Schoolyard Bully Foreign Policy

The Bush team's living relics of the Cold War are busy recreating the environment they are familiar with, and in the process undoing decades of progress toward global cooperation and peace. Among the elements of the emerging reprise of the Cold War:

  • The expulsion of high level Russian diplomats following Robert Hanssen's arrest or spying.
  • Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's declaring the Far East as the most likely arena for military action, and that he wants a force that can fight and win a nuclear war there.
  • The White House pledge to sell arms to Taiwan.
  • Meeting with Chechen ambassador to Washington Ilyas Akhmatov
  • White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's indication that European opposition to the proposed missile defense screen would not factor in the administration's deliberations.
  • The effective suspension of negotiations with North Korea.

The belligerent policies implied by actions such as these have alarmed allies and experts. Adding to the recent spate of reversals of campaign promises, the defiant attitude is also inconsistent with the only major foreign policy speech Bush made during the campaign, when, on Nov. 19 1999, he called for a policy that reflected "the humility of greatness."

China's initial polite formality with the Bush administration appeared to vanish earlier this month when Premier Jiang Zemin urged against the sale of arms to Taiwan, suggesting that it would accelerate militarization in China. "The more weapons you sell, the more we will prepare ourselves in terms of national defense," he said. Nonetheless, Mr. Bush seems intent on selling the Aegis missile radar system to Taiwan, which could represent a military advantage for them over mainland China. China has made it clear that the sale could disrupt relations between Beijing and Washington.

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, now directory of the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars summarized his concern this way:

The foreign policy community is very anxious about Bush policy because it sees a rising level of rhetoric on China, going from 'strategic partner' to 'competitor'; refusing to negotiate with the North Koreans; some very tough statements on Russia; a total rejection of climate control negotiations; and an emphasis in talks with all parties about missile defense.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, breaking her silence regarding current administration policy, also criticized Bush decisions concerning the Balkans, global warming, and the Far East. This week she told the Los Angeles Times that the administration was missing an opportunity to stabilize the Balkans by not advocating more strongly for elections. She characterized the rejection of the 1997 Kyoto accord on global warming as "a mistake." And she urged continued U.S. participation in reconciliation talks in Korea.

An editorial in the German Süddeutsche Zeitung labeled Bush a bully for his treatment of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung during Kim's recent visit to Washington. Bush reportedly took Kim to task for his conciliatory "sunshine policy" toward North Korea. During Kim's visit Mr. Bush said he would not resume talks with North Korea initiated by the Clinton administration. Mr. Kim received the Nobel peace prize for his work towards reconciliation between North and South Korea.

European foreign policy experts point to apparent disagreements within the Bush administration, between Colin Powell on the one hand, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice on the other.

Observers have suggested that Ms. Rice is the prime mover in Bush's belligerent attitude toward Russia. Ms. Rice, whose last appointment was during the final days of the Soviet Union has been called a " 'Soviet-ologist' … not a Russian expert." She has been accused of applying the same view of Russia "whether the country was communist or not." She opposes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and has insisted for years that Russia "modify" the watershed Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.

Last week an aide to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder described a "lack of clarity," particularly with regard to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Schröder is expected to communicate this concern when he meets with Bush this week. The Süddeutsche Zeitung editorial branding Bush a bully echoed a decision by European Union leaders to take action in the face of American isolationism. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson plans a visit to Korea to try to mediate talks on missiles and reunification. European observers envision the possibility of similar action to restart peace processes in the Middle East. Such actions will almost certainly create tension between the U.S. and Europe. Europe's cross-national cooperation in implementing the Euro currency has perhaps fostered a tendency to look for multilateral solutions to international crises, a concept that may be beyond a Bush administration whose foreign policy centerpiece seems to be the deployment of a national missile defense system.


Ed Vulliamy, Ed. "America turns the clock back to Cold War returns to return as as Bush gets tough" Guardian Unlimited. 25 Mar. 2001.

Cohen, Roger. "News Analysis: Storm Clouds Over U.S.-Europe Relations" New York Times. 25 Mar.2001

Wright, Robin. "Bush Team's Tough Talk on Foreign Policy Alarms Experts" Los Angeles Times. 27 Mar.2001