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David Miller: Shape Of Foreign Policy Under Bush

Inward America? What Will Shape US Foreign Policy Under the Bush Administration.

Finally it happened. The election saga that has dominated the headlines around the world for the past month came to a close, and after all the legal wrangling, it was announced that George W. Bush was to become the 43rd President of the United States. Even though it began making transition plans before last weeks Supreme Court ruling, the Bush campaign has quickly gotten into its stride in announcing cabinet nominations that will be put forward to Congress for ratification Amidst this manoeuvring attention has become focused on those who will shape American foreign policy under the new Administration and this policy’s form.

One of the criticisms that were levelled at Mr Bush during the presidential campaign was that he was inexperienced and lacked an understanding of matters and issues outside of his own country. The much publicised television debate in which he could not recall the name of Pakistan’s leader became a familiar weapon in the arsenal of his opponents, and this led to calls that foreign policy was Mr Bush’s Achilles Heel. Since Al Gore’s concession speech, nerves are rattling in place such as the United Nations as to what foreign policy steps Mr Bush and his government will put in place.

Therefore it is no surprise to see that the first cabinet appointments have been made have been in this area and the people chosen to fill these posts are very experienced and very close to the incoming president. Retired General Colin Powell is best known as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Due to his role in the Gulf War, General Powell’s popularity remains high and it is a popularity that runs across America’s political spectrum. Incoming National Security Condoleeza Rice served Mr Bush’s father on the National Security Council under his administration and was the foreign policy advisor throughout this year’s election campaign.

While General Powell has stated that the United States will remain committed to the peace process in the Middle East and issues such as Iraq, there is a concern that the US may pull back from overseas military interventions behind a Theatre Missile Defence System or TMD. Ms Rice has already stated the US cannot remain in the role of the world policeman as it has since 1945 and General Powell has indicated that there will be a review of the current US military deployments, such as Bosnia and Kosovo, and that they may become more streamlined. In other words the world should not expect an immediate American deployment to trouble spots in the future unless it is a situation of all out warfare and it is not to be unexpected that current levels of deployment may be scaled down.

This caution on the part of the incoming administration can be traced to the “Powell Doctrine”, a term coined to describe the General’s approach to matters and issues, including his battle campaigns when a serving military commander. Such cautiousness is a trademark of the man who will become Secretary of State, who was hesitant regarding the US involvement in Bosnia and who did not favour the bolstering of American personnel in Somalia when they were deployed there.

Such rhetoric and what could become policy, should not lead people to return to the “isolationist” debate that has remained an element to US foreign policy since before the Second World War. In the true sense of the world, the United States was never isolationist, even in the 1930’s it maintained security interests offshore. It was at that time inward looking but it was viewed to be in isolation, as it remained aloof from European balance of power politics. With Pearl Harbour and the Cold War this policy experienced an inevitable change.

Had there been a conservative administration throughout the 1990’s then the process of a United States becoming more inward looking following the end of the Cold War would likely have happened sooner rather than in the year 2001. The United States was tired after four decades of the superpower standoff and high levels of military deployment and as it showed in the NATO conflict with Yugoslavia in 1998, the United States has become more reluctant to deploy ground forces to a situation that can become intractable, costly in terms of resources and amount in casualties, which can politically damage an administration. Technology has become the United States’ greatest ally in terms of overseas military deployment, and the use of airpower and cruise missiles as a means of coercion and tactics in the theatre of conflict are testament to this.

However the United States did not have a conservative administration throughout much of the 1990’s, and the Clinton White House, like that of the Blair Government in the United Kingdom displayed a willingness to enter into situations, like Kosovo, where intervention was deemed necessary to affect a desired outcome. The new more conservative administration will not be likely to accept this mantle so readily and will be less forthcoming when requested by NATO or the United Nations to contribute to peacekeeping operations.

In the international political environment of the 1990’s and the 21st Century, it appears that a liberal government while they are ill at ease with large militaries and their use seek to solve the world’s problems. A conservative government on the other hand opts for a large, well equipped military they are more reluctant to use it. The world is witnessing this process with the transition of governments now taking place and this has the potential to place US policy at odds with states such as New Zealand and organisations such as the United Nations who place the emphasis on peace-keeping as a means of keeping defence costs down.

What course US foreign policy will take under the Bush Administration will remain to be seen. Whether the United States can become more inward looking will depend on a number of factors and not all of them are in the control of Washington. The international political system is becoming more fluid and uncertain and as states such as China, Japan, Europe and Russia seek to assert their claims and goals on the world stage, it might prove extremely difficult for the US to become removed from this let alone isolate itself.

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