Early in 2003, before the Pentagon launched the invasion of Iraq, American liberals chastised the Bush administration for ignoring the United Nations and world opinion by pursuing a "unilateralist" foreign policy on Iraq.
When key allies--France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, and Turkey-- refused to join the U.S.-led intervention to oust Saddam Hussein's regime, the NATO alliance was seriously split on a major international issue.
In the same year, 2003, the U.S. Episcopal Church incurred the wrath of its conservative members and opposition from the world-wide Anglican Communion by approving the elevation of an openly gay priest to be bishop of New Hampshire. Liberals in the Episcopal branch of the Anglican Church ignored the charge that the American denomination had defied Anglican teachings based on the Bible.
Two weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, head of the world's Anglican churches, called on U.S. Episcopalians either to renounce gay bishops and same-sex unions or give up full membership in the Anglican Communion. Some Episcopal churches now plan to form Anglican parishes and ask Archbishop Williams to appoint an Anglican primate as their overseer.
The irony here is that many of the same liberals in the Episcopal Church who denounced George Bush for "going it alone" on Iraq are themselves espousing defiance of international Anglican opinion. On church policy, this too amounts to unilateralism.
During the past two years the White House has moved away from a unilateralist approach in foreign policy. The president engaged the NATO allies and Russia in a common approach to Iran's nuclear arms threat. He also worked with China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia in a joint effort to deal with North Korea's nuclear missile threat. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently started a similar process of coordinating U.S. policy on Sudan and Somalia with the United Nations and the African countries.
On the administration's most pressing foreign policy problem, Iraq, the president and military commanders now suggest that some troop reductions will occur this year and next year. Democrats complain, with some justification, that Bush is following their proposed call for a phased withdrawal with no specific timetable.
For their part, U.S. Episcopal bishops do not seem willing to modify their defiance of the Anglican Communion, as they recently elected the first woman to be the presiding bishop of their denomination. The selection of Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Bishop of Nevada, for this top position in the Episcopal Church will further exacerbate relations with conservative bishops at home and Anglican bishops abroad.
Bishop Jeffert-Shori's elevation to this leadership role will in itself cause difficulties within the Anglican Communion, which has long had reservations about ordaining women as priests. But her views in favor of gay priests and bishops, and of the blessing of same-sex unions, may eventually result in the ouster of the U.S. Episcopal Church from the world Anglican church body.
Political observers and historians have noted the rise of "exceptionalism" in American attitudes toward the world, especially after the shocking events of 9/11. This view, that America is special, goes back to the founding of the republic, and it grew after World War II when the United States emerged as a superpower and adopted a hegemonic role in relations with allies. Leaders in both political parties embraced the idea that America should be a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world.
It took the Bush administration two years to understand that friends and allies no longer accept the idea that "America knows what's best." The severe split in NATO over America's Iraq policy underscores this reality.
It is too soon to know whether George Bush's belated recognition of the United States' declining influence with many allies will affect the Republican Party's fortunes in 2006 and 2008. What seems clear is that the public is not satisfied with a go-it-alone foreign policy and that Bush is adjusting, belatedly, to this mood.
Whether a similar change in attitude will occur in the Episcopal Church, especially among the its bishops, remains to be seen. The challenge now for leaders in both church and state is to decide whether America needs the rest of the world as friends and allies. The term "arrogance of power," once used to describe U.S. policy on Vietnam, may be appropriate to describe the recent views of both the church and the state.
File last modified on Sunday, 14-JUL-2006 8:18 PM EST