Politics

CRITIQUE ON
STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS (2000)
YES, MR. PRESIDENT, BUT

Yes, Mr. President, as you said in your State of the Union address, America is riding high on an economic boom that's the envy of the world. But beyond our borders, our prosperity and arrogance are not winning us friends.

Yet like Narcissus, you have fallen in love with your own image of America the beautiful. There is something fundamentally wrong with your account of the state of the world. Here are some of the facts.

Since you became president, over four million people have been killed in conflicts overseas; millions more have been forced to flee their homes. Tens of millions more people--about one in every four human beings--are living in absolute poverty, and the number is growing. The divide between rich and poor both within and among nations has grown ever wider. The global environment has continued to deteriorate at unprecedented rates. India and Pakistan have joined the nuclear club with others clamoring right behind, and Russia and China have grown increasingly distrustful of our intentions.

While you alone cannot be blamed for all of these developments, as the leader of what Secretary of State Albright has called "the indispensable nation," you cannot escape responsibility either. Despite your own rhetorical commitment to promoting human rights and disarmament, protecting the global environment, easing the plight of the world's poorest, expanding trade while protecting workers, and strengthening the United Nations, you have failed to lead the nation and the world toward a new global agenda which could and should have followed the cold war.

The opportunities for such leadership were unprecedented. Not only had the United States by 1993 achieved unprecedented global influence and authority, but around the globe civil society movements, at both the grassroots and international levels, were proliferating around these same issues. Similarly, at home, public opinion polls consistently reveal that a majority of Americans share these same concerns.

But, instead of uniting and mobilizing all of these forces behind your frequently-stated pledges to create a more peaceful, more secure, more equitable, and cleaner world, you've never been willing to go to the mat, as you did, for example, for the corporate-sponsored North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Like the proverbial deer in the headlights, you've frozen almost every time right-wing unilateralist and isolationists in Congress, the military brass in the Pentagon, or big Wall Street interests have whispered objections.

Consider:

* On human rights, you have actually opposed the decade's greatest achievements of the international human rights movement: the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel landmines and the 1998 treaty to create the International Criminal Court (ICC).

* Rather than fight to strengthen the United Nations, you have virtually surrendered the world body to the mercies of Sen. Jesse Helms and other unilateralists. Your resort to unilateral military action against Iraq and Yugoslavia not only has further eroded the UN's authority; it also has fostered distrust in Russia, China, and elsewhere, and created a dangerous precedent--as has congress' failure to pay the U.S.'s full UN arrears, a treaty obligation.

* Despite the absence of any credible military threat to the United States, the FY2000 defense budget is more than three times greater than the combined military spending of China, Russia, and all of the designated rogue states. Your support for the flawed and ill-conceived national missile-defense system has not only squandered any peace dividend, it is alienating our NATO allies and aggravating tensions with Russia and China.

* Similarly, your failure to clearly endorse de-nuclearization as U.S. policy and seriously campaign for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has undermined global anti-proliferation efforts and has confirmed to many current and would-be nuclear powers that atomic weaponry is just too important to give up.

* While your rhetoric on the environment and the dangers posed by global warming has been strong, your actions have been timid at best. Despite polls showing that most Americans believe that global warming is a real threat and are willing to undergo some financial sacrifice to reduce carbon emissions that cause global warming, you have been unwilling to rally scientific and public opinion behind a serious effort to move the Kyoto Protocol through the Senate.

* Despite frequent hand-wringing about the negative impact of economic globalization, especially on the poor both at home and abroad, you have stuck unfailingly to the Washington Consensus of open markets, smaller government, and fiscal austerity, even when those policies have been shown again and again to hit the poor, and sometimes the middle class, hardest. And while you called for a new international financial architecture in the wake of the1997-98 crisis that swept Asia and Russia, you have failed to follow up, apparently because the U.S. itself has so far avoided the contagion.

The common thread in this record, Mr. President, is your reluctance to take on powerful interests--be they bureaucratic, ideological, or commercial--for the sake of a more peaceful, secure, and just world. And the result is a world that is less peaceful, less secure, and less just for hundreds of millions of people who live outside our borders.

*** OTHER STATE OF THE UNION COMMENTARY ***

Sarah Anderson, Director of the Global Economy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, says, "I'm curious to see which of his two faces the President will show Thursday night: the one he used to try to appease the protestors in Seattle, or the one that's bent on clinching a trade deal with China to please his Wall Street friends. Clinton has always been masterful in spouting beautiful rhetoric about labor and human rights while cutting deals that put corporate profits first."

IRC Tom Barry
Co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus
Email: tom@irc-online.org

IPS Martha Honey
Co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus
Email: ipsps@igc.apc.org


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