Bush policies are arrogant

May 01, 2001|By Derek Chollet and John Norris

WASHINGTON -- During his campaign for president, George W. Bush claimed that America needed to demonstrate more humility in foreign affairs. In his inaugural address in January, he vowed that the United States would "show purpose without arrogance" around the globe.

In its first 100 days, the Bush team has designed a policy driven by exactly the opposite: arrogance without purpose.

From his trashing of the Kyoto environmental treaty and stiffing of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's historic efforts to negotiate peace with North Korea, to his disengagement from the Middle East peace process and clear eagerness to start throwing out arms control treaties, President Bush has left many wondering if he is simply driving without a map.

The problem is that, internationally, Mr. Bush has chosen to define himself by what he is not -- Bill Clinton. For a group heralded for all its diplomatic experience and know-how, the Bush team's approach toward foreign policy is alarmingly simplistic: if Mr. Clinton did it, it must be bad.

For eight years, the Republican Party never accepted that Mr. Clinton could do any good in foreign policy. It remained locked in the mindset of the 1992 presidential campaign -- when George the elder mocked Mr. Clinton's diplomatic experience as being limited to the International House of Pancakes. It was a great line, and Mr. Clinton's early blunders in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti reinforced the stereotype that he and his team were fundamentally incapable of handling foreign affairs.

But Republicans refused to acknowledge that Mr. Clinton learned from his mistakes. In the end, Mr. Clinton developed a remarkably deft touch for balancing concerns for our allies -- old and new -- with a genuine sense of leadership.

In making peace, and even in waging war, the world grew comfortable with Mr. Clinton. To see the cheering crowds that greeted him in Northern Ireland, South Africa, India and refugee camps in Macedonia underscored the fact that the world need not be intimidated by, or hostile toward, a strong America willing to lead.

Unfortunately, the Bush team is so anti-Clinton that antagonizing allies is about all it's done.

It isn't hard to see why the list of countries concerned with Mr. Bush's international agenda is long. But what's even more troubling is that Mr. Bush hasn't gotten to any of the hard stuff yet. The issues where alliance relations -- and U.S. diplomatic skills -- will be tested the most are on the horizon, and it is in dealing with these matters where the true cost of aimless arrogance will be greatest.

On matters like missile defense and the next round of NATO expansion, there are already stark differences between the United States and its allies -- much less the Russians -- and it is hard to see how Mr. Bush's chest-thumping will help bridge the gaps. If anything, his go-it-alone, join-in or step-aside attitude will make it harder for the Europeans to generate support for any kind of compromise with the United States.

The first 100 days have left many puzzled by the muddled and self-contradictory international track record the Bush team has established.

It's true that in their first real international test -- the 11-day showdown with China over the crew of the U.S. spy plane Beijing recklessly held hostage -- the Bush team showed that it could conduct crisis diplomacy. But handling a crisis is not the same as pursuing a coherent and effective diplomatic strategy. And Mr. Bush's recent statement on Taiwan is a perfect example of his aimless arrogance and the problems it can cause.

These early missteps may be the result of years out of the saddle or the difference between campaigning and governing. We can only hope that this is the case. Otherwise, America will find that arrogance is no substitute for accomplishment.

Derek Chollet is a research associate at George Washington University's Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, and John Norris is an international crisis consultant. Both served in the State Department from 1999 until January.

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