Commentary Magazine


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America The Cuddly

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof lays out his plan for the U.S. to “rejoin the world” under the next administration:

  • We should not only close the Guantánamo prison but also turn it into an international center for research on tropical diseases that afflict poor countries. It could thus become an example of multilateral humanitarianism.

I prefer research centers be examples of research centers. That’s how diseases are cured. If you’re after multilateral humanitarianism, you can start by having other nations pledge to put up a penny for every American dollar that reaches the sick in poor countries.

  • The new president also should signal that we will no longer confront problems just by blowing them up. The military toolbox is essential, but it shouldn’t be the first option for 21st-century challenges. You can’t bomb climate change.

It turns out, you can’t find climate change either. But Kristof’s larger point is laughable: When did the U.S. ever “confront problems just by blowing them up”? We’ve had a problem with Iran for thirty years, and now that we’re down to the use of force as the only potential solution, we’re still sitting on our hands. Syria turns Lebanon into a Hezbollah state and we dig deep into our “military toolbox” to pull out a condemnation. We pulled out another one when Russia invaded Georgia, and yet another when North Korea decided to renege on its denuclearization agreement. If anything, we confront problems by blowing them off.

  • We must cooperate with other countries on humanitarian efforts, including family planning. One of the Bush follies that has bewildered and antagonized our allies has been the vacuous refusal to support family planning through the United Nations Population Fund.

Kristof fails to mention that the Bush administration rerouted the funds allocated for the UNFPA to USAID. Which brings us back to the first point. For the $25 million we gave to USAID, other countries need to match us with $250,000 of their own. When that comes in, we can talk about the true role of America’s place in the world.