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The Bush Administration’s Two-Tier Foreign Policy - 2004-01-15

The Bush Administration’s foreign policy is often portrayed as a struggle between hard-liners and moderates. But in fact they are two sides of the same coin, according to a member of an influential research organization. An effective policy needs both elements and in the author’s opinion, they are being supplied. VOA’s Ed Warner reports on this view of the Bush foreign policy along with comments by a leading scholar and a prominent U.S. Senator.

U.S. strategy transcends the war on terror, writes Secretary of State Colin Powell in Foreign Affairs journal. Terrorism remains the number one concern, he says, and the United States must occasionally act alone. But for the most part, it wants to work with allies, NATO and the United Nations. Preemption as a strategic doctrine, he insists, is much exaggerated.

This may suggest to readers a significant shift in U.S. policy from a hard-line unilateral approach to the international cooperation associated with Secretary Powell. But Kiron K. Skinner of California’s Hoover Institution says both elements have been part of President Bush’s foreign policy. It is a two-tier effort similar to that of President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War: an adroit combination of carrots and sticks that prevailed then and may do so today.

She writes in The New York Times that while President Reagan was pressing the Soviets hard and provocatively deploying intermediate-range missiles in Western Europe, he was also pursuing quiet back-door diplomacy. The result was a dramatic breakthrough in U.S.-Soviet relations in 1984 that led to the end of the Cold War.

She believes 2003 was an even better year. “We are seeing some of the fruits of quiet diplomacy in very clear ways: the capture of Saddam Hussein, the coming forward of Muammar Qaddafi and his decision to give up his unconventional weapons program,” she says. “We cannot say that the United States is the sole cause of North Korea coming forward, and we are not sure how that is going to work out. But the Bush Administration’s insistence on pursuing the North Korean talks in a multilateral framework with the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese was an innovation of that administration. Quiet diplomacy is always a part of the arsenal of war.”

Secretary Powell said he was encouraged by the positive North Korean offer to refrain from testing or producing nuclear weapons in exchange for progress on multilateral talks.

Multilateralism is definitely in favor with the Bush Administration, says Ms. Skinner, who is also a professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University. “The charge of unilateralism by the United States under Bush has been overdone in the press and by pundits,” she says, “because when we look at the key positions of this year and some of the outcomes of those positions of policy, they are all taking place in a multilateral framework. The Qaddafi case was done in close consultation with the British, not by the United States alone.”

President Reagan had a clear if controversial plan for confronting the Soviet Union. He pursued it and in the end it worked. Does President Bush have a similar plan? Many analysts think not. They attribute the openings in Iran, Libya and perhaps North Korea to other factors, maybe just plain luck.

Hold on, says Professor Skinner. Since when did luck trump statesmanship? There’s not that much luck to go around. Let’s give the Bush Administration credit for the successes on its watch.

Yes, it deserves some credit, agrees Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and author of The Paradox of American Power. “There was some effect on Libya of the war in Iraq in the sense that Qaddafi obviously noticed what happened to Saddam Hussein,” he says. “But it is also worth noticing that he had been trying to improve relations with the United States and get out from under U.N. and U.S. sanctions all the way back into the Clinton Administration. So it is not completely new. And similarly, the North Koreans have not clearly changed their policy. What we have is a long dance that is going on within this framework of six party talks.”

Mr. Nye says we are going to have to see how these promising developments work out. Will they be sustained or only temporary? Statesmanship is still involved, and is a matter of both hard and soft policies - the threat of coercion along with the ability to get people to want what you want.

The Reagan Administration, he says, managed to combine them. “In the 1980’s, President Reagan built up the military which increased his hard power,” he says, “but he also increased our soft power by putting forward democracy and human rights as appeals which attracted people in Eastern Europe. So there may be something analogous to that in what is going on today. Having used hard power very clearly in the case of Iraq, it may be that the administration is realizing it would be helpful if they used a little bit more soft power.”

This shift to soft power has caused some analysts to proclaim a victory for Secretary Powell over the so-called neo-conservatives in the administration, who have favored military action not only against Iraq but other countries they consider threatening in the region:

“I think they are not as influential as they were last March,” Mr. Nye says. “Obviously, they had the bit in their teeth at that time. After the easy military victory there was a certain hubris. But after the summer and the realization that their postwar military planning had been grossly inadequate and that things were much more difficult than they at first looked and that the unilateralism had stopped others from helping us to share that burden of the reconstruction of Iraq, I think that has reduced their influence somewhat.”

Don’t make too much of this, cautions Professor Skinner. The press has a habit of playing up differences in an administration such as the disputes between two top cabinet secretaries in the Reagan years. Today that quarrel barely rates a footnote. “I think a lot has been made about bureaucratic politics,” she says, “and we think back 20 years ago again: the supposed rift between of Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. I do not think that President Bush has ever tilted more to one side than the other. I think he recognizes that strength is part of a strategy to get to a very different goal, which is international cooperation.”

That is where we seem to be headed, says U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a leading voice of foreign policy in the Congress. Through nobody’s fault perhaps but the passage of time, America does not have the international esteem it once enjoyed. “Many people who remember what the United States did for the world are gone now,” Senator Hagel says. “You have a new generation in the world today. So their historical awareness, their personal experience is not the same as it was for those individuals who went through World War Two and experienced what America meant to the world - helping win World War Two, helping rebuild the world. And that represented an immense reservoir of pro-American good will.”

In an interview with VOA’s Jela de Franceschi, Senator Hagel says whether right or wrong, some of the Bush Administration decisions to go it alone, to take unilateral action have alienated other countries, including friendly ones. They are not so much anti-American as opposed to certain American policies. This is fixable, says Senator Hagel, and is being fixed.

“Some of the things we have said over the last two years, some of the things that we have done - our policies have played into the hands of those who have said, ‘You cannot trust America. It is in it for itself, and it does not care about the rest of the world,’” he says. “That is not true, but we need to develop an entirely new outreach program, an effort to win back friends, to show the people of the world that our motives can be trusted. You can have confidence in us.”

And Professor Skinner says that is the point of the hard-soft, two-tier approach of U.S. policy today.