[OUTLOOK]Bush II sees foreign policy shiftWith the passage of time, the priorities of the second Bush administration are becoming clearer.
The first Bush mandate was dominated by an “internationalism of necessity.” After the shock of 9/11, the president had to reinvent himself and change his priorities from domestic reforms to an interventionist and largely unilateral foreign policy. At the beginning of his second mandate, we are witnessing the emergence of what could be described as “internationalism by choice.”
After two successful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the time for diplomacy and consolidation has come. Mr. Bush was impressed by the writings of one of the foremost historians of the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis, on Bismarck’s diplomacy after his war period. A combination of shrewd political calculus and a high “evangelical” sense of a religious mission is pushing Mr. Bush to concentrate on foreign policy.
His thinking appears to be: What is good for the world, may be good for my party. And if God saved me as a young man from my addiction to alcohol, now it is my duty to reciprocate and to contribute to the saving of the world by ending tyrannical regimes and promoting democracy.
After the early triumph of electoral processes in the greater Middle-East, and the strengthening of the “democracy and freedom” wind from Ukraine’s Orange revolution to Lebanon’s Cedar revolution, George W. Bush now believes that the success of his international agenda could maintain the Republican Party in power for the next 30 years and make it the “party of reference,” the way the Democratic Party was with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the years that followed the great depression. Mr. Bush is keenly aware that it may be easier to move things “outside” than “inside,” as exemplified by his already difficult attempt to reform the Social Security system, which may have already failed.
In such a context, two conclusions follow naturally. The first one is that the United States should not take unnecessary risks, which could alienate the support of American public opinion. A military operation against Iran’s nuclear program seems therefore highly unlikely, at least in the short term.
The second one is that America needs allies, and in particular a European Union partner. From this standpoint, the prospect of a French “no” to the referendum on the European Union’s constitutional treaty is greeted in Washington with more concern than irony.
In its first mandate the Bush administration cared little about Europe. Today U.S. officials are sincere in their call for a stronger European Union.
Even if these conclusions are the source of visible tension in Washington between the realist and the neo-conservative schools, the first one seems to have the upper hand while the second one is barely hiding its frustration and “waiting for better times.”
Realism combined with muscular nationalism, as exemplified by John Bolton, Mr. Bush’s choice for the position of UN ambassador, should not be confused with the victory of ideology. This nomination as well as that of Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank translates America’s wishes to contribute to the reform of the multilateral system inherited from the aftermath of World War II.
Mr. Bolton at the UN and Mr. Wolfowitz at the World Bank are Mr. Bush’s deliberate attempts to influence multilateral institutions from within and not ignore them as before with a combination of neglect and contempt.
America’s new emphasis on diplomacy is not the only novelty of the Bush II mandate. One senses clearly in Washington the emergence of a new hierarchy of international priorities. If the greater Middle East still tops the American agenda from Iraq to Iran, going through the Israel-Palestine peace process to Lebanon, Asia through the rising concern with China has been upgraded in the American eyes.
Will the tension with Taiwan escalate into a war? Could the encounter between the risks of the imprudence of Taiwan declaring its independence, and the calculated intolerant nationalism of China lead to an explosion?
In all cases, seen from Washington, it is useless to feed the tension by selling weapons to China, and therefore break the arms embargo to Beijing, as France intends to do. As the tension over Iran slowly recedes on the agenda of trans-Atlantic relations, the nervousness about the issue of arms sales to China has clearly increased.
In reality, it is the entire Asian continent that seems suddenly to be a source of nervousness. Chinese nationalism on the one hand, and Japanese nationalism on the other, with school textbooks that seem to indicate at best a lack of sensitivity for the feelings of others, Koreans in particular. Could the continent of the Asian economic miracle become a land of tension, with reconciliation in the European way having failed to affect Asia?
Together with China, Russia is returning to be an issue of serious concern for Washington. As time goes by, the authoritarian, despotic nature of President Vladimir Putin’s regime appears clearer and more worrisome at a time the new U.S. administration keeps emphasizing the values of democracy and freedom.
* The writer is a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations.
by Dominique Moisi