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Exhibit A: In September of 2002, Al Gore, then still a possible Democratic presidential contender, warned of the perils of acting unilaterally against Iraq. He urged Bush to take his case to the Security Council and ask for a resolution demanding "prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time." And if the Security Council failed? "Other choices"—Gore meant force—"remain open." After all, "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
Bush, of course, followed Gore's advice. If that was unilateralism, then few are the presidents who would forswear it.
September 11 brought horrible clarity to the fact that America needs desperately to keep the world's most dangerous weapons away from the world's most dangerous people. Most other countries, being less of a target, care much less (Israel possibly excepted). They worry more about unconstrained U.S. power. This divergence of interests is manageable, but it is also fundamental. A Democratic president might change the tone, which might make some difference on the margins; but the choices would mostly be just as tough, and the stresses just as painful.
Bush is not a unilateralist, but even if he were, multilateralism is no free lunch. What critics of American unilateralism are really unhappy with is not Donald Rumsfeld's big mouth or Dick Cheney's big stick. Their complaint is with the hard geopolitical facts of life in a new and uneasy time. It's the world, stupid.