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W.'s Risky Foreign Policy
Page 1, 2, 3

In the first few weeks of his presidency, Bush has added some details to his vague notions, although perhaps sensitive to the circumstances of his own "victory," promoting democracy has not been among his top initiatives. Instead Bush has stuck to programs, sometimes using foreign policy to give concessions to his conservative supporters.

Less than two days into his administration, Bush signed an executive order reinstating the 'Mexico City Gag Rule,' which bans family planning assistance to clinics around the world that offer abortion services. While popular with a key domestic constituency, this move earned swift condemnation from the European Union. Anna Diamantopoulou, the EU's Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, said she was disappointed by the move and feared it "may be a signal of things to come."

In the first two weeks, Bush also dispatched his foreign policy team to sell the national missile defense plan to our allies in Europe and to the American public. The administration has expressed its intention to either alter the anti-ballistic missile treaty or ignore it.

Bush and his foreign policy team are actively reviewing the U.S. role in the Balkans with the expressed the hope of pulling U.S. troops out. He stated direct opposition to the Clinton administration’s commitment to include environmental and labor standards in future trade agreements. He has made clear his intention to ignore the Kyoto Treaty on limiting global greenhouse gas productions. He supported fast-track trade negotiating authority.

Out of this mix of programs, some Democrats have discerned a pattern. They view Bush’s desire for a "present" foreign policy as akin to isolationism. Republicans, however, have denied that Bush tends toward isolationism.

But the argument over "isolationism" may miss the point. In today’s globalized world, the debate might be more accurately viewed as one between unilateralists and multilateralists. From this perspective, Bush’s approach could be seen as primarily one of unilateralism, asserting a position from Washington and forcing other nations to respond to it. The approach gives "national interests" clear precedence over "global interests."

What is less clear is whether Bush and his advisers grasp the full global consequences of their actions. For instance, will the Bush II administration risk a new Cold War with Russia and China to pursue Ronald Reagan’s old dream of a strategic missile defense? That question gets even trickier given the opposition from many traditional U.S. allies in Europe.

Bush’s concept of a "present" foreign policy seems to be aimed at reversing another trend from the Clinton administration. During those eight years, the United States emerged as a world economic leader, as well as the foremost military power. Nations from Japan to Sierra Leone looked to Washington for leadership on the world stage.

Though it may be difficult to remember, in 1992, many international observers wondered whether the United States was a waning superpower, possessing unparalleled military might but weakened by years of economic decline, hemorrhaging from massive government deficits, ripped apart by crime and social unrest. Other nations, particularly Japan and Germany, seemed poised to replace the United States as peacetime economic superpowers.

During the Clinton administration, the United States reasserted its economic leadership, while bringing its fiscal house into order. President Clinton also offered activist diplomatic leadership, and, when necessary, military action to "put out fires." As the Washington Post said in an editorial assessing the Clinton presidency, Clinton felt that "the United States must actively engage in the world’s trouble spots, if not with troops then with vigorous diplomacy, or risk larger diplomatic or military reverses." [Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2001]

While the Clinton administration’s policies put the United States into an unrivaled position to benefit from globalization, many Republican foreign policy observers, including Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, criticized Clinton for spreading U.S. foreign policy too thin. These critics accused Clinton of not setting priorities and trying to be all things to all interests.

Rank-and-file Democrats had other criticisms. In a New Yorker article by Joe Klein last October, Clinton described his trouble advancing his globalization agenda within his own party. Klein wrote, "The real but diffuse benefits of free trade were less obvious to working people than the specific jobs lost when factories moved to Mexico or Asia. Most Democrats, especially those in the House, shared this skepticism." [The New Yorker, Oct. 16-23, 2000]

Clinton championed what he called a Third Way – striking a balance between opening markets and embedding protections in trade agreements for labor, human rights and the environment. It was a balance that eluded Clinton through his eight years in office, but he did grasp the need to temper the potential harm of unrestrained free trade.

Republican critics who hold key positions in the Bush administration opposed Clinton’s efforts to add tougher standards in trade agreements. These critics described their approach more in the way Adam Smith described economics. Every nation, like every person, has its interests to advance and defend, the process of which casts an invisible hand around the world that makes the world stronger.

This, in essence, is the central debate between unilateralists and multilateralists. Is there a value in working through partnerships with other nations, or is taking unilateral actions the better approach?

Bush and his advisers have talked about setting priorities and focusing on U.S. strategic national interests, language that leans toward unilateralism.

By contrast, Clinton's National Security Adviser Samuel Berger has argued in favor of diplomatic engagement to prevent conflicts from gestating into full-blown regional and even global crises. "We have worked for peace because we believe in defusing conflicts before, not after, they escalate and harm our vital interests," wrote Berger in the November/December 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Berger is not alone in this analysis. In April 2000, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, chaired by former Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., released its report, Seeking A National Strategy: A Concert for Preserving Security and Promoting Freedom.

The report said U.S. foreign policy "must engage in new ways—and in concert with others—to consolidate and advance the peace, prosperity, democracy, and cooperative order of a world now happily free from global totalitarian threats." But such benefits, the report warned, will be attainable only if the United States works in concert with other nations to "to stabilize those parts of the world still beset by acute political conflict."

page 3: Balancing Unilateralism