Armed with a clearer mandate than from the disputed 2000 election, President George Bush may well use a second term to advance the robust conservative foreign policy “revolution” he launched four years ago — a move some say would be a huge mistake.
Campaign speeches and Republican partisans suggest Bush will continue on the hard-line ideological foreign policy path set in his first term.
He championed a doctrine of pre-emptive force, abandoned tested strategies of deterrence and containment and often trod a unilateralist course that angered other nations.
But some experts say there are compelling reasons for Bush — now freed of any re-election burden — to make significant changes in his approach, by placing new emphasis on diplomacy, compromising with opposition Democrats and trying to repair ties with Europe.
Bush “has made it clear over the past year that he’s not changing the overall direction of his policy,” said Gary Schmitt, a Republican neo-conservative and executive director of the Project for the New American Century which advocates robust American global leadership.
Facing the most daunting national security agenda in a generation, the president “may well change personnel (in his government) and tactical decisions, but his overall vision is going to remain the same,” Schmitt told Reuters.
Seeking a legacy
This includes doggedly pushing plans to try to transform Iraq into a democracy and making good on a pledge that Iran should never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
Schmitt said the Iran pledge may ultimately require using force. For the moment, Bush is geared toward a Nov. 25 deadline for persuading the U.N. nuclear agency to send the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
With the United States bitterly divided and an upsurge in anti-Americanism worldwide, Patrick Cronin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Bush must alter course if he is to leave a successful legacy, as President Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s when the iconic anti-communist crusader signed arms control accords with the Soviet Union he once called an “evil empire.”
Diplomacy or dogged unilateralism?
Cronin said the challenges ahead — including Iraq, the anti-terror war, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, energy, non-proliferation and China — are so immense that Bush must build a new consensus with Democrats, moderate Republicans and Europeans to have any chance of managing them.
Cronin, formerly with the U.S. Agency for International Development under Bush, sees hope for change in the fact that Bush recently gave Secretary of State Colin Powell, a moderate, more freedom to pursue negotiations with North Korea, which Washington says may have as many as eight nuclear bombs.
But Bush’s ability to chart a new course may be circumscribed by Vice President Dick Cheney and other influential hardliners, who have eschewed deal-making.
“I think it’s still possible Bush will hew to the neo-conservative line. ... If that happens, I predict disaster,” Cronin said.
A question of resources
Lee Feinstein, a former Clinton administration official now with the Council on Foreign Relations, wondered how adventurous Bush might really be in his second four years.
“A key question for any second-term administration is energy level, and I think there is a real question as to whether they have the energy and people and ideas to pursue for big foreign policy moves,” Feinstein said.
The U.S. ability to deal with North Korea and Iran is hampered by the fact that it is tied down fighting an insurgency in Iraq and rebuilding the country, he said.
To the end of the fierce election campaign, Bush and top aides talked tough, reaffirming his commitment to unrestricted pre-emptive action against those seen as America’s enemies.
As with the 2000 campaign — which gave scant hint that Bush might one day go to war in Iraq — the 2004 campaign never really probed in detail how his second-term policy might play out. Early clues should come in his Cabinet appointments.