forward with the Kyoto Accords on global warming despite America's nonparticipation. Eventually, the United States will have to decide whether to be part of a system that it had no voice in designing.
Bush's emissaries kill a draft treaty to enforce the global ban on germ warfare. The administration was concerned that international monitors would gain access to US military and commercial secrets.
The United States joins a handful of nations in refusing to approve a new accord on children's rights. The offending provision commits participating nations not to imprison children under 16.
The administration terrifies allies by trying to overturn the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It needs to scuttle the agreement in order to pursue a missile defense plan that our allies consider unworkable and destabilizing.
Republicans in the House pass a measure that would discourage US allies from cooperating with the emerging system of international criminal tribunals. Although this remarkable gain for international law called to account dictators from Milosevich to Pinochet, the Republican right worries that some American (Henry Kissinger?) might be put in the dock.
Europe's antitrust authorities get serious about blocking mergers of US-based multinationals' deals that the Bush administration considered just ducky. (You want globalization? Get ready to share sovereignty.)
The European Union decides not to follow America's lead in allowing hostile corporate takeovers.
Most nations, over Washington's objection, support the right of poor countries to manufacture cheap prescription drugs to deal with public health catastrophes like AIDS.
The Bush administration, shilling for the pharmaceutical industry, finds itself isolated both in global rulemaking bodies and in the court of public opinion.
What does all of this mean? It means that under George Bush's leadership, such as it is, the world's lone superpower is finding itself a rather lonely superpower. And it means that globalization is a two-way street.
For decades the United States has been accustomed to being the leader of the world's democracies, partly as the dominant military and economic power but also because Europe and Japan were willing to leave the big strategic questions to Washington.
Germany was long described as an economic giant and a geo- political dwarf. Disarmed Japan was willing to be an American strategic protectorate in exchange for a free hand in developing into a mercantilist and rich economy.
As recently as the Balkan War of the early 1990s, it took American leadership to prod Europe into addressing a strategic military threat in its own backyard.
But this could all be changing fast. A united Germany is newly assertive in world affairs. Japan, in deep trouble economically, is wondering whether Washington has Tokyo's best interests at heart. The EU is starting to cohere.
Against this background, a clumsy and arrogant US adminstration is a catalyst. The decision to press forward with Kyoto could be a real turning point in which Europe and Japan realize that they don't need Washington's blessing to lead in world affairs.
By going it alone on so many issues, the administration is squandering not just America's longstanding moral authority in world affairs. It is reaping a whirlwind, in the form of more assertive and less docile allies. Once Europe and Japan discover that they can actually be coequal superpowers, they may relish the role.
Will Hutton, former editor of The London Observer, had a recent series of conversations with American liberals on the subject of his forthcoming book: how to keep American ultraconservatism from swamping Europe's rather different and more attractive social model.
The stumbling block, all agreed, was globalization of commerce. Under the present US-sponsored version of globalization, governments are not supposed to regulate commerce or capital. That, in turn, liberates business and makes it harder for Europe to be an oasis of generous social benefits, high wages, and effective trade unions.
But the Bush administration, ironically, may give the European model a new lease on life by inviting the Europeans to be more assertive in setting the rules of the global game. Today it's the Kyoto accords; tomorrow it could well be global labor standards.
Perversely, George W. Bush could prove to be the best gift for liberal purposes since Franklin Roosevelt.
Robert Kuttner is coeditor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company