e-mail us


U.S. gropes toward relevant foreign policy


Is the United States becoming the “bully of the free world”? That’s the charge made by Gary Wills in the March-April 1999 issue of Foreign Affairs. His essay is reinforced and supported in the same magazine in an article by Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard titled “The Lonely Super Power.”

The title “leader of the free world” lingers on in the American self-image, although the Communist or “non-free” world collapsed in 1990. There continues in America a disdain for any international role in which the United States is not the dominant or controlling party.

Those who refuse to let the United States sacrifice one iota of its sovereignty appeal to Thomas Jefferson’s warning against “entangling alliances,” the Monroe Doctrine, the rejection of the League of Nations and the present distrust of the United Nations.

During the 40 years of the Cold War, the United States became accustomed to insisting on its own way in foreign affairs. It helped to remove indigenous leaders who did not conform to America’s dictates. These include Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala, Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, Salvador Allende in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Manuel Noriega in Panama.

The White House and the CIA had acted in those cases without the knowledge or consent of the American people; Sen. Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., has made this clear in his recent book on secrecy. The icon of “threats to the national security” was the essence of the cult of secrecy that was maintained so assiduously during the entire Cold War.

The struggle against the “Evil Empire” justified these events in the eyes of millions. Now countless Americans agree with Patrick J. Buchanan that the United States should disengage itself from the rest of the world. Majorities of 55 to 65 percent of the public say that events in Western Europe, Asia, Mexico and even Canada have little or no impact on their lives.

There is a new sense of isolationism, which has never been absent from America’s thinking. It can now be seen in the nation’s unwillingness to accept partnerships. Congress, for example, passed resolutions barring American soldiers from serving under non-American U.N. commanders. The Pentagon persuaded the White House to refuse to sign on to the proposed International Criminal Court. As a result, the United States in 1998 joined only seven other nations that declined to join the 150 nations that approved this tribunal, designed to be a permanent Nuremberg court.

With the same “go-it-alone” mentality, the United States refused to sign an international ban on land mines or join world efforts to curb global warming.

The United States wants to hold aloof from international partnerships. It finds itself opposing many nations in its sanctions against Cuba and in its targeting of 35 countries with new economic sanctions between 1993 and 1996.

The United States denounces a handful of countries as “rogue” nations. But Professor Huntington in the article noted above states that “in the eyes of many countries” the United States “is becoming the rogue super power.” Countries resent “American super powerdom,” writes Huntington and sometimes refuse to collaborate with America’s unilateral policies. Indeed, rejection of America’s intentions may well be a device used by dictators to strengthen their partisans and recruit new partners.

The insights of Wills and Huntington can be sensed everywhere among Americans as they reflect on the immense role the United States will be required to play in the next generation. The world may well change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 200 years. There are 26 million citizens in standing armies around the world. The nations of the earth annually spend $900 billion in arms and armaments. It is sad but self-evident that virtually none of this immense expenditure can bring decency to the 800 million who are chronically malnourished.

America committed itself to help the 96 percent of the world’s people who live outside the United States gain human rights and economic well-being when it signed and ratified the U.N. Charter in 1945. In Articles 55 and 56, all signatories pledged to do their utmost to bring economic justice, human rights and democracy to all nations.

It seems unlikely that these global and urgent questions will be major national issues in the 2000 elections. Resolving these questions will have to depend upon a grassroots movement to develop a new foreign policy, one shorn of the obsolete priority of defending the “free world.” That policy must concentrate on how America, as the richest nation in the world, can help bring peace and prosperity to the 6 billion children of God in the global village.

Right now the United States is groping for a foreign policy that is relevant and appropriate for a world in which it faces new moral demands. The 62 million Catholics in America have an acutely important role in helping to direct the United States to live up to its ethical obligations.

Catholics must radiate centuries-old Christian teaching about the solidarity of the family of nations and the solemn obligations of rich nations as well as all individuals to be good Samaritans.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, April 9, 1999