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Thomas A. Homan: Has America lost its way in foreign affairs?

Let us review some disquieting recent American foreign policy actions. Remember a few months ago, when the United States was voted off the United Nations' Human Rights Commission and there was a great hue and cry from American policy-makers about...

Let us review some disquieting recent American foreign policy actions.
Remember a few months ago, when the United States was voted off the United Nations' Human Rights Commission and there was a great hue and cry from American policy-makers about the unfairness of chucking us out (by a fair vote) after many years of membership? Our response was arrogantly to bag our marbles and head for home, assuring the world that no good could come of a committee that did not have us setting the agenda and managing the membership roles.
Now we, along with Israel, have bolted from the UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, a timely and important world conference, because both countries object to the documents having some unpleasant things to say about Zionism. The United States decided at the last moment not to send Secretary of State Colin Powell, who more than any other, would have brought stature, eloquence, courage and dignity to the proceeding, and could very well have made a difference in the outcome.
Among other things, he could have declared the U.S. point of view in a way that would have won us a hearing and kept us at the table on this and myriad other important issues under review at the conference, including the legacy of slavery. Instead, our voice was not heard. Even the second team of middle-level U.S. participants was withdrawn as we sulked. This is not a proud achievement for American foreign policy, and certainly not a memorable stand for the world's self-proclaimed only remaining superpower.
Aren't we losing some important ground here and in other foreign policy arenas? Consider for a moment these recent actions: We are no longer a player on the UN Human Rights Committee; we have made it plain that Florida holds veto power over Cuban-American policy; we're afraid to let Colin Powell stand up for what's right by taking the podium in Durban; and we are thumbing our noses at virtually every country in the world by our decision to plow ahead with a new Star Wars initiative because we, get this, fear "rogue states," such as Libya and North Korea.
Saddam Hussein tweaks our nose every time it suits him, and more and more countries are falling in behind Iraq on the boycott issue. Add to that our namby-pamby reaction to what is going on today in the Middle East with hundreds of Palestinians and some Israelis dying in the streets, many victims of American supplied weapons. Israel doesn't want any neutral observers sent in there from the UN (no doubt with good reason), so we make sure that none are sent. Thus Israel has gained veto power over our Middle East policy, and it let us know which conferences we can attend and what the outcome needs to be (in advance).
Even more troubling, we learned recently that the United States knew full well in 1994 that genocide against the Tutsis at the hands of the majority Hutus was underway in Rwanda, but our government shrank from labeling it as such because had we done so, we might have had to do something about it. Yet, we jumped unhesitatingly into Yugoslavia when European Albanians came under pressure, and we leapt at the chance to lead our allies into Kuwait when western (read U.S.) economic interests were at stake following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Not that many years ago, we ignored the "killing fields" of Cambodia, when Pol Pot was massacring a million of his fellow citizens for the crimes of being leaders, professionals or intellectuals. And what are we doing today with respect to the killings underway in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa? If it's not on the front page of the New York Times or the evening television news, we sit on our hands and hope such problems will just go away.
America seems to have lost its way and is squandering its moral leadership in favor of an expediency born of whim and callous selectivity. We are quick to preach to others, but a close review of our own house reveals worrisome disorder. If we are to posit any credible claim to world leadership, our foreign policy must derive from consistent moral judgment, buttressed by thoughtful involvement and high visibility, even when we don't like the agenda, approve of the membership roster or control the drafting of the communiques.
Wisdom ought to inform and determine our national conscience and drive our foreign policy agenda. Leadership not earned will not endure.

Tom Homan spent 25 years in the U.S. diplomatic service and now teaches international affairs at the College of Saint Scholastica.

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