For New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, the high point of President Bush's U.N. speech on Iraq last week came when Bush devoted nine paragraphs in it to the issue of sex trafficking. "I was applauding when I was watching," says Smith, who has waged an often-lonely fight to bring attention to the practice of sex trafficking in hopes of stamping it out.
In this little-noticed portion of his speech, Bush displayed a characteristic aspect of his foreign policy, which combines tough-minded American assertion with a high-minded humanitarianism. The assertion has been in evidence in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the humanitarianism in the administration's work against religious persecution, AIDS and now sex trafficking. These two tendencies are related in Bush's view of American power as a moral force, equally engaged in killing "evildoers" and in helping those to whom evil is done.
Don't tell the fetishistic multilateralists in the Democratic Party, but such a moral view can never truly animate the United Nations, a body that gives the Free World and global-trash nations equal status. When Bush talked about sex trafficking, he was doing exactly what he did last year on the issue of Iraq -- holding the United Nations to account. "The U.N. has paid lip service to trafficking, but when it has come down to being very serious about it, it has been business as usual," says Smith. If perhaps the worst international human-rights abuse since chattel slavery is to be ended, it will be the result of American leadership.
Estimates are that at least 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across international borders every year and held against their will to work in the sex trade or in other slave-labor conditions. Human trafficking has become a $7 billion-a-year worldwide business. It touches the United States, where an estimated 20,000 people are trafficked a year. It is hard to imagine a more despicable crime than forcing children to be serially raped every day, but that is how sex traffickers make their living.
Smith and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., spearheaded a successful effort in 2000 to pass an anti-trafficking law that mandates that the United States issue an annual report on the performance of countries in cracking down on trafficking, and that it sanction countries that tolerate the practice. The Clinton White House balked at the bill, according to Smith, since "it didn't want sanctions or the naming of names, because that's too impolite." But "impolite" has its advantages.
There's been real movement during the past year or so, Smith says. South Korea and Israel in particular have moved aggressively to avoid sanctions. South Korea shut down 660 brothels recently and ended its "entertainment visa," which was used by mobsters to bring women into the country. The U.S. military has cooperated by working harder to keep U.S. soldiers stationed there from soliciting prostitutes. According to Smith, Russian women were being held at a brothel just yards away from the entrance to Camp Casey near the DMZ.
Russia, meanwhile, is on the verge of passing into law anti-trafficking legislation almost identical to the 2000 bill in the United States. Smith's office translated the bill into Russian, and it is expected to be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. All of this shows that U.S. pressure works. "There has been a learning curve within the State Department itself that this is a priority, and that we have real leverage," says Smith, who has a bill pending to reauthorize and strengthen the anti-trafficking bill this year.
If the Bush administration had a slow start in emphasizing the importance of the issue of trafficking, Bush's U.N. speech makes it clear to everyone that it is a priority, providing more impetus to the cause. "Women are being saved every day," says Smith. Think of them the next time you hear someone complain of the evils of Bush's assertive foreign policy.