When you were a kid, do you ever remember your mother asking you, �if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off too?� The point of that question was to illustrate that you didn’t have to do something dumb just because your friends were doing it. When you apply this lesson to US foreign policy, what you get is unilateralism and a lot of broken-backed friends laying at the bottom of the bridge not the least bit pleased that we�ve chosen not to join them.
These foreign friends of the USA along with likeminded souls in the States toss �unilateralism� around like it�s some sort of epithet. This usually happens after the United States refuses to sign up for some sort of Faustian bargain for no other reason than �Europe wants us too.� However, most of these treaties that our European allies are pushing offer the United States nothing but a throbbing pain in butt in return for�well, not being called unilateralists. These proposals range from the option limiting Landmine Treaty, to the sovereignty stealing International Criminal Court, to the economically crippling Kyoto treaty. We even heard cries of �unilateralism� over building a nuclear missile defense. As if building a system to try to save millions of American lives in the event of a nuclear missile being fired at one of our cities should be up for some sort of global debate in the first place.
The reality is that all nations have different interests and their degree of unilateralism is based on how much it benefits them to act unilaterally and nothing more. �Why that�s outrageous,� you say, �what about Europe?� I tell you what, let a majority of the EU tell France that the official language of their nation is to be English from this point forward and I think you�ll see the biggest display of unilateralism since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Going along with the group is easy if it�s in your interest to do so, but it�s a lot more difficult if it doesn�t suit your purposes.
The loudest cries of �unilateralism� have come over the �War on Terrorism�. Europe�s pacifistic population and cynical leaders are content to trade with the dictators in the Middle East whether they support terrorism or not. Economically, it may not be in Europe�s interest to help us and worse yet, Europe believes aiding us might increase their chances of being hit with terrorist attacks. In the Middle East, the populace tends to side with their Muslim neighbors against Westerners no matter what the circumstances are and the last thing the thugs and Islamo-fascists in charge would want is a possibly inspirational Democracy operating in their midst. On the other hand, after Sept. 11 the populace of the United States expects a willing Bush administration to do whatever it takes to eliminate the threats posed to America by the combination of terrorist organizations and rogue nations with weapons of mass destruction.
This situation is like having three teenagers who want to go to the mall, a play, and the movies respectively but they only have one car between them. Two of these kids are probably going to be unhappy about their destination if they decide to go at all. So where do these teens end up going? Chances are, they�ll wind up wherever the one with the car wants to go. In the world today the only remaining super power, the United States of America, is the �one with the car.� We decided that the Taliban had to be removed in Afghanistan and they�re gone. If we decide that Hussein has to go in Iraq, Khomeini is out in Iran, or even that Abdullah is out in Saudi Arabia, we are capable of making it happen and there�s not much that anyone else can do about it other than carp from the backseat.
But shouldn�t we be concerned with what the rest of the world wants? Certainly we should try to make other nation�s happy because in it�s in our interests to do so. We want information gathered by their intelligence agencies, cooperation in squeezing terrorist finances, and bases in foreign nations among other things. However, if another nation wants us to change our foreign policy, then they�d better be able to convince us that it�s in our best interests to do so. Some people may think that�s a Machiavellian way of looking of things, but it is simply an acknowledgement that nations cannot truly be friends in the way that people can. On the international stage, gratitude is fleeting, allegiances are constantly changing, and kindness is usually repaid with a sneer.
As an example, some of the Afghans and Arabs we helped fight the Soviets in eighties helped the Taliban take over Afghanistan in the nineties and eventually helped murder almost three thousand Americans on Sept 11th. After that, we invaded our ex-allies and helped them move towards a Democratic government that again claims to be our friend. Meanwhile, Russia which used to be the core of our mutual enemy the Soviet Union is becoming one of our strongest allies. On the other hand, Europe who we helped protect from the Soviet Union for much of the last fifty years is making an effort to distance itself from us now that the Soviet Union is no longer a threat. In fact, some people would say that our allies from Japan who we nuked in WW2 are much better friends than most of the nations we fought with during that war. On and on it goes�
Keeping those rapidly changing allegiances in mind, we should act unilaterally when it�s in our interest because all nations do so whether they�re willing to admit it or not. So let other countries call us �unilateralists� if they like, in the end we�re not going to get any respect or credit for going along with them anyway. That�s why we should always think �America First� no matter how ardent the cries of “jump” are from our friends lying at the foot of the bridge.