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Bush signals no major shift in foreign policy

President Bush faces an array of difficult foreign policy issues in his second term, but he appears unlikely to change the overall direction of an assertive diplomacy that has riled some key allies and led to rising anti-Americanism around the globe.
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President Bush faces an array of difficult foreign policy issues in his second term, but he appears unlikely to change the overall direction of an assertive diplomacy that has riled some key allies and led to rising anti-Americanism around the globe, according to administration officials and outside experts.

Administration officials acknowledge that they are considering stylistic shifts and will look for opportunities to reach out to estranged allies. With the election behind them, officials hope policy toward Iraq will not be as politicized, and that nations that have withheld assistance in the hope that Bush would lose will rethink their position.

Some changes will depend on whether key players in Bush's first-term team — such as fierce rivals Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — are replaced. New personnel would lead to a review of policies and, possibly, some shifts in tactics, but the direction would still be set by Bush and Vice President Cheney, a highly influential figure on foreign policy.

"I don't detect any real effort, either within the administration or the broader circles of the Republican Party, to fundamentally change course," said Richard Burt, an assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Germany in the Reagan administration.

"There is an understanding you need to work on repairing relationships but without compromising principles," said an administration official who, like other officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of sensitivities during the post-election transition. "There will be a change in tone, perhaps, but on core principles you will not see fundamental shifts."

No let-up in strained relations
Strains with Europeans are still apparent. One day after the election, the Bush administration abruptly recognized the Republic of Macedonia, an ally in Iraq, dispensing with a diplomatic fudge adopted 13 years ago to placate Greece, which did not send troops. On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac — who had sent Bush a handwritten congratulatory note — left a European summit that included Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi early, in what was viewed as a diplomatic snub.

Richard Haass, the State Department's director of policy planning in the first two years of Bush's current term, said that rarely has a president faced such a challenging period in foreign policy. Besides having 135,000 service members engaged in a protracted conflict in Iraq, he said, Bush will need to continue the fight against al Qaeda, confront the prospect that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons and that North Korea will bolster its nuclear arsenal, reassess Arab-Israeli policy to account for Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's death and find a solution to the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

But Haass, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bush will be constrained in his options, in part because of soaring budget deficits and record borrowing from countries overseas (known as the "current account deficit") and in part because so many U.S. forces are stationed in Iraq. "The war of choice against Iraq has narrowed choices elsewhere for U.S. foreign policy," especially the ability to initiate new wars, Haass said.

Test of will
President Ronald Reagan was widely disliked overseas in his first term for his tough policies toward the Soviet Union, and then shifted in his second term toward a more conciliatory approach. Some experts have suggested that Bush, interested in establishing a legacy, will be forced to be more pragmatic, especially in light of problems that resulted from the Iraq war.

"I think that the experience of Iraq will have turned out to be a very sobering one for the administration," said James Steinberg, President Bill Clinton's deputy national security adviser. "The notion of [an] ideological set of risk-take, shake-the-table-type moves is much less likely in the second term."

But Philip H. Gordon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he did not see Bush following the Reagan model, in part because he believes Reagan's shift was caused by the rise of a new type of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

"There couldn't be a greater misreading of what to expect of the second term than to believe that somehow, now that's he's been elected, Bush's emphasis is going to be on pursuing a different course," Gordon said. "One thing this president does is what he says he's going to do. He has made very clear what his worldview is, and I don't think anyone should think he would put great priority on changing that worldview for the sake of the relationship of Europe or anything else."

Even during the election, Bush did not moderate his approach, noted Gary Schmitt, director of the Project for the New American Century, a think tank that frequently reflects the views of hard-liners in the administration. "Every chance Bush has had to back away from his agenda in the past year, he hasn't," he said. "In terms of larger policy goals, I don't see much change -- it might be kinder and gentler in some respects, more blunt in other respects."

Bush signaled that he will remain consistent in his post-election news conference last week, during which he focused on a few key foreign-policy issues, such as making sure elections take place in Iraq and promoting his "vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East." He acknowledged that the invasion of Iraq had caused angst in some parts of the world, and added: "I made the decision I made in order to protect our country, first and foremost. I will continue to do that as the president, but as I do so I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make."

Question of allies' cooperation
Some U.S. officials said they expect more cooperation from allies as they adjust to the reality that Bush will be president for another term. "The reality of four more years will change some of their behavior," said an outside adviser who speaks regularly to White House officials. "In the last year, the allies assumed a Bush loss, and that at best froze relations, and at worst they did not want Bush to win."

Gordon, however, noted that Bush is deeply unpopular in Europe and is "demonized in the press," making it harder for leaders to work with the administration.

Two critical issues — restraining the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea —  do not have good military options and will require close coordination with allies. The possible death of Arafat also provides an opportunity for the administration, which has differed sharply with European allies over whether Arafat was still relevant to the peace process. Bush cut off relations with Arafat, while Europeans still met with him, so his departure would remove that dispute.

During the first Bush term, however, disputes among key officials such as Powell and Rumsfeld made it difficult for the administration to settle on its policy toward Iran, North Korea or the Middle East.

"So much of the administration policy in the first term was characterized by the conflict between Powell and Rumsfeld," said Robert Kagan, an influential foreign-policy analyst who promotes a muscular approach to diplomacy. "That conflict defined and severely hampered policy."

Administration split on Iran
Iran appears to be only two years away from acquiring the ability to produce the key ingredient for nuclear weapons. But the administration has been so divided over whether to confront or engage Iran that it has essentially subcontracted negotiations with Iran to the Europeans, according to Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"They finished the term just as split as they started," Mathews said. "It is very unusual. To me, the critical question is: Can the president, through the choice of appointments or executive decisions, come down clearly one way or the other on that divide?"

Reflecting the high stakes, Martin Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under Clinton, said Iraq, Iran and the Israeli-Arab conflict hold out the most hope for "a foreign policy legacy of peace, stability and democracy." But, he said, they also "hold out the most danger of it turning into a legacy of bloodshed, instability, high oil prices and exacerbated conflict and terror."