Attacks show U.S. can't stand alone

October 02, 2001|By James E. Goodby and Damien J. LaVera

WASHINGTON - Americans are all internationalists now.

The attacks in New York and Washington have shown that isolationism and unilateralism are no longer viable options for the United States.

We are too dependent on the rest of the world to retreat from or disregard it.

Recognizing this, the Bush administration has wisely made an important correction in the course of its foreign policy, a realignment that could prove beneficial to U.S. and international security.

Notwithstanding some multilateralist inclinations in trade policy, the administration appeared strongly disposed before Sept. 11 to maximizing U.S. freedom of action in nearly every other area, setting out to escape the constraints of a wide range of international agreements.

Now, with the president working with political leaders around the globe to improve America's position within a framework of carefully constructed rules of the road, all of this appears to have changed.

Indeed, the administration learned some important lessons about the international community in the last three weeks.

First, it is not as illusory as some had suggested.

An international community of nations really does exist, as evidenced by public displays of sympathy in London, Moscow, Tehran and elsewhere.

Second, although America's interests and those of the international community are not always compatible, things work far better for everyone when they are.

The United States has a fundamental interest in encouraging international rules of behavior that support an American economic, cultural and security presence globally.

Over the years, the United States has been highly successful in this regard.

Working with the international community to promote U.S. interests enabled the United States to dramatically advance the cause of democracy in Europe and Northeast Asia after World War II and to create great institutions that paved the way for economic globalization.

These achievements have been immensely valuable to us in responding to the current crisis.

Give and take has always been a part of the process - we cannot have it our way all the time. But we must rely on these institutions and international cooperation to confront global threats to security.

Unilateral actions might be able to impose order in the short-term, but it would be transitory.

Lacking a foundation of values and goals shared by many nations and developed over many years, a unilaterally imposed order will crumble.

The terrorists who attacked New York and Washington understand this and are trying to drive a wedge between the United States and the international community, particularly its allies in the Persian Gulf.

A unilateralist foreign policy is a luxury the United States can no longer afford.

In today's world, our real choices involve the degrees to which our policies emphasize the development of international rules of the road over those policies that stress freedom of action.

A successful U.S. foreign policy must draw on both concepts to balance special American considerations against the common needs of the larger community, but in nearly every example we must work within that community.

Balancing these interests is the special job of the president. President Bush's actions since the attacks have shown that he now understands this.

America's friends and allies understand this, too.

While they have always been willing to accept - albeit grudgingly - Washington's unabashed use of international structures in the pursuit of its self interest, they could never have accepted the administration's previous attempts to trash the framework itself in order to achieve complete freedom of action for the United States.

Mr. Bush deserves credit for the job he and his administration have done to assemble an international response to the attacks. But the kind of diplomatic effort that he is now using will require patience.

It is like building a great cathedral - slow work but with lasting effect.

Mr. Bush is entitled to the support of the American people while he does this.

Our history suggests that he will get it.

James E. Goodby, a former U.S. ambassador who served president from Harry Truman through Bill Clinton, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Damien J. LaVera is director of Communications and Programs for the Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

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