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Election 2004: Choosing the path of America’s future

Greg Parnell | Monday, February 23, 2004

Years from now, most people will remember George Bush’s 2000-04 presidency as a time when America took on the world. Republicans will think back to the days when Bush, our courageous general, warned renegade governments and militant groups that oppression and terrorism would no longer be tolerated and then followed through on his vow. Democrats will recall a vision of President Bush as a cowboy, whose foolish foreign policy alienated our country from the rest of the world. Many other issues are important when it comes to our current president, but I believe that for most of us, our like or dislike of Bush primarily comes down to this single issue of unilateralism. Should the United States take actions that we deem to be appropriate, when other nations around the world disagree? This question is the legacy of the Bush term so far. Do we need the United Nations or a system of international courts? Will our movements be blocked if the international community rises against us? What matters more – the support of foreign governments or the support of foreign populations themselves?To be completely honest, unilateralism has very real benefits, as well as dangerous costs. First, actions such as the war in Iraq demonstrate to hostile groups that they no longer have any room for error. The U.N. passed resolution after resolution, but prior to our military action against Saddam Hussein, tyrants and oligarchies were able to feel relatively safe that these demands were nothing but hollow threats. Saddam, in essence, tried to call Bush’s bluff, thinking that America would not dare move before garnering more popular support. He was wrong. Saddam used to have palaces, riches and power; he has been reduced to cold meals in a high-security jail cell. Whether the war itself was justified or not, it cannot be denied that this unilateral action will be a very effective deterrent for leaders who would dare challenge the sincerity of America’s warnings in the near future. From this point, these leaders know exactly what will happen if they cross the line, and will be extremely careful not to do so. It will take some time to determine just how pervasive this deterrent really is. Under pressure from the United States in December, Libya announced that it was giving up all hopes for nuclear arms and opening its doors to U.N. weapons inspectors. Dr. El-Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, seemed convinced when he said, “Libya has shown a good deal of cooperation, a good deal of openness.” Soon after, Syria requested that the U.N. pass a resolution calling for a ban on all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East. Granted, it was in part a move against Israel, Syria’s enemy and the only state in the region known for certain to have operational nuclear weapons. However, the nature of the request suggests also that some of the most aggressive nations in today’s world have decided that the costs of pursuing nuclear weapons have become too great to bear. I think it is safe to conclude this is at least partially because no leader wants to find himself in the cell next to Saddam.On the other hand, the United States, too, must pay up, in a way, for acting unilaterally. Officially, we moved against Iraq because it possessed weapons of mass destruction that put our nation in imminent danger. Yet no such weapons have been found, and experts report it is unlikely that they ever will be. To a critical observer, this makes the Bush administration’s decisions highly manipulative and devious. A government that knows there is insufficient physical evidence and therefore must “sell” the case, like a used car salesman, cannot be tolerated. More importantly, it creates an international understanding that we will do whatever we want to do, regardless of how other nations feel about it. In such a world, nations will not be quick to come to our aid.This is a dangerous road to be following. Perhaps today, we are strong enough to exist without much international support. However, the system will evolve, and one day, we will not be so powerful. It is foolish and nave to think that of all the great civilizations formed throughout history, ours is somehow different and will be the first one to be invincible. It may seem that we can alienate foreign governments now, but history suggests that such arrogance will only speed our fall, not prevent it. Furthermore, as globalization brings the world ever closer, the value of international cooperation and support is only going to increase.Consider this issue above all the others when thinking about the presidential candidates this year. If Bush retains the presidency, America’s hard line against our enemies may indeed keep our borders safer, especially in the short term. If a Democrat takes office, expect an attempt to rebuild the international relations that are currently in a state of disarray. One of these paths will be America’s future. Choose wisely.

Greg Parnell is a sophomore political science and economics major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at gparnell@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.