by Austin Bay
Six months into the Bush administration, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-Fantasy Land) looks a little lost. He's stuck with his two Lost Words, "Isolationist" and "Unilateralist."
In Daschle's vocabulary, "Isolationist" and "Unilateralist" were supposed to be potent magic. Utter them (repeatedly),and the senator's pen pals in the national media would force the Bush foreign policy team into bumbling retreat, a rapid exit stage left like Captain Hook pursued by a ticking croc.
But Washington isn't quite "Never Never Land." There are moments when the Beltway must move from posturing and pork to issues of life and death. Suddenly, the real world exerts a terrible gravity. Peter Pan politicos may continue to spin, but ultimately spin fails to fly. In moments like these, Americans realize the nation needs adult leadership.
The Clinton administration certainly gave us the dark and irresponsible side of Peter Pan's chortling, "I'll never grow up."
The immediate domestic political fallout of indulgent adolescence was incessant scandal and impeachment. Long-term domestic consequences are emerging. An ugly sexual harassment case was recently tossed out by a judge who cited Clinton as evidence that society now tolerates a boss's rankest behavior. Feminists (and fathers) are right to be outraged. Damaging the sanctity of the courtroom oath may be the most harmful long-term effect. A president who lies under oath isn't committing a teen-age prank, he's undermining the legal system he's elected to administer.
The international consequences of Clinton's self-indulgent administration are more subtle but also more dangerous. Clinton utterly abused the role of commander in chief when he launched Operation Desert Fox (a series of strikes on Iraq) to deflect attention from the Lewinsky scandal. That's not just my read. I've heard too many cynical chuckles from foreign military officers. Appropriating Daschle's term, few acts are more "unilateralist" than a president who risks lives and takes lives to protect his own immediate political interest.
And consider the Kyoto Treaty, negotiated by former Vice President Al Gore. The U.S. Senate (to which Daschle belongs) rejected Kyoto by a 95-to-0 vote. This indicates an extraordinary "isolation" from reality, either by the Senate (if Kyoto isn't a crock) or the Clinton administration (if Kyoto is crock indeed). However, after the Senate vote, instead of exerting leadership on behalf of the treaty, Clinton and Gore dropped Kyoto like a globally warmed hot potato. If greenhouse gases present a life-and-death threat, Clinton should have fought for it.
But the Kyoto Treaty is a premier example of Never Never Land political posturing, and even Germany's "greener than thou" socialists know it. Implementing Kyoto harms the world's advanced economies. A cadre of intellectually honest ecologists is slowly recognizing that strong economies investing in advanced technology produce cleaner environments. Poverty produces pollution; wealth creates the means for reducing it.
Yet Daschle moans "isolationist" as the Bush administration demonstrates adult leadership by rejecting a flawed feel-good treaty. When the Bush administration points out that the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention's enforcement protocol fails to stop countries from developing germ warfare arsenals, Daschle groans "unilateralist."
Of course, the Bush administration is neither, which is why the isolationist and unilateralist labels fail to stick.
The Clinton administration once described its foreign policy as "selective engagement." The Bush administration is pursuing "corrective engagement."
Daschle accuses the Bush administration of withdrawing from the Middle East. That's a flat-out lie. When Israelis and Palestinians demonstrate the ability to control their own destructive impulses, then a peace process has meaning. Until then, the Bush administration has scotched the fantasy of phony negotiations.
The real target of Daschle's Lost Words, however, is Bush's missile defense program. Missile defense is anything but unilateralist. It's a vital piece of a new 21st century collective security regimen designed to protect the planet's constructive nations from destructive rogues. With that goal in mind, Daschle could be a key player in a new bipartisan foreign-policy consensus. To do so, however, means Lost Boy Tommy must bid bye-bye to Slick Willie Pan's Never Never Land.