President Clinton, on the really big stuff, has been frozen for
nearly eight years by right-wing antagonism, interns bearing pizzas and
an industry base determined to set its own rules globally. It's now the
eleventh hour for Clinton's legacy. But he still has a ripe opportunity
to put impeachment and other mishaps behind him and achieve a legacy he
can be proud of: a meaningful worldwide treaty on organic pollutants.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union undermined its own potential for
economic growth and democratic reform because of an ideological focus on
world domination and the arms race. When President Reagan said in a
speech at the Berlin Wall, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," he spoke
for the world. By at long last letting the wall come down, Mikhail S.
Gorbachev may be remembered as the single most important force for ending
the Cold War.
Now it is Clinton who stands behind a wall erected to support the
aging U.S. industrial base, namely the auto, coal, oil and energy
industries. These dinosaurs pushed the Clinton administration to insist
on loopholes in the global-warming treaty so large that the 181-nation
talks broke off last month in the Netherlands. The nations of the
European Union pulled the Americans far toward closing the loopholes on
limits to greenhouse gas emissions, but time is running out for an
agreement to be struck.
Meanwhile, this week in South Africa, many of those same nations are
convening to hammer out details for the treaty on persistent organic
pollutants. This is a global effort to rid the world of the most toxic
chemicals that accumulate in the food chain and body tissue (including
yours and mine), causing a wide range of environmental and human health
maladies like diabetes, cancer and birth defects.
Sadly, the U.S. is again the ringleader pushing for loopholes for its
chemical manufacturers, fighting an all-out ban on dioxin and secretly
lobbying Brazil, India and South Africa as a means to divide countries
that are pushing for a ban on these pollutants.
This is not new behavior by the U.S. For three decades, regardless of
the party in control of the White House, the U.S. has lobbied to weaken
international treaties. It has convinced other nations that they must
lower their standards in order to get U.S. support, and subsequently
failed to ratify the watered-down treaty. Three examples: the Treaty on
the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its
Biosafety Protocol, and the Basel Convention on the Transboundary
Movements of Hazardous Wastes of 1989.
The tragedy of this is that opposition to these international treaties
serves only our calcified commercial interests of yesterday. It hurts the
competitiveness of the U.S. by stalling development of advanced
technologies that not only serve as the solution to environmental
problems but also as job creators in the export market. It hurts the
health of people here and around the world, and it undermines the U.S.
role in spreading democracy and environmental security globally.
By pushing for strong global warming and persistent organic pollutant
treaties and abandoning the 30-year history of undermining agreements on
behalf of yesterday's industrialists, Clinton could go down in history as
the global leader who took the first important steps against these
threats. He could follow in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, who will
forever be associated with the founding of the United Nations, even
though his proposal for the League of Nations collapsed years earlier.
Mr. Clinton, tear down your barriers to these treaties.