Pacts Americana?

What can the incoming Democratic Congress do to help reverse the steep erosion of America’s standing abroad, particularly the impression that the United States has disengaged from global problem-solving? Though the President dominates foreign policy, the Senate can make an impact in one significant area: by giving the required two-thirds majority vote to approve a raft of treaties awaiting action.

The Senate has before it more than two dozen treaties submitted for approval by President Bush and his predecessors — some, in fact, were negotiated as long ago as the Eisenhower administration. These agreements are not like the Kyoto Protocol on climate change or the statute that established the International Criminal Court, which are too controversial even to be transmitted to the Senate.

Indeed, these are widely supported pacts, making it difficult to discern why many stalled in the first place: perhaps it’s as simple as a senator’s vague concerns about “sovereignty,” a lack of domestic constituency or the press of other legislative business.

Early approval of key agreements in areas of great international concern, like the environment and the laws of war, would show the world that the United States is committed to solving global problems. To hit the point home, the Senate should act within the first six months of the next Congress. Quick approval for most is eminently doable.

There is a pressing need to repair America’s image now, even while the Democratic Congress and the White House battle over the future of Iraq policy. Approving treaties from this list would make a good start.

David Kaye and K. Russell LaMotte, treaty negotiators for the State Department in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and Peter Hoey, an illustrator in Arcata, Calif.