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W.'s Risky Foreign Policy
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Despite the early tendencies toward unilateralism from the Bush team, it's not clear how sharp a break will be made with Clinton's policies.

Condoleeza Rice has suggested, for instance, that the Bush administration push to withdraw all U.S. peacekeeping troops from the Balkans. She said Bush doesn't want the U.S. involved in nation building. But concerns from European allies about the impact of an abrupt U.S. withdrawal – and concerns about the effect on NATO – make it unclear how far Bush will go.

Bush has been equally vague on traditional diplomatic questions. In the second debate, Bush expressed support for past U.S. interventions in Lebanon, Grenada and Panama in the 1980s – examples that many foreign policy experts view as aggressive applications of American power, though all undertaken by Republican presidents.

Bush added that he didn’t think "the role of the United States [is] to walk into a country, say, ‘We do it this way; so should you.’" But aside from criticizing Clinton’s Haiti intervention in the 1990s to restore an elected government to power, Bush offered no examples of the United States acting in the way he criticized.

In the debate, Bush said he would give priority to four regions of the world – the Western Hemisphere, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. He left out Africa, a continent that the Clinton administration treated with more dignity than previous administrations.

Many Africa experts expressed concern that Bush was turning his back on the continent. Salih Booker, director of both The Africa Fund in New York and the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington, worried that "a Bush presidency portends a return to the blatantly anti-African policies of the Reagan-Bush years, characterized by a general disregard for black people and a perception of Africa as a social welfare case." ["USA: Bush and Africa, the Coming Apathy," 12/13/00, Africa Policy Information Center,]

In citing his opposition to sending troops to Haiti in 1994, Bush made clear that even within his priority regions – in this case, the Western Hemisphere – he would make distinctions. Haiti is, of course, heavily populated by descendents of African slaves.

One area where the Bush administration has made clear it will refocus U.S. resources is in assuring access to the world’s energy sources. Whether the oil deposits are in the Middle East, West Africa, South America or Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bush has vowed to support new exploration and protect U.S. access to oil.

One problem with increasing access to oil, however, is that it will lead to increased consumption. The more fossil fuels burned the greater the impact there will be on the air, the water and global warming.

During the second debate, Bush displayed a poor understanding of the threat from global warming. At one point, he turned to Vice President Gore to ask whether a point Bush had made about scientists changing their opinions on the subject was accurate.

With Bush as president, Dick Cheney as vice president, Condoleeza Rice as national security adviser, and Donald Evans as commerce secretary, the Bush administration is stocked with officials whose resumes are filled with oil industry connections. The question of how a cabinet full of oil men and women can deal with global environmental problems posed by fossil fuel consumption apparently already has been answered by Bush’s determined emphasis on new exploration and his stated opposition to the Kyoto Treaty.

Trade agreements will pose another test for Bush's foreign policy. Will there be any continuation of Clinton's initiatives to raise labor, environmental, health and other social standards around the world? Or will trade agreements simply let multinational corporations to do as they please?

"Overall, a Bush administration is likely to have the kind of foreign policy the corporate community likes – less focus on human rights, more on free trade," wrote James Traub in the New York Times Magazine [Jan. 14, 2001]

Clinton’s record on trade was at best mixed. Clinton supported the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that created the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, Clinton tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to couple these agreements with standards for labor, the environment, and human rights.

Clinton spoke often of "putting a human face on global trade." In pursuing his trade agenda, however, Clinton was slow in addressing the concerns raised by labor, environmental and human rights groups that trade was in fact putting at risk the values of democracy and health and safety standards. The trade agreements Clinton promoted mostly removed barriers to trade without sufficiently addressing these protections.

Yet trade is a complex problem. Some governments, particularly in countries trying to grow their economies rapidly and improve overall standards of living, opposed tougher social standards. They considered Clinton's proposals for tougher regulations an imposition from hypocritical nations in the developed world.

The Bush administration has made clear that Clinton's model – attaching labor and environmental standards – would be reviewed and most likely be scaled back.

One area where Bush seems likely to take a more aggressive approach than Clinton is with Iraq. Weapons inspectors were kicked out of Iraq in 1998 and the international coalition against Saddam Hussein has frayed in the 10 years since the Persian Gulf War. Some U.S. hawks believe that the time is ripe to clean up a problem dating back to the first Bush administration.

Helping to make the case for new strikes against Iraq is Robert Zoellick, Bush’s trade representative, who is on record as recently as last summer supporting new strikes against Iraq.

In a debate with Gore adviser Leon Fuerth last June, Zoellick advocated seizing Iraqi territory as a means of putting Hussein back in his box. "Eventually, the United States has to undermine Saddam’s position within his own country and within Russia and France," Zoellick said. "That means slowly taking away pieces of his territory, which the United States has started to do in northern Iraq. We can also do that in southern Iraq, but it involves air power and maybe even more force."

Fuerth responded that "none of the countries upon which the U.S. military depends for regional access want the United States to undertake the kind of approach Bob just described." Fuerth warned that applying too much pressure on Iraq risked a further deterioration of relations with Middle East nations and Gulf War allies.

Now, the termination of the Clinton-backed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians means more uncertainty in that tinderbox region. Israel's new prime minister, Sharon, might opt for a cooling-off period rather than a more violent crackdown on Palestinians. Perhaps, Sharon can shed his tendencies toward reckless actions.

The region also will be a test of Bush's more unilateral diplomatic strategies – with U.S. foreign policy "present, but humble." Whatever that means – if it means anything – might become apparent in the weeks ahead, sooner than many in the new Bush administration might have hoped.

Sam Parry works for Sierra Club's Human Rights and the Environment Campaign