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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

White House slips as international team player

One of the very few positive developments following the Sept. 11 tragedy was that it appeared to have convinced President Bush that this is no time for unilateralism in the international arena.

It seemed obvious that America would badly need friends if it were to succeed in tracking down and punishing the perpetrators. Indeed, Bush went so far as to say that any nation failing to stand with us would be presumed to stand against us.

In his few months in office before the terrorist attacks, Bush had walked away from international germ warfare talks, abrogated the Kyoto climate-change protocol and threatened to do likewise with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He also abandoned talks on restrictions on small-arms trade.

Coming on top of the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty and the Clinton administration's rejection of a 1997 treaty banning land mines, the United States had begun to look quite the isolationist power.

It was the Europeans and the Japanese who were most annoyed at Bush's rejection of the biological weapons talks and the Kyoto accord; it is the Russians and Chinese who feel most threatened by Bush's insistence on the pursuit of missile defense research in violation of the ABM treaty.

One would have thought these were vital allies in the war against terrorism. But now, scarcely 90 days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Bush has angered dozens of countries — especially the Europeans — by calling for the termination of a group drafting proposed enforcement rules for the control of biological warfare, and his officials have made no secret that Bush soon will give official six-month notice of his intent to pull out of the ABM treaty.

The stress on Bush's anti-terror coalition will increase exponentially, however, if hawks in his administration succeed in promoting Iraq as the next target of the war on terrorism. Virtually every member of the coalition opposes the idea.

Among the collateral damage of Bush's resurgent unilateralism might be his most popular Cabinet member, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell was the loser in an internal dispute over the ABM treaty; he had favored negotiating a revision of the treaty that would preserve it while allowing some defensive testing. He seems alone in the administration in the appreciation of the fact that America's need for good relations with Russia, China and other nations is far more immediate than its ability to shoot down missiles launched by rogue states.

Powell may also be losing the internal battle, against officials in the Defense Department, over whether to extend the anti-terrorism campaign to Iraq. One wonders how many such battles the former general can lose and remain in his job.