Observers both here and abroad are worried that the second administration of U.S. President George W. Bush may assume a more unilateralist stance in foreign policy. Such concern stems mainly from the imminent resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell, a firm believer in international coordination who consistently advocated a different foreign-policy approach from that recommended by the Bush administration’s hardliners. It is feared that the departure of Mr. Powell, who will step down after his successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January, will take an important foot off the brakes on the Bush administration.
Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, has been nominated to succeed Mr. Powell. So far Ms. Rice has played a very modest coordinating role in the administration, and her lack of presence is one reason for the widespread uncertainty about her overseas. There are, however, some who believe that the appointment of Ms. Rice — a close friend of President Bush and a pragmatist — indicates a shift away from unilateralism and toward international coordination. It is premature, therefore, to be entirely pessimistic.
Depending on the course of President Bush’s diplomacy in his second term, there is a danger that the anti-Bush mood that has spread on a global scale could escalate into an anti-American mood, which would have serious, long-term consequences. Therefore, it is urgent that the United States learn from its bitter experiences in Iraq. The war in Iraq is a lesson in the failure of a foreign policy that neglects international coordination. Washington will have to shift to a foreign policy that takes the concerns of the international community into more serious consideration.
Many countries saluted Mr. Powell after the announcement of his resignation. British Prime Minister Tony Blair commented that he “is a remarkable man and has been a good friend to this country.” Foreign Minister Michel Barnier of France, which deepened its schism with the U.S. over the Iraq issue, said, “There is never any arrogance in Colin Powell, always the desire to convince.”
But in reply to the question of whether U.S. foreign policy is going to change very much after Mr. Powell’s departure, it is likely the correct answer will be no. After all, Mr. Powell’s tenure amounted to four years of battle with the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Powell was continuously defeated in these struggles — as symbolized by the launching of the war against Iraq. Despite his strenuous calls for the need for a U.N. Security Council resolution, Mr. Powell was defeated by hardliners in the Bush administration who insisted that such a resolution was unnecessary.
In practice, however, Mr. Powell was indeed an irreplaceable presence both for the U.S. and for the international community. Even when opinions that differed from his own became Washington’s foreign policy, he worked sincerely to gain the understanding of other countries and played an important role as a conduit between Washington and other capitals. In doing so, he earned the trust of U.S. allies around the world.
As for Ms. Rice, many members of the U.S. and international media criticized her nomination, saying that the next Bush administration would resemble a lineup of “yes men.” The New York Times scathingly noted that as national security adviser, Ms. Rice only told the president what he wanted to hear rather than supply information that would allow him to make sound decisions.
But while she is a hardliner at times — she formulated the Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes — Ms. Rice can also be a moderate and pays attention to international relations. Although she has supported the neoconservative line on the Iraq problem and other issues, she is not herself a neocon. She is a pragmatist who thinks first of all of America’s national interest and who takes a cautious stance in some policy areas, for example, toward China and Russia.
Some observers also believe that if Ms. Rice becomes secretary of state, U.S. foreign policy will become more unified and simpler to understand, because, unlike in the Powell era, we will know for sure that her statements are fully in line with the opinions of President Bush. The Bush administration has developed a policy of unilateralism that has included abandoning the Kyoto Protocol and withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We will be watching with great interest to see what changes occur in the administration’s second term.
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