U.S. Must Not Act Like a Rogue Superpower

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the Albany Times-Union (New York)

U.S. Must Not Act Like a Rogue Superpower

WASHINGTON -- More and more, the United States is parting company with European and other nations on political, diplomatic and judicial issues.

Our friends and allies are wondering what has happened to the great America they once knew. To many of them, we have lost the moral high ground. There is a growing perception that with its solo superpower status, the Bush administration is saying to the rest of the world: Who cares what you think?

Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, revealed a rift in the much-vaunted U.S.-Mexico friendship when he abruptly canceled his visit planned for Monday with President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.

Abandoning his buddy-buddy relationship with Bush, Fox strongly protested the Texas execution of Javier Suarez Medina on Aug. 14. Suarez had been imprisoned since 1988 for drug dealing and killing a Dallas narcotics officer.

Fox charged that the convict had been denied his right to contact the Mexican consulate, a breach of international treaty obligations. But Texas officials said it was unclear whether Suarez was born on the U.S. or Mexican side of the border.

The Mexican government called Fox's decision to snub Bush an "unequivocal sign of repudiation" and said the cancellation "contributes to strengthening respect among all nations for the norms of international law."

The flap highlighted the growing schism between the increasingly conservative U.S. government and its more liberal allies. Sixteen other nations filed briefs or wrote letters on behalf of Suarez.

Fox even telephoned Bush the night before Suarez was given a lethal injection and appealed for help in sparing Suarez's life. White House officials said there was nothing Bush could do legally.

But it's doubtful he would have intervened anyway since he acquiesced in the execution of 150 death-row inmates during the five years he served as governor of Texas.

As William Schulz of Amnesty International U.S.A. put it: "The stand taken by President Fox shows the steady isolation facing the United States among its most ardent allies."

And Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, legal counsel at Mexico's foreign ministry, said, "The U.S. view of the death penalty has been aggravated by Sept. 11. It has become obsessed by one topic, and that is terrorism."

I fear that is the way the world sees us today. Bush's obsession with terrorism -- his you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us view -- influences nearly everything he does.

America's bully image abroad is beginning to concern the administration, and it is beefing up the office of public diplomacy in the State Department. But that is a public relations approach that won't ease the strain unless Bush switches to a more conciliatory policy and an awareness that we can't go it alone in our dealings with the rest of the world.

Of course, Bush's hawkish advisers are trying to convince him otherwise.

In the anti-terrorism war itself, the President won worldwide support in his campaign against al-Qaida. But, because of their opposition to the U.S. death penalty, some of America's firmest friends -- Spain, France and Germany -- and other nations have balked at extraditing suspects or producing evidence against them for trial in the United States.

There is consternation abroad at the deterioration of American relations with Europe.

Chris Patten, the European Union's foreign affairs commissioner, wrote in The Washington Post last month: "I cringe when I hear Europeans attacking the United States and Americans in terms that would be condemned as outright racism if they were leveled against any other country or its people -- just as I bridle at hearing Americans dismiss Europeans as a bunch of unprincipled wimps."

However, Patten was dismayed that America played a major role in setting up the International Criminal Court, but then, after U.S. demands for safeguards for American troops were met, refused to sign on. He said the refusal was part of a "pattern that has become wearily familiar in other contexts such as the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty." Patten wondered, "Why should people make concessions to America if the United States is going to walk away in any case?"

And, he said, the United States "will be accused of putting itself above the law" while "it is happy enough to sit in judgment of others." He was referring to U.S. participation in the International Criminal Tribunal for leaders of the former Yugoslavia now on trial.

Patten noted that political scientist Samuel Huntington had warned a few years ago that in the eyes of much of the world the United States was "becoming the rogue superpower."

But the saddest commentary of all comes from a former Japanese pilot in World War II named Yojiro Iokibe. The pilot was interviewed by a Washington Post reporter as he wandered through a controversial Tokyo museum that glorifies Japan's role in World War II and says it was foisted on Tokyo by an evil America.

Visiting the museum Aug. 15, the 57th anniversary of Japan's surrender, Iokibe said the exhibits reflect "how we felt" at the time.

He said he was now uncomfortable with Japan's drive for military expansion that led to the war and sees that happening again -- but this time in the United States.

"I just hope America doesn't cross the line and become what Japan was before," he said. "America has become rich and powerful and arrogant. The impression we had of America in the 1960s -- a lovely, good America -- can't be found anymore. If a country begins to think too much of itself and its power, it will destroy itself."

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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