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Perhaps the May 3 vote by the UN Human Rights Commission, denying the United States one of the body's three "Western" seats, will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It was certainly no accident. On the same day that the UNstripped the U.S. of a seat it had held since 1947, representatives to the International Narcotics Control Board drove the point home by failing to reelect an American candidate.


Madeleine Albright may still believe America stands taller, sees farther than any other country; The Weekly Standard's editors beat the drums for the Bush administration to establish "benevolent global hegemony"; The New Republic can let the cat out of the bag by crowing that Bush's missile defense plan isn't needed to protect Americans but is really a highly desirable "tool for global dominance." But the rest of the world has had enough. It doesn't want U.S. hegemony.


Did everyone notice the steadfast expressions of support from our democratic allies when the U.S. spy plane was forced down and its crew held in China? No? That's because there weren't any. With these UN votes, the world is letting us know that it wants limits on American power. The lesson was delivered cheaply, at no cost in blood or treasure to the American people. It is in our interests to heed it.


But there are no glimmers that this is understood in official Washington. There, the word-processor warriors are pounding away, parsing out the blame for the malicious vote. It's Colin Powell's fault, asleep at the switch, naive about duplicitous European diplomats. No, it's W himself, the president who has never shown any interest in foreign countries beyond Mexico and Israel. No, it's the Senate's confirmation morass which has delayed appointment of John Negroponte, W's choice for UN ambassador. GOP congressmen are vowing vengeance by withholding U.S. payments to the world body.


The sources for the rebuke go deeper, though. The U.S. failed in the Human Rights Commission because it counted on European votes it didn't receive. This wasn't the Third World/totalitarian coalition that Daniel Patrick Moynihan diagnosed 26 years ago. These weren't the votes of China, Libya and Sudan, whose opposition to the U.S. at the UN is a given. (All have seats on the commission.) Here the dagger seems to have been wielded by the European democracies, which preferred that France, Austria and Sweden hold the coveted spots instead of America.


This has been a while in coming. The anti-Americanism of the left is an old factor in European politics, thick in the intelligentsia and the Moscow-leaning Communist parties, but heretofore not especially widespread. Since the Cold War's end, it has begun to migrate rightward. Without Moscow to fear, commercial competition becomes more salient and American laws that penalize Europe for trading with "rogue states" (as defined by Washington) are increasingly resented. So is the American military presence, now seen more in the European mind as hotdogging Marine fighter pilots who might bring down a ski gondola in Italy, kill 20 (and receive virtually no punishment) than as stalwart defenders against a Soviet push westward. Europeans perceive the United States as using its UN Security Council veto to run interference for Israel, in order to abort European peace initiatives.


Many European conservatives feel the same contempt as American conservatives do for the tone and impact of Hollywood's popular culture?indeed all the more so because the vulgarity is foreign, not homegrown, and American movies and artists compete against their own entertainers. Too, for much of Europe's right, the collapse of communism is transforming the purpose of conservatism. For some it is still Thatcherite: faith in free markets and free trade as the one and only route to the good society. But not for everyone.


Jonathan Freedland, noting the anti-American drift in British conservatism, captures the new sentiments nicely in London's Spectator. Many British Tories, he writes, "miss the high streets that used to have their idiosyncrasies but which are now decked out in the uniform colors of unstoppable global brands. They yearn for the Sunday of old, when commerce stopped and service was not available '24/7'. The onward march of globalization is destroying the very things that these British conservatives want to conserve about Britain. And who is behind globalization but the Americans?"


Such feelings flourish in France, Italy and Germany as well, even in Russia, which means the European left no longer pays any penalty in public opinion for anti-Americanism, and is thus freer to indulge. Whether left or right is voted into power, there will be more American diplomatic embarrassments.


United Nations rebukes may be harmless enough, but the U.S. would be foolish simply to thumb its nose at the world's nations because we have a large military and they do not. Last week's papers carried a small item about W naming Dick Cheney to chair a committee to coordinate federal policy in the event of a major terrorist attack (biological or nuclear weapons) against an American city. In his appointment letter, W acknowledged that U.S. means to prevent such an attack were far from perfect. If the United States continues its drive to create a world in which the "world's only superpower" has no friends, only subsidized client states and sworn enemies, our means to ward off the unthinkable will be all the more limited.




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