It's multilateralism, stupid

Posted: Mar 19, 2003 12:00 AM

            The anti-war theme isn't getting much traction these days. Americans largely support the war, but more than that, the question will soon be moot because we are going to war. So what will be the next Bush-bashing theme?


The Left will always have plenty of domestic policy issues to complain about and much to object to with the war on terror. But what will be their enduring theme on foreign policy to serve them at least until the 2004 presidential election?


            I don't care how many experts say that presidential elections are decided on the state of the economy. Given international events and the war on terror, Democrats will only get limited use out of the Clinton-Carville slogan, "It's the economy stupid."


            They're going to have to articulate a coherent foreign policy message that will survive a resounding American victory in Iraq. No small order.


            Not to worry; they're resourceful. It seems obvious that the Democrats' principal theme will continue to be that George Bush is wielding American power unilaterally and with an unparalleled arrogance. Think about it. It has the advantages of durability and versatility.


            As for durability, they've been saying it since before Bush was inaugurated -- indeed they've been saying it since Ronald Reagan dared to dub the Soviet Union as the evil empire. They can just tack those years of criticism on, since to them, for all practical purposes, Bush is a political reincarnation of President Reagan.


            As for versatility, they've applied this theme to any number of international issues. Remember President Clinton's hissy fit when the Republican Senate refused to go along with his recklessly conceived nuclear test ban treaty? It seemed that to Clinton and his party it was more important that we be seen as cooperative with the international community and that we trust dishonorable nations not to violate the unverifiable treaty than it was to safeguard American security.


            Similarly, the Left was outraged that President Bush refused to sign on to the Kyoto climate change treaty and the International Criminal Court. Their complaint is always the same: America is snubbing its nose at foreign governments -- but they never express concern about American sovereignty.



            Further, they say Bush has ignored the Middle East. But to the Left, the granddaddy of Bush unilateralism has been his policy toward Iraq, despite his endless overtures to the United Nations and patience in the futile inspections charade. The Left never questions the wisdom of foreign dissent, nor answers the dilemma their position ultimately poses: What happens if the lion's share of the international community is advocating policies contrary to our national interests?


            In opposing the war, Democrats have tried to position themselves pretty well even following an American rout of Iraq. If our troops are attacked with weapons of mass destruction, they'll probably spin it as proof that we should never have gone, rather than the opposite. If things don't go perfectly smoothly in rebuilding Iraq, they'll have further ammo against Bush. There will doubtlessly be disputes with other nations in the process, which will also play into their theme. And if we suffer another terrorist attack on our mainland, they'll predictably charge that our strike on Iraq caused it -- either by further inflaming the Arab "street" or by shifting our focus away from the war on terror.


            After the war, Democrats will likely say that our success in eliminating the Saddam threat pales in comparison to the damage we've done to our relationship with other nations. It just fits so well with their projected image of George Bush as a tough-talking, unsophisticated Texas cowboy -- a bull in the china cabinet of foreign relations, breaking every relationship in the world through his ignorance and arrogance.


            It is no accident that Democrats have picked a theme that is nearly self-proving. Foreign nations, to some significant degree, are going to resent us, no matter what we do. Bush tried tirelessly to bring them along, but it was never enough. Only if you defer to their wishes and subordinate the interests of the United States do you earn accolades of multilateralism.


            Mark my words. The Democrats' charges of Bush arrogance and unilateralism will increase in number and volume right up to November 2004. I for one am grateful for a president who places America's interests at the forefront and is not cowed by endless bogus criticism from the Left. No matter what they throw at him, the smart money will be on Bush in 2004.