The U.S. Is Becoming A Global Nag

America is in danger of becoming a global nag. Everywhere you turn, there is Washington wagging its finger at friends and foes alike. Are the Germans or French trading with that old Communist in Cuba? We'll lock them up if they try to take their kids to Disneyland. Building a dam for electricity and flood control in China? Uh oh, that will hurt the environment, so no Ex-Im Bank financing for U.S. companies. Human rights. Child labor. Netting dolphins. Nontariff barriers. Tech transfer. All worthy causes, perhaps. But by complaining about everything and everyone, America risks becoming a global busybody rather than a world leader. When even friends like Canada and Britain protest, something clearly is wrong.

Take the Helms-Burton Act, a unilateral trade sanction passed by Congress in March after Cuban jets shot down two unarmed civilian planes. Helms-Burton permits lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign companies and their executives if their business with Cuba involves expropriated property. The law blocks these foreign executives from entering the U.S. All of this, of course, violates the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization rules.

Helms-Burton is an election-year sop by politicians to Florida's Cuban voters. Trying to force allies to carry out secondary boycotts is a truly dumb way of executing foreign policy. Congress is readying a similar law for Iran and Libya. As the world's superpower, the U.S. has an obligation to set international rules. But if the U.S. becomes a global scold, it will lose the support of the very people it needs to achieve its goals. America must focus on key issues and forge multilateral alliances. Building a coalition with Europe to stop Iranian support of terrorists is more important than bludgeoning it with sham sanctions on Cuba. Getting the Chinese to curb software piracy is more important than criticizing them on their environment.

Foreign policy is about national interest, not social work. It is about strategic choices, not endless complaining. It is about coalition-building, not unilateralism. Congress must show more maturity and sophistication in global issues. And the President must show more leadership.