What Part of Yes Doesn't Bush Understand?

12/14/2007 10:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nusa Dua, Bali -- It's vital, whatever the final outcome of this conference, to understand what happened. For the first time, every major third-world carbon emitter -- China, India, South Africa -- came to the table offering firm, verifiable, meaningful action to reduce their long-range carbon footprints. This is precisely what the U.S. -- and the Congress -- has been asking for since the Kyoto conference. China was particularly helpful, but yesterday, in a surprise, the Indian delegation weighed in to support a South African draft that called for "national mitigation actions by developing country Parties, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner..."

And what was the U.S. response? It was to repeatedly rebuff these efforts and to engage in last-minute brinksmanship. At 1 AM on Friday morning, the U.S. delegation proposed to completely eliminate the distinction between the obligations of the rich countries and the poor, and to return to an entirely voluntary global scheme -- not only going back on the Kyoto principles, but actually backsliding on the existing, legally binding U.S. commitment under Rio. Here's a sample excerpt from the U.S. language: "including, as appropriate, domestic plans that MAY include binding, market-based and sectoral programs."

And how does the U.S. delegation characterize this behavior? In an interview with Reuters, James Connaughton, the chairman of the Whitehouse Council on Environmental Quality and head of the U.S. delegation, said, "We will lead, we will continue to lead. But leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow." That statement may sum up, in a few short words, what is wrong with America's standing in the world.