THE SHARPLY CONTRASTING FACES OF UNCLE SAM

THE SHARPLY CONTRASTING FACES OF UNCLE SAM

Every year our State Department irritates the rest of the world by assessing how well - or how badly - other countries are doing on human rights and drug fighting.

It annoys our friends and trading partners, but doesn't really affect how we do business with them. We continue to buy their products, sell them weapons of war - often to both sides, as in the Congo conflict - and justify ''constructive engagement'' as a means of improving their behavior.Enemies who offer us little commercial advantage remain enemies. We beat them over the head about human rights, accuse them of feeding our drug habits, subject them to economic embargoes and generally pursue a policy that may be called ''destructive disengagement,'' again justifying this as a means of changing their behavior.

Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Yugoslavia are on the enemies list because they are led by rogues, Communists or Muslim fanatics. With them we are disengaged.

Our list of friends and traders is much longer, even though it includes narcotics exporters and notorious human-rights violators such as China, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, Colombia, the Central Asian republics, Saudi Arabia, other repressive Arab monarchies and more than a few African dictatorships.

With them we are engaged.

Take the certification process, an annual rite in which U.S. finger-pointing invariably bruises the feelings of our Latin American allies.

Acting on the advice of the State Department, the president must certify to Congress whether nations that produce narcotics or serve as conduits for their entry into the United States are ''fully cooperating'' in the drug war.

If not, they are supposed to be hit with automatic suspensions of aid and trade.

Some 30 nations are subjected to such scrutiny, much resented by Latin governments that contend they should not be blamed for the cravings of American addicts - in other words, that the drug problem is one of demand, not of supply.

But when it's all over, most of the drug-supplying nations are either certified or have their decertification penalties suspended ''in the national interest.''

That's because they're on the friends list. Mexico, a North American Free Trade Agreement ally and our second-largest trading partner after Canada, has never been decertified - even in 1997, when its top drug-fighting general, Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was found to be in the pay of a cocaine cartel.

The only two countries consistently penalized for producing illegal narcotics are Afghanistan and Myanmar. They are, of course, on the U.S. enemies list and sanctioned for a variety of other reasons besides drugs.

The State Department's annual human-rights report is another source of friction with friends and foes alike.

Launching this year's 6,000-page opus, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that human rights would remain an integral part of U.S. foreign policy because ''serious and repeated abuses of human rights are everybody's business.''

She would have been more honest to say that our foreign policy is devoted to business, period. President Clinton has been quite successful in separating his concern for human rights from his promotion of corporate profit.

Thus, while his State Department is telling him that China's ''poor human rights record deteriorated markedly'' throughout 1999 as Beijing intensified its efforts to suppress dissent, Clinton is telling Congress to quickly approve his trade agreement with China because it's ''an economic no-brainer.''

And while State is warning him that U.S. aid to Colombia is financing an army of thugs, Clinton is asking Congress to approve $1.6 billion more aid for Colombia to fight drug traffickers and the leftist guerrillas protecting them.

State's human-rights report blames the Colombian military and right-wing death squads for ''numerous serious abuses,'' including extrajudicial killings and torture. Collaboration between the two is well-documented, with army troops standing by and sometimes assisting the paramilitaries in massacres and other atrocities perpetrated against civilian villagers suspected of supporting insurgents.

Worse yet, the death squads are as heavily involved in the drug trade as their rebel adversaries. So more U.S. aid may actually fuel the traffic it is meant to suppress.

How stupid would that be?