Clint Eastwood diplomacy Secondary boycotts: U.S. to punish foreigners doing business with Cuba, Iran and Libya.

June 24, 1996

WASHINGTON's latest attempt to be the bully boy of world trade is an affront to international law. This country now finds itself in the awkward position of championing "secondary boycotts" against Cuba, Iran and Libya after years of deploring Arab efforts to impose such sanctions on Israel.

President Clinton has a glib explanation for this contradiction: Israel is a democracy, but Cuba is a dictatorship, Iran is a terrorist state and Libya shot down Pan Am flight 103.

Sorry, our lawyer-president flunks his law quiz. As loathsome as the latter three states may be, they remain sovereign entities. While the U.S. has a perfect right to cut off all commerce with them, it goes off the reservation when it attempts to punish other countries for doing business with rogue regimes. And in so doing, it isolates not its adversaries but itself.

Canada, Mexico and the European Union are ripping mad at America's resort to such Clint Eastwood diplomacy. If the United States presumes, for example, to deny entry to CEOs of Canadian companies allegedly "trafficking" in property confiscated by Havana from American nationals, Ottawa has promised retaliation. If the U.S. chooses to impose sanctions against foreign companies that invest more than $40 million in Iranian oil and gas development, European powers will respond in kind.

Why is the United States engaging in such behavior? There's nothing new about Cuban expropriations or Iranian/Libyan terrorism. The reason, simply, is election-year politics.

When Cuba shot down two unarmed planes flown by Miami-based anti-Castro activists last winter, Mr. Clinton abandoned his opposition to secondary boycott legislation. The president wants to carry Florida in November.

Once this barrier had been breached, the administration soon succumbed to a clamor for similar action against foreigners who dare to do business with Iran and Libya. So politically irresistible was the urge to demonstrate that the U.S. would take action while craven foreign governments would not, the House of Representatives voted unanimously the other day for a second round of secondary boycotts. And Mr. Clinton, never one to let the Republicans gain sole possession of a juicy political issue, let it be known he would sign on.

Alas, such policies make a mockery of U.S. allegiance to the ideals of free trade and international law. This country should not allow its anger toward even the most reprehensible policies of reprehensible countries to cause it to act against its own national interests.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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