The Responsibilities of Empire II
Jude Wanniski
May 11, 2001


Memo To: Supply-Side Students
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Responsibilities of Empire II

The United Nations secret vote to kick the United States off its Human Rights Commission was the topic of a memo I sent to the editor of the WSJournal’s editorial page on Wednesday, “The UN Kicks Uncle Bully.” This turns out to be the perfect topic for an SSU lesson, following last week’s lecture on “An American Empire” and the responsibilities that the United States has now that we are at the top of the global political pyramid. There are at least two major schools of thought on how the U.S. should manage the world. One school, which has the WSJ as one of its teachers, believes we should give carrots to those countries that do as we wish and flog, perhaps bomb, those countries who resist. This is the “Father Knows Best” school, to put it nicely. The other school, where Polyconomics is among the teachers, believes that we should follow the Golden Rule, by which we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if our positions were reversed. There is a third school, a minor one, represented by isolationists, who prefer that we not even think of “responsibilities” as the global leader. Even that voice can be important at the margin, when the U.S. government itself is balanced on a knife’s edge.

Because there is no book or manual on how to be the sole Superpower, we now are trying to figure out the best way to go about it. In the Clinton years, there really was not much progress made in that direction, except to produce the kind of unstructured behavior that left the rest of the world in a constant state of apprehension. Whom would we bomb next? In a lead editorial on Thursday, “The Envy of Europe,” the WSJournal huffs and puffs at the Europeans who should have made sure we got a seat on the Human Rights Commission. The editorial acts as if the vote were directed at President Bush: “Just 100 days into a new Presidency, America has become such a mean-spirited and menacing country that we are asked to forgive the rest of the world as it recoils in horror -- or some pundits and Democratic Congressmen tell us.” What the Journal is trying to do is absolve itself of any responsibility for the UN vote, you see, as it well knows it was not directed at President Bush, but on the accumulation of grievances felt by the world as the United States has acted the bully during the past eight years -- with the perpetual assent of the WSJ editorial page, and the NYTimes as well. Our foreign policy, as Winston Churchill would have put it, has been a pudding without a theme. There has been no leadership at all. My assumption has been, thus far, that the team assembled by President Bush will provide that theme over the course of the next four years, and if the electorate does not like the taste, it will turn to a Democrat in 2004. My own predilections, of course, would lead me to hope that the theme more closely resembled the Golden Rule than Father Knows Best.

To round out this lesson, I will ask you to read in its entirety the “Envy of Europe” editorial, which as the title suggests, argues that Europe’s leaders made sure we did not get that coveted seat on the Human Rights Commission because they are jealous. They don’t like Uncle Sam having all that power!! The editorial also mixes apples and oranges, pointing out that the people of the rest of the world continue to migrate to the United States in great numbers, which means the ordinary people of the world still love us, but the big shots are green with envy: “Europe’s political classes know this. Which is why a chance to thumb their noses at the U.S., making company with the likes of China, Cuba, Libya and Syria palatable on relatively meaningless UN votes. They don’t hate us; they envy us.” This is hard-boiled nonsense, of course. It is the ordinary people of China who are furious at us, the ordinary Muslims of the Islamic world who view us as the Great Satan, the ordinary Palestinians who commit suicide, no matter what their leaders tell them. The migration to the United States is only a sign that we have the most robust economy in the world, as our Political Establishment uses the IMF and World Bank to keep the rest of the world as poor and as uncompetitive as possible. There are also people from other countries who want to live here because they know they won’t be bombed by Uncle Sam.

When you complete the Journal’s sourpuss, mean-spirited editorial, please turn to the lead editorial in Thursday’s New Straits Times out of Kuala Lumpur, which is right on the mark. The Journal editorialists will say “Malaysia?” They have no human rights!! When you finish the two editorials, please let me know if there are any questions. This is a story that will develop over a period of time, but at least it now is developing, where in the Clinton years it was not.

Editorial The New Straits Times

It is ironic that the United States, which seeks to advance human rights in the mould of its very own Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, should be voted out from the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Plainly, the ouster is a rejection of American moral and political leadership in bringing about a world order of human dignity.

Not surprisingly, the US and its allies construe the defeat as the result of the dirty politics, and not meritocracy, of UN votes. The US-influenced media proclaims it as a payback for US arrogance and, in particular, for President George W. Bush's stand on the Kyoto protocol and missile defence. Worse, it peddles the view that the Commission was hijacked by the world's human-rights abusers, in reference to the developing countries which are members of the Commission, to quell institutional criticism of their allegedly deplorable human rights record.

The vitriolic attack, we suspect, stems from an intolerance for non-Western voices in a territory considered as an American preserve. The vote against US is not about vengeance, for little boys know better than to play tit-for-tat with a big bully in a unipolar world. The underlying message is that the international community is sick and tired of US arrogance. This is underscored by another US setback when the UN voted the Americans off the International Narcotics Control Board. In essence, these developments are a reflection of the overall worth of the US as a nation among nations.

Despite crusading for human rights since the Commission's formation in 1947, many nations no longer feel that the US measures up to its own best traditions. A sentiment shared by the European Union which hardly batted an eyelid when its members — Sweden, Austria and France — challenged the US for the three open seats allocated to the West. The three got more votes than the US.

The hallucinations on the hijack of the Commission by an "abusers bloc" serve to reveal the smallness of this selfanointed defender of justice, liberty and rule of law. The ouster is the US failure to create among the global citizenry an impression of a country which, one, copes successfully with the problems of its internal life and responsibilities of a superpower and, two, has enough spiritual vitality to hold its own among the ideological currents of our time.

The divergence in US action and rhetoric has failed to inspire a real global application of human rights norms. Neither has the US been sensitive to cultural variations in the standard-setting of a universal human rights. Rather it insists on standards to which only the advanced industrial societies can be held.

There is no conspiracy against the US by the EU and developing world. The vote against it translates into a vote for Western nations interested in a co-operation and dialogue with the developing nations. The latter must have a place at the West-arranged table. Alienation of the alleged human rights abusers will only render promotion of human rights difficult as these states are confined to marginal participation in the international human rights system and worse, relegated to Samuel Huntington's camp of clashing civilisations.

The ouster is the US failure to recognise that not everything must be based on American interest. A failure to recognise the broader common interest of the international community of which the American interest is only a part..