Despite the continuing downward spiral of the stock market, Democratic presidential contenders are not putting all of their political eggs in the domestic basket. After the short-lived terror war honeymoon, they have begun to attack President Bush's foreign policy as well.
What's their principal beef? Well, that Bush has a unilateral approach to foreign policy, which means that America throws its weight around cavalierly and acts independently, ignoring other nations in the process. On closer inspection, though, we will find that the Democrats' approach to foreign policy is a good deal more high-handed than the Republicans'.
But "unilateral" is the perfect buzzword to describe Republican foreign policy because it connotes that the GOP, in foreign affairs, just as with domestic policy, is selfish. We not only don't care about our own poor; we have no use for foreign countries, either.
While Democrats are primarily referring to Bush's failure to work closely with other nations in the war on terror and the Middle East, the term has a much broader meaning. President Clinton and his supporters started using it to describe the Republicans' recalcitrance toward approving various international treaties.
They were outraged when Republicans wouldn't sign on to the sovereignty-swallowing Kyoto Protocol. And remember the tantrum Clinton threw when the GOP Senate refused to rubber stamp the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would have tied our hands on nuclear testing, though we couldn't verify that other nations would comply? President Bush's decision not to submit our peacekeepers to the arbitrary jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court has been another sticking point.
With respect to the War on Terror, Bush's critics say we should cooperate more with foreign governments. Senator John Kerry, for example, complained that Bush's "unilateral approach" to foreign policy is hurting America's struggle against terrorism.
Yet with the next breath, Kerry said Bush committed an "enormous mistake" when he sent Afghan troops, instead of American soldiers, after al Qaeda. If Kerry is so concerned about us deferring to other peoples, shouldn't he have applauded Bush's deference to Afghan troops?
Likewise, if American arrogance is their fear, why are Kerry and others urging that Bush follow the Clinton model of micromanaging the Middle East peace process? Isn't it arrogant for America to impose its will on other nations, Senator?
Indeed, if it is arrogance the Democrats deplore, how do you explain their sentiment, articulated by Al Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, that "What you have to look at is whether the Republicans have got a model of where the world should end up and an idea about how to get there, and if they've got these things, how well are they doing in moving the country and the rest of the world in that direction."
They have the audacity to lecture Republicans about arrogance when they want to move the world in their direction? This is the same type of haughty paternalism they display in domestic affairs toward minorities, women, the poor, the elderly and other groups.
But not only is their criticism hypocritical, it is off-base. Bush has worked extensively with foreign governments in the war on terror -- in intelligence gathering and attempted coalition building. He has forged an extraordinarily cooperative arrangement with Pakistan. He has dealt with other nations in the Middle East -- not just Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but Saudi Arabia (some might argue too much), Jordan and others.
He's worked closely with the Russians and signed a nuclear arms deal with them. He is in constant dialogue with Mexico. We have an exceedingly positive relationship with Britain. Even Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has praised Bush for his "multilateralism."
But if the Democrats' notion of multilateralism means that we have to follow the dictates of the European left or the admonitions of U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, then forget about it.
Bush prudently reserves the right to act "unilaterally" if other countries won't cooperate on matters vitally affecting our national interest. He has repeatedly indicated that with or without international support he would take pre-emptive action, if necessary, to eliminate terrorist threats, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by terror-friendly states.
So if unilateralism means jealously safeguarding our national interests, then consider President Bush guilty along with Ronald Reagan, who, in one of the boldest acts of unilateralism in American history, refused to be intimidated by Mikhail Gorbachev's demand that he abandon his vision for a strategic missile defense. (Many experts credit that act of "unilateralism" as the decisive event in the Cold War.)
If Democrats want to lay a glove on President Bush's foreign policy approach, they're going to have to find a better buzzword. "Unilateralism" is lame.