WASHINGTON — Last month’s Putin-Bush summit at Crawford was deemed an arms control failure because the rumored deal — Russia agrees to let us partially test, but not deploy, defenses that violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty — never came off.
In fact, it was a triumph. Like Reagan at the famous 1986 Reykjavik summit, at which he would not give up the Strategic Defense Initiative to Gorbachev, Bush was not about to allow Putin to lock the United States into any deal that would prevent us from building ABM defenses.
Bush proved that on Thursday when he dropped the bombshell and unilaterally withdrew the United States from the treaty, and thus from all its absurd restrictions on ABM technology.
This is deeply significant, not just because it marks a return to strategic sanity, formally recognizing that the ballistic missile will be to the 21st century what the tank and the bomber were to the 20th, but because it unashamedly reasserts the major theme of the Bush foreign policy: unilateralism.
After Sept. 11, the critics (the usual troika: liberal media, foreign policy establishment, Democratic ex-officials) were clucking about how the Bush administration has beaten a hasty retreat from reckless unilateralism. President Bush "is strongly supported by the American people," explained former Senate leader George Mitchell, "in part because he has simply discarded almost everything he said on foreign policy prior to Sept. 11."
Bush had wanted to go it alone in the world, said the critics. But he dare not. "It’s hard to see the president restoring the unilateralist tinge that colored so many of his early foreign policy choices," wrote columnist E.J. Dionne just two months ago. "Winning the battle against terror required an end to unilateralism."
We need friends, they said. We need allies. We need coalition partners. We cannot alienate them again and again. We cannot have a president who kills the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, summarily rejects the "enforcement provisions" of the bioweapons treaty, trashes the ABM Treaty — and expect to build the coalition we need to fight the war on terrorism.
We cannot? We did.
Three months is all it took to make nonsense of these multilateralist protests. Coalition? The whole idea that the Afghan war is being fought by a "coalition" is comical. What exactly has Egypt contributed? France sent troops into Mazar-e Sharif after the fighting had stopped, noted that renowned military analyst Jay Leno. ("Their mission?" asked Leno. "To teach the Taliban how to surrender.") There is a coalition office somewhere in Islamabad. Can anyone even name the coalition spokesman who makes announcements about the war?
The "coalition" consists of little more than U.S. aircraft, U.S. special forces, and Afghan friends-of-the-moment on the ground. Like the Gulf War, the Afghan war is unilateralism dressed up as multilateralism. We made it plain that even if no one followed us, we would go it alone. Surprise: Others followed.
A unilateralist does not object to people joining our fight. He only objects when the multilateralists, like Clinton in Kosovo, give 18 countries veto power over bombing targets.
The Afghan war is not a war run by committee. We made tough bilateral deals with useful neighbors: Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia. The Brits and the Australians added a sprinkling of guys on the ground risking their lives, and we will always be grateful for their solidarity. But everyone knows whose war it is.
The result? The Taliban are destroyed. Al Qaeda is on the run. Pakistan has made a historic pro-American strategic pivot, as have the former Soviet republics, even Russia itself. The Europeans are cooperating on prosecutions. Even the Arab states have muted their anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, with the Egyptian foreign minister traveling to Jerusalem for the first time in three years.
Not because they love us. Not because we have embraced multilateralism. But because we have demonstrated astonishing military power and the will to defend vital American interests, unilaterally if necessary.
Where is the great Bush retreat from unilateralism? The ABM Treaty is dead. Kyoto is dead. The new provisions of the totally useless biological weapons treaty are even deader: Just six days before pulling out of the ABM Treaty, the administration broke up six years of absurd word-mongering over a bio treaty so worthless that Iraq is a signatory in good standing.
And the world has not risen up against us — no more than did the "Arab street" (over the Afghan war), as another set of foreign policy experts were warning just weeks ago.
The essence of unilateralism is that we do not allow others, no matter how well-meaning, to deter us from pursuing the fundamental security interests of the United States and the free world. It is the driving motif of the Bush foreign policy. And that is the reason it has been so successful.
Charles Krauthammer can be reached at The Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071-9200.