The Editor's Page -- Foreign Policy Matters To Manufacturers

Dec. 21, 2004
Let Bush know that positive engagement with the rest of the world is not an option -- it's mandatory.

Two notable issues for manufacturing executives are festering on the foreign policy front of George W. Bush's young Presidency. These decisions -- his abrupt abandonment of the Kyoto Treaty and his disengagement from Korean reunification efforts -- are characterized by what Europeans have charged is an isolationist bent on the part of the Administration, which could weaken U.S. companies abroad. Whether you agree or disagree with the President's decision to walk away from the Kyoto Treaty, the decision -- and especially the strong language he used to communicate it -- has angered Europeans. Even the most ardent admirer of Bush would agree that comments attributed to him ("We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America.") sound decidedly isolationist. Most disturbing is not only that Bush has no alternative proposals to offer but also that he seems out of step with the business community. Many companies already have set voluntary reductions in emissions and view government regulation as an inevitable way to level the playing field. One response to Bush's handling of the situation has prominent Europeans calling for a grass-roots boycott of U.S. firms. While the threat seems unlikely to do much damage, it's well known that support for environmental regulation is much stronger in Europe, and a recurrence of the anti-American sentiment that periodically sweeps the continent could give a boycott some teeth. Regarding Korea, Europeans seem more baffled than angry over Bush's decision to walk away from involvement. Citing a lack of trust and difficulty verifying accords with North Korea, Bush opted to let reunification efforts go on without him. The Europeans have stepped into the void, albeit quietly. While many of the comparisons of the EU taking a leadership role in Korea involve its failed efforts to mediate in the Bosnian crisis, a contrary view points to its leadership in integrating East Germany into the European community. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Siemens AG of Germany and ABB Group of Switzerland are trolling for business opportunities, "following a time-honored pattern in which diplomatic missions pave the way for commercial interests." Whether Bush's diplomacy can heal these rifts matters to manufacturers. Though most executives would rather leave foreign policy to our elected officials, the globalization of business has thrust it onto their agendas. Executives, especially the President, must not let the short-term demands of managing through the economic downturn blind them to long-term issues that can be far more important to the future. Executives must tell Bush that positive engagement with the rest of the world is not an option -- it's mandatory. We must call on him to embrace the world-leadership role that comes with the U.S. Presidency and tone down the "Us vs Them" rhetoric. Patricia Panchak is IW's Editor-In-Chief. She is based in Cleveland

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