LONDON — It is not anti-American or wimpish to criticize U.S. President George W. Bush’s policies.
Some rightwing American commentators are contemptuous of critics of the foreign policies adopted by Bush and accuse such people of being wimps and anti-American. I am not a wimp and I am not anti-American, but I am unhappy about some of the policies advocated by the president.
From the first day on which I joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1949, the vital importance of Britain’s relationship with the United States was apparent to me. The American entry into World War II was the beginning of the end for the Axis powers; from that time on Britain was no longer alone.
British people find U.S. films that suggesting the war was won entirely by American arms unacceptable, but no one in Britain doubts the crucial role America played. After the war, the Marshall plan and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were keys to Europe’s recovery and its defense against the Soviet threat. We recognize that the U.S. led the way in the postwar era.
I spent 3 1/2 fascinating years as a diplomat in Washington and have great respect for the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution and for the traditions and values on which America was built. Our son is married to an American, and we have many American friends.
The events of Sept. 11 ensured that our sympathies were with American citizens, and we support wholeheartedly the war on terrorism. I still do, but I have increasing doubts about the way in which the Bush administration is approaching international problems. For many of us, it seems likely that insensitive handling of foreign concerns will increase rather decrease the threats to America.
This is not, of course, the first occasion on which I have been unhappy with U.S. policies. As a liberal in the sense of someone who believes firmly in human rights, I was and remain horrified by the excesses of McCarthyism. When I was stationed in Washington in the 1970s, Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon was president. I found it difficult to hide, as I had to do, my distaste for his dishonest administration, and my sympathies were with the Japanese over the “Nixon shock” — when the dollar’s convertibility to gold was discontinued and floating exchange rates were introduced. I cannot say that I have always been an enthusiast for Democratic Party policies, but if I were an American citizen today I would find it very difficult to vote for the Republican Party, which seems to have become increasingly conservative and intolerant.
I am unhappy with attempts that are being made by the U.S. administration to limit the human rights of captives from the fighting in Afghanistan. If the fight against terrorism is to be finally successful, the methods used must be both morally and legally justifiable.
I particularly deplore, as I know many internationally minded Americans do, the current excessive emphasis on national sovereignty. In my view this is an outdated concept. I am concerned by the influence on the president’s policies of the religious right, whose intolerance and obscurantist attitudes are in my view un-Christian.
Bush may well be justified in his belief that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is untrustworthy and should go. But many European observers wonder how a democratic election can be held in the Palestinian territories when they are under Israeli occupation, when the administrative infrastructure has been destroyed by the Israeli Army and when Western-style democracy does not exist in any Arab state.
We must deeply sympathize with the families of innocent Israelis who have been killed by senseless suicide bombings. But we must also remember that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died in the fighting and that many Palestinians are being forced to eke out a bare subsistence. There will not be peace while the tit-for-tat policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continue; as many Israelis know to their cost Sharon’s policies have reached a dead end.
In the view of many Europeans, Bush’s speech on the Middle East was disappointing and depressing because of its failure to exert any pressure on Israel to withdraw from Arab areas and its lack of urgency over the need for early political negotiations. The present impasse makes it more difficult to deal with the Iraqi threat.
Without progress in the Arab/Israel dispute, it is unlikely that any Arab country will help the American remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. And without at least tacit support from Middle East countries, an American move against Iraq will be particularly perilous.
It is far from clear at present how many European countries, besides perhaps Britain, will back a unilateral American move against Iraq. Even British support could be problematic if Bush continues to snub his British friends.
Add the continued U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, U.S. protectionism on steel and U.S. intransigence over the International Criminal Court, and many people in Europe fear that the U.S. administration is unwilling to accept any international constraints on its freedom to act. International law, it seems, must be set aside if it gets in the way of U.S. action against terrorism. In fact, all legitimate U.S. concerns have been met in setting up and defining the role of the court. It is difficult to see what further concessions can be made without compromising the principles of justice.
The League of Nations ended in failure partly as a result of the U.S. refusal to back it. The U.S. administration now seems to be turning against the United Nations and, in the eyes of many observers, appears to be trying to prevent it from operating effectively in the cause of peace and international justice.
The U.S. is the sole superpower. It has contributed greatly to world prosperity and to the development of the ideals of freedom and justice. But the U.S. is not perfect, and its attempts to dictate to the rest of the world will only lead to anti-Americanism and increase the dangers to U.S. society.
In politics, issues may have to be simplified, but there are dangers in pushing too far the principle that “he who is not with me is against me.”
I cannot accept that the end (destroying terrorism) justifies the means (unnecessarily limiting human rights and freedoms and taking action that may lead to the unnecessary loss of innocent lives). Even America needs friends, and this involves taking account of their concerns and interests.
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