- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

George W. Bush’s re-election represents a thunderous affirmation of his first-term foreign policy. The president realized Cold War constructs like “deterrence” and “containment” were not sufficient to deal with a shadowy threat from terrorist groups operating at the intersection of fanaticism and high technology. So he unveiled a new policy of using American power to maintain international security, spread democracy and preempt threats if need be.

The closeness of the election should not deceive anyone about the popularity of this program in the United States. John Kerry paid backhanded tribute to his foe by signing on to the Bush foreign policy in all its essentials. Mr. Kerry, too, said he would not need a “green light” from the United Nations or anyone else to defend U.S. security. Mr. Kerry, too, said he would act preemptively if the need arose. And Mr. Kerry not only promised to maintain American military hegemony but he vowed to add to it by increasing U.S. troops.

Mr. Kerry’s selling point was that he could do all these things more effectively than the incumbent. Voters didn’t buy it. But at the same time, voters had doubts about Mr. Bush’s foreign-policy management. That’s why he won 51 percent of the vote, not 61 percent, despite a booming economy.

If Mr. Bush is smart — and, contrary to the popular notion overseas, he’s no dummy — he will shake up his foreign policy team, demand more accountability and bring in some prominent Democrats to give the “war on terror” a more bipartisan cast.

What exactly will Mr. Bush do? That is unclear. Some expectations widely held in Europe may turn out to be unfounded.

Will America, already embroiled in conflict against one member of the “axis of evil,” now invade Iran and North Korea? Doubtful. The U.S. armed forces are so committed in Iraq and Afghanistan they’re incapable of major operations elsewhere. In any case, there is little appetite among the American public for another major war. Barring a terrorist attack on U.S. soil — in which case, all bets are off — Mr. Bush will probably concentrate on consolidating gains in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than rushing off into another conflict.

Will relations between Mr. Bush and European leaders such as Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder remain as poisonous as in the past four years? Also doubtful. Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder must now realize Mr. Bush is more popular than they and that they have to live with him for another term. The recent decisions by NATO and the European Union to get involved in training Iraqi security forces signal a desire by even the most anti-Bush leaders to patch up the trans-Atlantic rift.

Differences over Iraq will no doubt persist, but even the most obdurate Bush-bashers must see it is in no one’s interests for Iraq to become a failed state.

Will the Middle East boil over because Mr. Bush “ignores” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Doubtful yet again. Mr. Bush’s approach of supporting a Palestinian state along with Israel’s security barrier is reducing terrorism and, hence, tensions. Were Yasser Arafat to go to the great compound in the sky, there might even be a hope of liberalization within the Palestinian Authority, leading to creation of a peaceful polity not bent on Israel’s destruction.

Will America continue following a “unilateralist” path? It all depends on what you mean. Mr. Bush will not come crawling back to the United Nations or sign on to flawed treaties like the Kyoto global warming accords. But he will continue promoting NATO and push for an expanded role for the alliance in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he will continue cooperating closely with such allies as Tony Blair and John Howard whom Mr. Kerry disdained as “the coalition of the bribed [and] the coerced.”

Mr. Bush won’t change his fundamental approach. Nor should he. What he should change is how he carries out his policies. He needs to add rhetorical honey to make some of his castor oil policies go down more smoothly abroad.

In the first term, Mr. Bush and some of his aides seemed to enjoy thumbing his nose at international institutions. In the second term, they should abjure such childish gestures and try to make U.S. power more palatable to the rest of the world.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide