August 30, 2001 | Commentary on Foreign Aid and Development
WASHINGTON--Will the real liberal position on U.S. foreign policy please stand up? I'm trying to figure it out, but given the inconsistencies, I might as well work on something less confusing--like reading "The Iliad" in the original Greek.
Here's what I have so far: Liberals such as Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt are worried that President Bush's "unilateralist approach" to missile defense and other issues will upset our allies and our enemies and "isolate us from the world," as Rep. Gephardt told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "We can go it alone...or we can continue our successful engagement with Europe and the world," he warned.
Added Daschle, in a speech to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: "Instead of asserting our leadership, we are abdicating it." Their remedy? That the United States embrace six international agreements, including the potentially disastrous Kyoto Protocol on global warming and a measure to create an international criminal court.
Daschle and Gephardt support these measures despite their well- documented flaws and their fundamental unfairness to the United States. For example, the Kyoto agreement would force the United States to make deep cuts in our "greenhouse gas" emissions but would exempt Brazil, India and China, three of the world's leading polluters.
(The level of hypocrisy here is astounding: Daschle knows Kyoto is unratifiable--he's one of 95 senators who voted for a 1997 resolution stating that we wouldn't accept a version that exempted developing nations and would cause economic hardship at home.)
The proposed international court, which would allow U.S. soldiers to be jailed on trumped-up, politically motivated war crimes charges, is just as bad.
But here's what throws me: If liberals are so determined to keep America from turning isolationist, why aren't they just as anxious for the president to pursue a vigorous free trade agenda? On that issue, their impression of Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill suddenly disappears.
We see Bush repeatedly asking Congress to give him Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, formerly known as "fast track") to negotiate trade deals-- and repeatedly being rebuffed.
The president wants this authority because he knows other nations are reluctant to enter into trade pacts with the United States if they know Congress can, at a later date, load up the agreements with unwanted amendments. With Trade Promotion Authority, our lawmakers can either approve a pact or reject it--but they can't rewrite it.
There's nothing new or unusual about this authority. Both Republican and Democratic presidents held this authority from 1974 until 1994. Today most all of the world's other leaders enjoy this authority.
So why are many liberals, who endorse engagement on other issues, prepared to let us stand alone when it comes to free trade? Today there are 130 preferential trade and investment agreements among various nations. The United States is party to only two of them.
While congressional liberals deny the president the ability to negotiate up-or-down trade deals, the rest of the world has marched forward and left us behind. Chile now trades more with Canada than with us, simply because we have no agreement with Chile.
But giving the president trade authority is about more than keeping up appearances. It's about money--money that could be in the pockets of Americans. The United States had an agricultural trade surplus of $12 billion with the rest of the world last year. Texas alone increased its exports by $13.4 billion from 1993 to 1998, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Think how much bigger the wealth pie would be if America could trade freely with more countries.
We may never know. A new round of World Trade Organization talks is scheduled for November in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. But without trade authority the United States won't be able to lead the talks the way it should. That's hardly the way for us to "assert our leadership" or "continue our successful engagement" with the world.
If liberals truly want the United States to exert meaningful leadership, they need to give Trade Promotion Authority to Bush. If they continue to balk, we'll know their rhetoric has nothing to do with leadership concerns and everything to do with politics.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
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