Bush's World

Will his tough-guy take on foreign policy play on the global stage?

It was the opening salvo for the new Bush Administration's foreign policy, and Donald H. Rumsfeld opted for heavy artillery. Sure, the Soviet Union is no longer a superpower, the prospective U.S. Defense Secretary told senators at his confirmation hearing on Jan. 11. But the outlook remains ominous, and the Pentagon needs far more money to prepare for the new dangers of the 21st century. Rumsfeld sees potential challenges from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Russia, and growing bands of global terrorists. We live, he declared, in a "dangerous and untidy" world, of "smaller but in some respects more deadly threats."

Rumsfeld's muscular rhetoric hearkens back to the cold war years of the 1970s, when he was last Defense Secretary. And it reflects his new boss's wishes. President George W. Bush may know more about education and other domestic issues, but he is expected to move aggressively to shift foreign policy back to a more traditional focus on U.S. national-security interests.

TWO KEY ISSUES. At the core of the Bush foreign policy will be military strength. The new President wants to spend billions to bankroll defense-related research, replace aging ships and planes with next-generation technology, and finance a controversial national missile defense (NMD) system aimed at protecting the U.S. against nuclear attacks by rogue states such as North Korea or Iran. Bush also wants to bolster alliances in Europe and Asia to boost America's leverage in dealing with two key powers in transition--a declining Russia and a surging China. The new President's goal: to show Moscow and Beijing they will pay a price if they threaten their neighbors or the U.S., and reap benefits if they become full-fledged members of the community of nations.

Bush plans an economic agenda, too, and is especially interested in promoting free trade throughout the Americas. One priority is crafting a free-trade agreement for the Western hemisphere, perhaps as early as 2003. What Bush won't do, some of his advisers say, is devote as much time as Bill Clinton did to fostering nation-building in places like the Balkans. This game plan could have flaws, as outgoing Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright warns. Bellicose rhetoric can make enemies when a more nuanced policy is needed, she argues. And "it's impossible for the U.S. to just close its eyes to what's going on" in places such as Kosovo, she notes, adding: "It's not your father's foreign policy."

Bush and his team are hardly likely to heed that advice. But if they maintain a hard-line posture, they could shake up America's allies as well as foes. Already, politicians in Europe, Russia, and Asia are reacting--mostly negatively--to Bush's missile defense program. "NMD can become a problem. What concerns everybody are the strategic repercussions," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine says. Leaders of Russia and China both warn darkly about a sped-up arms race. It's also possible, though, that Bush may start out with a tough stance a la Reagan but end up, like his father, avoiding conflict with America's allies. On missile defense, for example, Bush could quell allies' fears by offering to protect them with the shield as well.

Bush's ability to set--and control--a new foreign policy agenda will be tested from the start of his Administration. Already mired in deadly violence, the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation could explode into a wider war at any time. Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein could challenge the new President's resolve to uphold decade-old sanctions as early as this spring. Closer to home, Colombia is set to choose by Jan. 31 either a path for peace or to escalate its war with its guerrillas--a decision that could mean greater U.S. involvement through the Clinton-backed Plan Colombia, which is channeling funds to the Colombian military. Another tough decision looms in April, when Bush is slated to decide whether to sell destroyers to Taiwan--a hot-button issue for China.

HANDS ON DECK. Bush, who has rarely even traveled abroad, knows he can't steer through these dangerous waters without help. That's why he has assembled a top-flight team of experienced national-security hands, including 68-year-old Rumsfeld and Secretary of State-designate Colin L. Powell, 63, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when George Bush Sr. waged war against Saddam. Bush has also tapped Condoleezza Rice, 46, an adviser on Russia at the National Security Council during the previous Bush Administration, as his National Security Adviser. He has asked his new economic adviser, Lawrence B. Lindsey, 46, to work closely with Rice on economic security issues. And he has named Robert B. Zoellick, 47, as U.S. Trade Representative. Zoellick was instrumental in negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico in the early 1990s.

All these high-level officials are already moving quickly to line up deputies who will play key roles in dealing with policymakers around the world (table). At the State Dept., for example, sources say the cautious Powell plans to fill assistant secretary slots with career staffers. That could bolster sagging morale at the agency as well as increase Powell's clout by reducing the number of powerful political appointees.

Powell is expected to go outside for some important posts, however. He's likely to tap Richard L. Armitage, 45, as Deputy Secretary of State. An international consultant based in the Washington, D.C., area for the last several years, Armitage worked in the Pentagon in the Reagan era and was a diplomatic troubleshooter in Bush Sr.'s Administration. Powell is also expected to pick James A. Kelly, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum think tank, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Asian affairs. A respected pragmatist well known in the region, he handled Asia affairs at the Pentagon and National Security Council (NSC) during the Reagan years. He'll be a strong backer of Taiwan but won't go out of his way to rile Beijing, as the GOP congressional right wing would like.

Another likely pick for the State Dept. is Richard N. Haass of the Brookings Institution. A key adviser to Bush Sr. during the gulf war, the former National Security official and Middle East expert will probably head the policy planning office--the State Dept.'s in-house brain trust. He is likely to urge a slowdown in the Middle East peace process and a reassessment of the situation after Israel's elections in February.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Rumsfeld is going for well-known hardliners. One candidate for the job of Deputy Defense Secretary is Paul D. Wolfowitz, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He's known for his support for an aggressive U.S. role abroad. During the gulf war, Wolfowitz argued that the Bush Administration should try to oust Saddam Hussein. His advice wasn't taken. Recently Wolfowitz suggested setting up a safe haven for rebels in southern Iraq, possibly with the help of U.S. troops.

The trick for Bush will be managing this team of powerful thinkers and personalities. Take Rumsfeld and Powell. Both are tough bureaucratic infighters not likely to agree on all issues. Unlike the hawkish Rumsfeld, Powell would only deploy U.S. military force in overwhelming numbers and only when it is for a clearly defined national interest. He opposed intervention in Iraq and the Balkans and would likely resist entry into the regional conflicts America is most likely to face these days. Nor does he seem to be an ardent backer of national missile defense like Rumsfeld. Of course, Powell will have the tough job of selling missile defense abroad, while Rumsfeld will be winning political points at home by lavishing money on defense contractors.

Who will act as arbiter? The new President is likely to lean heavily on his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who also served as Defense Secretary under Bush Sr. "Cheney is the key player to make all this work," says Chester A. Crocker, a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University. Bush "has never worked this machinery before," Crocker adds. The early betting is that Cheney will side more often with Rumsfeld, his mentor in the Ford Administration, than with Powell, his colleague in Bush Sr.'s Administration.

One key issue that may test Cheney's diplomatic skills inside the Administration is policy toward Russia. Moscow looms large in Bush's calculations, partly because his foreign-policy tutor and National Security Adviser, Rice, is a Russia specialist. If Rice has her way, Bush will focus mostly on strategic matters such as Russia's nuclear stockpile. That will mark a major change from the Clinton-era approach, which relied on government-to-government contacts on everything from health care to economic reform.

But other top aides, such as Wolfowitz, may argue that Bush should keep hammering on Russia to improve its economic reform--as Clinton did. Bush made a bow in this direction in mid-January, when he declared the U.S. would provide no more aid to Russia if President Vladimir Putin did not clean up its corrupt system. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticized Bush for using the media to send messages to Moscow, rather than communicating directly.

A NUCLEAR THREAT? Ivanov and Putin are hoping that Bush will follow Rice's advice and stick to the realpolitik of yesteryear. Jawboning over missile stockpiles is more predictable, they figure, and involves less interference in their domestic affairs. "We have always been able to find a common language with the Republicans," Putin told Russian journalists in December. That could prove important when the two sides discuss diplomatic conflicts such as NATO expansion into the Baltics or missile defense. Worried that the Bush team may abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty--the cornerstone of arms control--Moscow is already pushing development of decoys to fool interceptors and anti-satellite weapons to blind space sensors. Even the dovish Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of the Duma, warns: "The U.S. is going to have to decide whether it's ready for a new nuclear confrontation with Russia and China."

Certainly, China is another potential flashpoint on the Bush team's radar screen. To balance China's growing power, the new Administration wants to develop stronger ties with Japan and South Korea--as well as persuade them to play a bigger security role. This approach would mark a return to the days when Wolfowitz was in charge of Asian affairs at the State Dept. in the Reagan years. Then, he objected to Beijing's demands for a deadline to end arms sales to Taiwan. Later, in Bush Sr.'s Administration, Wolfowitz again ignored Chinese threats and successfully backed the sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan. Wolfowitz's skepticism about China did not prevent warm relations between Beijing and both the Reagan and Bush Administrations. But in the Clinton years, China eventually reacted by making threatening gestures toward Taiwan during Lee Teng-hui's presidency.

For both Washington and Beijing, the biggest issue of all in Asia is still the relationship between China and Taiwan. Bush is likely to back significant arms sales to Taipei--a position that Rumsfeld would probably favor. But there is likely to be a debate inside the Administration over how far to go in tipping the military balance and over how explicit to make U.S. support for the island nation if China were to attack.

Powell may well argue for caution, particularly because some Chinese officials and analysts have indicated that Beijing is willing to take a more flexible approach toward Taiwan. "We are more and more confident about our ability to solve the Taiwan problem," says Li Jiaquan, a research fellow specializing in Taiwan at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "If the U.S. stands up and says that if there is a war it will protect Taiwan, this will be very unwise," he adds. One high-level diplomat in previous Republican Administrations says the Bush team may postpone the April decision on sales of advanced radar and other weapons to see how accommodating Beijing really is.

As they deal with Russia, China, or longtime foes like Saddam Hussein, there's no doubt the new American foreign policy team wants to take a tough, pragmatic approach to creating a more secure world for America. They may succeed in diminishing some threats, just as Ronald Reagan and other cold warriors did years ago. But in the short term, it's likely that the Republicans will learn it was far easier to carp at the Clinton Administration from the sidelines than to make progress in the post-cold war era. Once they take their seats in power, the Republicans may quickly find that mastering global politics in the 21st century will be a lot more complex than it was in the 20th.

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