U.S. Foreign Policy: Let's Talk

On the eve of President Bush's first trip to Europe to meet with key NATO allies and talk with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, U.S. foreign policy is lurching in an unknown direction. The Bush Administration's desire to reshape foreign policy for the 21st century is laudable. The impulse to integrate Russia into a new security system is commendable. But the Administration's decision to craft this dramatically new foreign policy in secrecy, with little input from senior military officers or members of Congress, threatens to undermine the effort. It is time to end the secrecy and open a national discussion. Neither Presidential candidate campaigned on a radical change in U.S. foreign policy. The American people were not consulted then. They should be now. With Democrats taking over Senate committees on defense and foreign policy, a bipartisan debate in Washington would be a welcome first step.

There are disconcerting leaks out of the Pentagon about Bush's policy. There's talk of shifting the defense focus away from Europe toward Asia; targeting China as the long-term enemy; redirecting submarines, missiles, and other military resources to the Pacific; and building a new generation of long-range, trans-Pacific bombers and missiles. What's more, the Pentagon appears to be suggesting militarizing outer space. All this should be aired before policy is changed, not afterward.

The risk is that the Administration's fears will become self-fulfilling prophecies. Defining China as a foe and treating it as such will surely make it behave as one. While its one-party dictatorship and repression of human rights are repugnant, China hasn't threatened the U.S. in the way the Soviet Union did. It isn't spreading communist ideology around the world. In fact, China embraces capitalism and is integrating its economy with the U.S. and Taiwan.

The success of U.S. cold war policy was based on consensus. After Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe, a national discussion occurred. Political parties, business, labor, and other segments of American society openly talked about the direction foreign policy should take. Today, the international situation is less clear and open to more outcomes. The U.S. needs a new consensus to go forward. Foreign policy cannot be made in secrecy.

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