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America's Isolationist Temptation

WASHINGTON: For over a month now, I have been working at one of the best-known American think tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, funded before World War I by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who became one of the richest - and certainly the most generous - men in America. At that time, the United states was just beginning to understand that their power and wealth bestowed upon them a major international responsibility. It was this understanding which finally led them to participate in World War II and to lead the Western World to security and prosperity after that war.

But today, America is moving away from the convictions which sustained its international involvement over the past five decades. While Washington is still an exciting city for internationalists, in terms of the number of institutions like the Carnegie Endowment and the richness of its intellectual community the last capital city of the world, the country itself is increasingly shying away from anything that smacks of international responsibility, even at the expense of its own national interests.

The most telling, and the most disturbing, evidence of this trend was recently provided by the controversy over America's support for neighboring Mexico. That country of 93 million people is one of the only two immediate neighbors the United States have, and a problematic as well as a promising one: it produces a stream of immigrants which cause increasing social problems along the Southern border of the US, and it promises to be a major market for American goods in the future. Hence when last December the Mexican currency, the Peso, suddenly dropped one third in value, this threatened to produce not only more immigrants but also panic in the international financial markets. President Clinton and the leaders of Congress - both from the party that opposes Clinton - quickly agreed that a major support operation would have to be launched, the more impressive and therefore more effective if this could be done with the explicit endorsement of the Congress.

But then the unexpected happened. Although the assistance package for Mexico so obviously corresponded to America's self-interest, the parliamentarians balked. They were, they argued, not elected to help Mexicans but their own citizens. The attempt to convince the that by helping Mexico through its crisis, they would also safeguard the interest of Americans fell on deaf ears. Deprived of support by his national parliament, the President had no other choice but to pull together a package with the help of international lending organizations.