The United States has established a miserable pattern in foreign policy. With Israel, the United States recently pulled out of the U.N. Conference on Racism because of language in a draft accord that demonized Israel as an apartheid state and equated Zionism with racism. The United States and other western nations also objected to the focus on slavery reparations that many African nations were pushing for.
The objections of the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, Israel and others were certainly warranted. To call the draft document counterproductive is to give it far too much credit. The conference on racism, which officially concluded Friday, was always bound to be little more than a symbolic event, but the draft document and the ensuing divisiveness over what should be included in the conference's discussions, let alone its final proclamation, showed that the conference could, in effect, end up exacerbating the tensions the conference set out to cool. Instead of working toward workable solutions to racism, the authors of the draft document inflamed tensions that were already boiling over.
But what is far more troubling than the authors' belligerence is the United States' reaction. Instead of remaining in the conference and working to find consensus, we decided to take our ball and go home. The message was clear: Not going to play by our rules? Then we shall cover our ears and eyes and run home, whining like a spoiled child.
We have established a pattern in our relations with other countries of either acting like a spoiled child or the schoolyard bully, with both personae having the trait that we can't stand not getting our way. This foreign policy doctrine stipulates that if the world does not line up in consensus behind what we believe, we will simply ignore the world.
It began when we pulled out of the Kyoto accords on climate control. Like the racism conference, Kyoto was ripe with flaws. But instead of working to modify the accord's structure or offering a workable alternative, we simply proclaimed the agreement dead and moved on. The spirit of Kyoto, and the consensus behind the document, should have at least encouraged us to respect the nations we had formerly entered into agreement with. But, alas, no such luck.
Many of our allies are concerned with our plans for a missile defense system, but we have already proclaimed that if we cannot work out a rewriting of the ABM treaty with Russia, we will simply pretend that it doesn't exist.
This new foreign policy has no ideological grounding. We ostensibly push for free trade and work to open markets abroad, but pursue protectionist schemes at home, most recently with renewed provisions to insulate our steel and lumber industries from foreign competition.
This new bullying-brat foreign policy is dangerous for its very arrogance, the idea that the rest of the world should be expected to bow to our every will. So our behavior with respect to the racism conference should come as no surprise.
However, unlike Kyoto'with the framework for a workable plan and the necessary consensus to see the plan to fruition'the racism conference looked to be a failed venture from the beginning.
Trying to get the world's nations to agree on a framework for the abolition of discrimination and racism was indeed a noble aim, but the myriad of disparate views on what constituted racism and what groups are discriminated against made the likelihood of anything but a watered-down symbolic accord bleak.
After the United States and Israel backed out and with threats from Europe, Canada and others to do the same, it looked as if the conference was bound to fail as well as bring renewed tensions to the surface of international discourse. Add to that the insistence of nations such as Syria and Pakistan that the final document include bitter language denouncing Israel's repression of the Palestinians.
In the end, however, the nations gathered in Durban, South Africa, worked out an agreement that is impressive in its ability to navigate these land mines and create the feeling that perhaps, like Kyoto, an ideals-inspired framework could arise.
The final document says that slavery is 'a crime against humanity and should always have been so,' but stops short of an explicit call for reparations or of language more explicitly linked to individual countries, which Western nations feared would lead to a string of lawsuits. The document also expresses concern for Palestinians who live under foreign rule. Sadly, those two polarizing issues kept the conference from spending sufficient time on the plights of other peoples.
But the conference did succeed in creating a draft agreement that, albeit symbolic, can be a building block for future work towards tolerance. Upsettingly, the United States had no hand in the turn of fortune at the U.N. Conference on Racism.
The conference was just the most recent opportunity for the United States to act like the world leader it ought to be. Lately, however, whenever the opportunity arises for the United States. to work toward international consensus, we run away, upset that other nations dared to disagree with us.