It's Not Bush Making Real Decisions in Oval Office
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It's Not Bush Making Real Decisions in Oval Office
It's perfectly all right for the U.S. to slap the rest of the world
in the face if the rest of the world is wrong, or just to defend its
own vital national interests. But it should be done for national
interests, not private ones, and it should be done in ways that
cause the least possible offence. That is not what's happening now.
Consider only the past month. In the second week of July, the Bush
administration told Congress that its ballistic missile defence project
would "bump up against" the constraints of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile treaty "within months." Never mind that it's a stupid idea;
just look how it's being done. The ABM treaty allows either party
to withdraw unilaterally on six months' notice, but no such notice
has been given. The U.S., it appears, is just going to breach the
In the third week of July, a U.N. conference aimed at curbing the
global trade in small arms was effectively wrecked by U.S. negotiators.
The United States, which produces more than half of the world's small
arms, took a lone stand in blocking any restrictions on private gun
ownership and vetoed an African-backed proposal to ban arms sales
to "non-state actors" (i.e. the guerrilla groups that are ravaging
so many African countries). "The U.S. should be ashamed," said South
African envoy Jean Du Preez.
In the same week, 160 countries meeting at Bonn agreed on the final
terms of the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming despite fierce
U.S. opposition (and the lead American negotiator was booed by the
assembled diplomats at the close).
A subtler obstructionism might have achieved the U.S. government's
goal of stalling the treaty for a couple of years, until U.S. industry
was ready to compete in the non-fossil fuel energy markets that will
expand rapidly to enable the treaty's signatories to meet their emission
reduction targets. Instead, the Bush administration's clumsy defiance
of world opinion annoyed everybody else so much they confounded Washington's
expectations: They went ahead and signed the treaty anyway.
So the new energy markets will open up sooner rather than later, and
non-U.S. energy companies will reap the new global opportunities.
Moreover, the international emissions trading exchange that would
naturally have been based in the U.S. will probably be located in
Late in July, it was the turn of the 1972 treaty outlawing germ warfare.
For six years, 56 countries have been negotiating a supplementary
treaty that would create verification rules and international inspectors
to enforce what was previously just a pious pledge not to produce
Fifty-five of those countries had agreed on a 200-page draft protocol
— and suddenly, on July 25, the U.S. declared that it could not agree
since U.S. pharmaceutical plants would be open to inspection under
the treaty. Everybody else's plants would be open, too, and this kind
of inspection was foreseen from the beginning of the negotiations,
but suddenly U.S. concerns for commercial secrecy outweighed everything
And so it goes. Early this month Thomas Novotny, the lead U.S. negotiator
for the past decade on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,
suddenly resigned his post. He is not returning calls, but colleagues
say that it was over frustration at the sudden U.S. switch from a
policy that sought to restrict cigarette advertising and marketing
to one that basically echoes the tobacco industry's positions.
In part, this dismal record is merely an intensification of a trend
toward U.S. hostility to international law that was already marked
under the last administration. It was not Bush who refused to sign
the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, or tried to strip the International
Criminal Court of any real powers, or began the U.S. campaign to sabotage
the Kyoto accord. It was that hero of internationalism, Bill Clinton.
The notion that international treaties and international law are by
their very nature disadvantageous for the United States, which as
the richest and most powerful country can simply enforce its wishes
unless treaties and laws get in the way, has spread far beyond the
ideologues of the far right who first articulated it in the early
'90s. It now has a major impact on the Pentagon's thinking, and is
an unexceptionable concept in Republican circles.
Much of America's current wrecking of international treaties would
be happening whoever the president was. What is puzzling is the maladroit
tactics with which it is being done. Official Washington is full of
clever operators whose specialty is getting what the boss wants while
spreading the blame and muddying the waters so that the naked self-interest
at the bottom of it all is not easily visible. But their skills are
not being used.
On the contrary, it's as if every bureaucratic or industrial interest
group with access to the Bush administration gets to make policy for
its own bit of the picture. Nobody is trying to cover their tracks,
or transfer the blame, or minimize the fallout from unpopular U.S.
actions like the attack on the Kyoto treaty. Nobody is even co-ordinating
the tactics, let alone imposing a common strategic vision.
It strengthens the suspicion that George W. Bush is largely a non-executive
president and that the real decisions are being made at a lower level
— a level where co-ordination is difficult, special interests loom
large and nobody worries much about the cumulative effect of all these
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published
in 45 countries.
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