The isolationist impulse in American politics somehow goes hand in hand with the need to tell everyone what to do.
The more we withdraw, the more orders we give, the less anyone obeys them, the more frustrated we get. Or at least some of us.
In recent private discussion, a European diplomat was going on about the irresponsibility of Sen. Bob Dole's suggestions to end the arms embargo on Bosnia. When asked who his government might wish to see as Republican nominee and president, that diplomat answered, without hesitation, Senator Dole.
Anyone who has been around the leadership of Congress as long as the Kansan, he explained, is responsible, known to the Europeans and unlikely to act with ignorance.
What Senator Dole is doing that is so infuriating, this diplomat went on, is all about domestic electoral politics. The Europeans sympathetically understand, sometimes pandering to their own.
Congress has just instructed President Clinton to ignore the United Nations mandatory ban on arms sales to the Republic of Bosnia, after a suitable period, if he has not managed to veto the bill and to have his veto sustained.
The U.S. is already not using its fleet to enforce this ban on whoever flouts it. Weapons are getting through, though reportedly the more substantial ones never make it past Croatia.
That country has built an air force and tank brigade despite being under the same ban. What Congress demands is not a change in facts so much as a change in symbolism.
Administration tactics apparently are to draw the veto process out until, perhaps, events in the former Yugoslavia will have moved on. Or something like that.
But the debate on the bills in House and Senate turned on everything except what's basically wrong with the idea.
Its proponents concentrated on the atrocities that Serb forces are committing with relish in Bosnia.
Its opponents concentrated on the displeasure this bill would give those Western allies that actually have troops on the ground protecting civilians the Serb forces wish to torture and murder.
But what's wrong with the bill is that it requires the president to violate a mandatory U.N. embargo.
What's wrong with that is that it would be precedent for every other country to mock them at will.
And what's wrong with that is that almost all U.N. mandatory sanctions are imposed at the behest of the U.S. to further aims of U.S. foreign policy that the U.S. cannot accomplish on its own.
Do Republicans in the House and Senate really want to torpedo that? Do Democrats?
Do we want Russia to violate the sanctions against Iraq? Do we want Russia to violate the sanctions against Serbia? Would we have wanted everyone to violate the sanctions against South Africa?
Is there any reason that any country should comply with U.N. Security Council mandatory sanctions if the U.S. does not? Do they apply to every country but ours?
There are plenty of other attempts to legislate in foreign policy to please some domestic pressure group or interest that pay equal inattention to the actual consequences out there in the real world.
Like the proposed suspending of U.S. payments for U.N. peace-keeping, even though the U.S. always favored setting up the peace-keeping.
Like legislating to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, without negotiating that as a culmination to a successful peace process.
The real motive behind this one appears to be to get the Palestinians to walk out and Israel's Labor government to fall, and to bring in a Likud government that would scuttle the peace process.
It is meddling in Israel's politics, disguised as doing something that every friend of Israel is supposed to favor.
Like dreaming up legislation designed to force foreign companies to boycott Cuba, even when their own governments do not, and even though no government but ours does.
Like House Speaker Newt Gingrich's glib proposal that the U.S. recognize Taiwan as independent for the annoyance it would cause Beijing. Never mind the power for good or ill which that government has at its disposal.
This is all feel-good stuff that has little to do with influencing events as the authors claim to wish. It is fantasy politics, but not foreign policy.
Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.