ironic that the candidate to articulate the most rational foreign
policy of the campaign is also the candidate best known for his
ignorance of the names of heads of state. George W.
Bush's famed foreign policy gaffes -- the pop quiz, "Jean
Poutine" -- undercut his credibility on foreign affairs and
briefly made the Texas governor look more like former Vice President
Dan Quayle than the next president of the United States.
policy may be Bush's strongest point, though. As one
commentator pointed out, Bush has inherited his father's foreign
policy team, and for all the criticism Bush the elder took on
domestic affairs, "he was certainly sure-handed on international
relations." His lead adviser on foreign policy,
Condoleezza Rice, is a respected and erudite woman, and his vice
presidential pick, Dick Cheney, is best known for serving as the
Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War. Whatever experience
in foreign affairs Bush may lack, it seems that his advisers are
capable of taking up the slack.
(or at least its national interests) First
states the case for his policy in traditionally American terms.
He states that "the basic principles of human freedom and
dignity are universal," and pledges to help move the world
toward a more democratic future. Yet he says something unusual
for a major political figure when he admits that though Americans
feel their institutions are superior, the country must realize that
in other nations the "architecture" of domestic governments
difference is a sign of Bush's major departure from the Clinton
administration's thinking. Unlike the current administration
(and nearly all presidents since Wilson), Bush unabashedly bases his
policy on considerations of the national interest. Rice
rejected the view that the United States can only exercise power
legitimately on the behalf of moral considerations in the influential
journal Foreign Affairs earlier this year. This
somewhat cold-blooded approach may be at least partially responsible
for the Bush foreign policy team's nickname of "Vulcans."
practical effects of the Bush commitment to the national interest as
opposed to moral considerations are far-reaching. For example,
the governor stated last year that he supported the Kosovo
intervention, but only on the grounds that it represented a vital
American national interest. While making that statement, the
candidate criticized President Clinton for unilaterally disavowing
the use of ground troops against Serbia. In contrast to Bush's
"national interests," Clinton justified Kosovo on purely
humanitarian -- moral -- grounds. This raises questions: Would
Bush have intervened in Somalia, like his father, or Haiti, like
Clinton? Is "national interest" another catchphrase
like "compassionate conservativism": full of soundbites and
fury, yet signifying nothing?
sign that it may not be an empty slogan is Bush's stand on
multilateral institutions. Decrying the almost constant use of
the military abroad, Bush said in a speech earlier in the year that
"[we] will not be permanent peacekeepers." Indeed,
under a Bush administration, Americans would not be
"peacekeepers" at all, at least under the United
Nations. His website pledges that the governor "would
never place U.S. troops under U.N. command," although America
would support "a U.N. role in weapons inspections, peacekeeping,
and humanitarian efforts."
explains in her Foreign Affairs article that the U.S.
military "is not a civilian police force. It is not a
political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to
build a civilian society." It would not be in the American
national interest to constantly deploy the military because,
according to Rice, the military is the backbone of American strength
and therefore the foundation for a secure world.
recommends that the United States cooperate with "regional
actors" to implement its policy, mentioning the Australian-led
effort in East Timor as a template for future action. While few
or no American troops would be involved, the United States could
certainly lend "financial, logistical and intelligence support."
the last president to support a similar policy was Richard Nixon,
whose Guam Doctrine dictated that certain countries -- Japan, Iran,
Indonesia, etc. -- would receive American support to further American
regional policy goals. Nixon was also the last president to
place a major emphasis on the concept of national interests and the
balance of power.
from a reduction in peacekeeping missions, the Bush emphasis on the
national interest is evident elsewhere. Rice believes that the
current administration's policy of multilateralism has become an end
in itself. She points out that the Kyoto global warming treaty
demonstrates how this policy is hurting American interests. If
the treaty were ratified, Rice says, American businesses would be
hurt while Third World nations would be exempt.
Bush presidency would adopt a more hardline policy toward rogue
nations. Rice writes that "these regimes are living on
borrowed time," and states that the "first line of defense
should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence -- if they do
acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to
use them will bring national obliteration."
chill in the air?
is taking an unusually hard-nosed stance toward Russia. His
policies seem designed to demoralize and frighten an already paranoid
nation that distrusts the United States. One Russian
commentator wrote a few weeks ago that "An increase of
isolationst tendencies int he United States would be a boon, if not
for the entire world, then at least for Russia." Yet
Bush's policies don't make allowances for the pitiable and dangerous
state of the Russian Federation.
Bush would insist upon a suspension of the ABM Treaty, something
which the Russians have consistently said would endanger their
national security. Even Bush's offer of unilateral reductions
in American nuclear stockpiles below levels required for START II
might not soothe Russian feelings; after all, the Russians will be
forced to make cuts below START II levels themselves soon due to lack
of funding. Bush's outspoken support of a national missile
defense would only further drive the Russian government to fear an
aggressive American policy. The fewer missiles Russia has, the
more effective an American defense would be, and therefore the more
threatening the defense would be to Russia.
with Bush's ABM/NMD policy is his pledge to resist a "return to
Russian imperialism." Bush states that "the United
States should actively support the nations of the Balkans, the
Caucuses and Central Asia, along with Ukraine, by promoting regional
peace and economic development." This policy too would
further offend the Russians, who consider the former Soviet republics
as part of their sphere of influence. As belligerent as the
Russian government became over NATO's eastward expansion and air
raids in the former Yugoslavia, which the Kremlin perceived as
threatening Russia's national interests, an increased American role
in what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deems the "near
abroad" could provoke a chilly response from Moscow.
of Bush's policies have noted that while he and his advisers have
attacked the Clinton administration's Russian policy for allegedly
supporting Yeltsin at the expense of the Russian democrats, "it's
never made entirely clear how a GOP administration might have
handled the situation differently given that the only viable
political challenge to Yeltsin came from the communists," as Time
writer Tony Karon noted.
theme -- that Bush's rhetoric is devoid of substance -- is common
among the campaign's critics. As Slate editor Michael
Kinsley pointed out, the Republican platform bemoans the use of empty
threats in the Balkans, " but doesn't say whether the threats
should have been backed up by action or should not have been made."
Washington Post criticizes the Bush campaign for ignoring
"soft" issues like AIDS and international poverty while
focusing on America's interests alone:
candidate has said that Africa doesn't fit into the national
strategic interests'. . . . But the idea that the United States
should ignore the half of humanity that lives on less than $2 a day
undercuts Mr. Bush's claim to a moral foreign policy . . . . The next
president cannot remove a crisis like AIDS from the international agenda."
sum, the Bush campaign has a coherent vision of what an ideal
American foreign policy would look like: clear-headed, calculating,
and somewhat more selfish than the Clinton administration's.
Yet without careful diplomacy, Bush's policies risk alienating the
Russians and creating a powerful enemy less than a decade after the
Soviet empire imploded. Further, by ignoring Third World
problems, he may inadvertently hurt the national interest indirectly
by weakening future markets and directly by increasing the chance
that AIDS may explode globally.