The Isolationist President

President Bush spoke at length about isolationism in his State of the Union address, and he’s repeated the theme in subsequent speeches. In defending his actions, Bush builds up a straw man: “In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting — yet it ends in danger and decline.” So who exactly is isolationist?

Let’s look at Bush’s record over the past year:Nonproliferation Treaty — May 2005: The President said that a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is the gravest threat to America. Yet in May 2005 at the five year international review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Bush administration sent mid-level representatives and blocked efforts to strengthen the treaty.

UN World Summit — September 2005: President Bush said that he was committed to reforming and modernizing the United Nations. Again his rhetoric proved empty. First, he bypassed Congress and appointed John Bolton, a man ideologically opposed to the United Nations. Second, the U.S. delegation under Bolton’s leadership tore up the draft agreement that had taken months to prepare — resulting in a September summit that failed to produce significant reforms on management, the Secretariat, and on human rights. Summit of the Americas — November 2005: The President came into office promising to tackle U.S.-Latin American relations with new vigor. Yet when Bush visited the region in November, his fellow heads of state were “complaining of his administration’s neglect of and indifference to the region for five years.” Following the failed summit, the New York Times reported, “the feeling among many Latin Americans” was that the United States came “with little to offer other than the usual nostrums about free trade, open markets, privatization and fiscal austerity, the same recipe that has vastly increased social inequality throughout Latin America during the past decade.”

President Bush visits China — November 2005: President Bush says he is concerned about China’s human rights abuses, military development, and China’s exchange rate policy. Yet his visit to China resulted in no progress in any of these areas. The Washington Post story — “Bush trip to Asia meets low expectations” — noted that, “On a wide variety of issues, from trade to security to human rights, Bush won no concrete agreements from any of his summit partners.”


UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal — December 2005: Here the President has been consistent. Not content to simply remain outside international agreements on climate change, the U.S. is now trying to block other countries from making progress without it. In an attempt to scuttle the Montreal conference, the U.S. delegation staged a dramatic walk-out during talks on climate change.

WTO Summit in Hong Kong — December 2005: President Bush said he was committed to the successful completion of the Doha development trade round. Yet the President’s trade negotiators have not had a single notable success. At the WTO summit in Hong Kong, they failed to make any progress in completing the Doha round, and had to scramble to ensure the round didn’t completely collapse. Even Rob Portman, the head of the U.S. delegation, admitted that “the results to date are tepid, at best.”Iraq and Our Shrinking Coalition: The President says stay the course. But the U.S. is becoming more and more isolated, as countries in the “coalition of the willing” become less and less willing to follow the Bush administration’s lead. When the war began there were 48 countries in the coalition. Only 26 remain.

— Max Bergmann