[OUTLOOK]Watch for a different 2nd term

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[OUTLOOK]Watch for a different 2nd term

After his impressive victory, George W. Bush has changed almost half his cabinet. For the rest of the world, the most critical personnel decision was to let Colin Powell go (who, it is whispered in Washington, would have liked to stay on a bit).
As of next year, it will be “Madame Secretary” on the seventh floor of the State Department. The post of chief diplomat will be held by one of Bush’s most trusted advisers: Condoleezza Rice, who has served the president as national security adviser in the four years past.
How will this move from the White House to State affect U.S. foreign policy? First of all, “Condi,” as everybody calls her (perhaps because her full first name is so difficult to spell), will not speak with a voice different from the president’s. In fact, as national security adviser, she would always say: “The president thinks ...” or “the president says ....”
Ideologically, Bush and Rice also seem to be cut from the same cloth. She is a strong believer in the use of U.S. force and supported the Iraq war from day one.
Like Bush, Rice believes that American power should be applied where needed, such as in the Middle East, where weapons of mass destruction were but one issue.
Just as important was bringing democracy to Iraq in the way of a domino game: If one despot falls, so will the others ― or at least reform their countries along the lines of the rule of law, greater participation and more open economies.
What about “multilateralism”? There, too, Rice is hardly in conflict with the president. Like any reasonable person, she thinks that multilateralism ― having allies ― is a good thing. But she would not allow the rest of the world to exert a veto over American decisions, which, by the way, presidential candidate John Kerry also did not have in mind when he talked about a “global test.”
So, as far as basic assumptions and instincts are concerned, continuity looks quite strong. Will anything change?
Historical experience teaches us that the second term of an American president looks quite different from his first four years in office.
Take the Republican Ronald Reagan, who started out as a fierce anti-Communist and proceeded to raise U.S. defense expenditures to some of the highest levels seen in the Cold War. But in his second term, he embraced Mikhail Gorbachev and went on to radically slash American nuclear weapons. He got rid of America’s cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe, and he signed agreements that would reduce American strategic weapons by the thousands.
Or take a Democrat like Bill Clinton. In his first term, he was extremely cautious about using military force. During his second term, he led a NATO bombing campaign against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic that lasted three months and stopped Serbia’s war against Bosnia and Kosovo.
The basic point is that second-term presidents, who cannot be elected to a third term according to the U.S. Constitution, suddenly develop a very different perspective. Since they no longer have to care about winning an election, they start eyeing the history books.
They want to be remembered not as war presidents, but as makers of peace. This is why Bill Clinton spent two desperate weeks in Camp David in the summer of his last year (2000) to orchestrate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, after Yasser Arafat walked out of the conclave, Clinton strained until his very last days in power to salvage the deal.
So Bush and “Condi” may surprise us. Even as powerful a believer in his own convictions as Bush will have learned a few practical lessons during the last four years.
Lesson No. 1 is that it was much easier to fight a successful war in Afghanistan with lots of allies than to bring peace to Iraq with only a handful of significant comrades-in-arms.
Lesson No. 2 is about the limits of American power. Even the greatest power in history cannot go it alone everywhere and all of the time. So, the American agenda might become more modest in the next four years.
Finally, the economy is beginning to bite harder and harder, with a precipitous decline of the dollar against all major currencies and a current-account deficit approaching 6 percent of its GDP. To manage both will require consistent and patient cooperation with America’s big trading partners.
“Condi” can help to manage such a transition. She has one great advantage the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, never had: She has the ear and the trust of the president.
For the Pentagon, it will be so much harder to roll over the State Department than in the past because “Condi” is a tough lady who has learned the internal power game as provost of Stanford University, where the professoriat still speaks her name with respect.
Will there be a different foreign policy in the next four years? The early signs say “yes.” And so does the history of the presidency. The second term is always full of surprises.

* The writer, the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, is a visiting professor of political science at Stanford University.


by Josef Joffe
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