ATLANTA -- In the end, the rest of the world gave in to President Bush's little ideological sulk, to keep him from once again stopping the world so the United States could get off.
The occasion was the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on Children, a conference held to advance the health, education and safety of children everywhere. One out of five of the world's children has never been to school, one out of three is malnourished and one out of four is not immunized against preventable childhood diseases.
With the challenges so urgent and daunting, the delegates reluctantly concluded they would have to indulge American political whims rather than see a rare opportunity for accord and common action collapse.
The conference had been years in the making and the document it was to adopt had been carefully negotiated in a series of preparatory meetings, without U.S. dissent.
At the last minute, the Bush administration was prepared to scuttle the whole business unless the conference lined up with the president's religious-right support groups against abortion and against any sex education that goes beyond warning youths not to do the nasty until they get married.
Antiabortion zealots, with the Bush administration as their champion, saw the pending conference report's call for "reproductive health services" as a sneaky endorsement of abortion. That was finally finessed by dropping the word "services." Now the world is airily in favor of reproductive health without any instruction actually to provide for it.
The conference, also at White House insistence, scrapped a provision opposing the execution of children. (It is thus the American position that it is immoral to prevent a birth but OK to execute the resulting child.)
And the sex education standoff was resolved by adding a specific endorsement of sexual abstinence, touted by the president -- indeed, by the Republican Party these days -- as the best and only legitimate way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
The United States demands don't reflect American law, opinion or practice. Abortion is legal and its lawfulness is supported by most. Few school districts with sex education limit the instruction to abstinence only, though all include it. Most states with capital punishment draw the line at killing children and youths.
The Bush administration has taken the United States out of international programs designed to reduce the likely causes of global warning. It has quit the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, for 30 years the linchpin of nuclear stability. It has removed the United States from participation in developing a permanent world court to try war crimes cases.
If all of that is costing us old friends -- we were opposed at the children's conference by all of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, by now a pattern -- it is making us new ones. We were supported by the Vatican and by several Arab states with Islamist agendas.
We theocracies have to stick together, you know.
© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune