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Race and History Forum

US declares second independence?

By Jim Lobe,

Washington-Exactly 226 years ago, when British colonists declared their independence from the arbitrary and monarchical rule of their mother country, they felt compelled to publicly justify their decision out of ‘a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind’.

The heart of the Declaration of Independence, an eloquent and groundbreaking disquisition on the nature of human rights, was a bill of particulars against the British king for a host of offences.

It was designed not only to rally the support of other colonists but also to appeal to opinion overseas, including to the British Parliament and Britain’s continental rivals, notably France, whose backing the underdog revolutionaries desperately needed to wage their war.

Now, more than two centuries later, the administration of president George W Bush appears to be implicitly declaring a second independence, only this time it isn’t from any sovereign overlord but from international law and the multilateral system that Washington itself helped create over the past 50 years.

Unlike in 1776, today’s administration feels no obligation to justify its path out of respect for anyone’s opinion. Nor does it feel obliged to list a bill of actual grievances it has suffered at the hands of international law and the multilateral system — because it doesn’t have any.

"We should be proud to be alone," declared Cohen, a geo-strategist at the Paul Nitze School of Advance International Studies (SAIS), when asked recently about the administration’s "Lone Ranger diplomacy".

A confidant of the Pentagon hawks who appear increasingly to be driving the unilateralist direction of the president’s foreign policy, Cohen told Business Week that ‘Bush will not be swayed by diplomatic squawking (by US allies)’.

"There is a sense that US policy is operating on the premise: what choice does (the rest of the world) have?" says Steven Miller, an expert on international security at Harvard University.

"The administration’s worldview particularly favours the unilateral exercise of power," he adds, "with a certain triumphalism that is not always wise or warranted."

The comparison with the newly-independent US is ironic, to say the least.

Many of its founders, aware of the sense of "missionary spirit" that grew out of the colonies’ Puritan beginnings and subsequently boosted by its success in winning independence, warned against overweening ambition.

They argued that the new country should focus on internal development, particularly of its Republican and entrepreneurial virtues, rather than going abroad "in search of monsters to destroy", as former President John Quincy Adams put it.

He warned that Washington’s involvement in foreign adventures risked making the US "the dictatress of the world" as "fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force".

Until the Spanish-American War, Washington pursued a course that stressed international law and co-operation, in part because, as a relatively weak state, it depended on good relations with stronger European powers.

"America’s 18th and early 19th century statesmen sounded much like the European statesmen of today, extolling the virtues of commerce as the soothing balm of international strife and appealing to international law and international opinion over brute force," says Robert Kagan, a leading Bush backer and unilateralist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).

Even after its rise to superpower status in the wake of World War 11, Washington preferred a course, at least officially, that promoted international law and multilateral institutions, particularly as a means to restrain the Soviet Union.

"In effect, the United States spun a web of institutions that connected other states to an emerging American-dominated economic and security order," says John Ikenberry, an international relations lecturer at Georgetown University.

"But in doing so, these institutions also bound the United States to other states and reduced — at least to some extent — Washington’s ability to engage in the arbitrary and indiscriminate exercise of power,"he adds.

"But what Washington got in return was worth the price."

Don Kraus, executive director of the Campaign for UN Reform, elaborates: "It is the fabric of international law that the United States has swathed itself in that has allowed it to escape the fate suffered by great empires of the past — being torn down by a group of middle powers.’

Because Washington was willing to constrain its freedom of action and, within that international system, pay "a decent respect" to the opinions and interests of other powers, they in turn concluded that it was more productive to engage the United States than to confront it.

But "America’s soaring power in the 1990s has put this open and rule-bases, post-war order to the test," Ikenberry warned in an article published shortly after Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and three months before the 11 September attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The attacks seem to have hardened Washington’s unilateralist instincts.

The administration has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and begun construction of a national missile defence system.

It has sabotaged a number of arms-control initiatives, updated its nuclear doctrine to include targeting of non-nuclear states, renounced the US signing of the Rome Protocol that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), and threatened to veto UN peacemaking operations if it does not get a blanket exemption from the ICC’s jurisdiction.

"We’ve created a set of rules, and one of the rules are for the others," says Miller.

Two hundred and twenty-six years after feeling compelled to justify its actions "out of a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind", the impression given by the Bush administration is Americans, "yes", the rest of the world, "we don’t care", says Pierre Hassner, an international policy specialist at the Paris International Studies and Research Centre. — Third World Network Features-IPS.

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