There has been a great deal of angst in recent years over the perceived and actual loss of U.S. influence overseas. Some of the waning power is a natural result of a changing world. Developing countries which once relied heavily on the United States for help and guidance would, and have, eventually develop, and would grow irritated at being pushed around by a superpower. The demise of the Cold War made the equation muddier, with the world no longer divided along some crude free/not free line. And questions about American military involvement—whether it's a question of whether the United States got involved in the Balkan conflicts too late, or never should have gotten involved in Iraq at all—undermine the U.S. role as international arbiter. The refusal to join the International Criminal Court has also damaged America's moral authority in foreign affairs.
The way to regain influence is to focus on leading and not dictating. The U.S. Senate had a chance to lead this week, and they failed.
By a 61-38 vote, the Senate rejected ratification of an international treaty meant to protect the rights of the disabled (a two-thirds vote is necessary to approve treaties). The concept is pretty simple and a no-brainer, in terms of upholding basic human rights. It had the support of Republican Sen. John McCain (who teamed up with Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. John F. Kerry to push the measure), as well as former GOP Sen. Bob Dole and former president George H. W. Bush.
It's the sort of bipartisan team that used to make policy in Washington—the sorts of people who understood there was no value in turning absolutely everything into some sort of partisan food fight. There are times when the issue is far more important than separating oneself from the other party, and this was one of them.
But Senate conservatives blocked it, arguing that the treaty gave the United Nations (where a committee would oversee the ban on discrimination against the disabled) undue authority over U.S. sovereignty. That is not only arrogant, but it's meaningless. Congress approved the Americans With Disabilities Act more than two decades ago, putting the United States ahead of other countries in protecting this population. Why is it a sign of weakness to spread this civilized philosophy to other parts of the world?
Expanding the ban on discrimination doesn't make the United States a patsy of the United Nations. It would have made America a leader. The country had a solid opportunity to reclaim a position of leadership and moral authority in the world, and it lost it because of the misguided paranoia of a conservative minority.