President Bush's Foreign Policy: Innovation or Consolidation? Stephen Hoadley Considers the Foreign Policy Approach of the Bush Administration and Finds an Extraordinary Level of Engagement with the World

By Hoadley, Stephen | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2002 | Go to article overview

President Bush's Foreign Policy: Innovation or Consolidation? Stephen Hoadley Considers the Foreign Policy Approach of the Bush Administration and Finds an Extraordinary Level of Engagement with the World


Hoadley, Stephen, New Zealand International Review


The late Lewis Fretz wrote his last assessment of US foreign policy for the NZIR in January 1999 (vol 24, no 1). In his article he found American foreign policy characterised by `malaise and passivity'.

President Clinton, distracted by scandal, was doing too little to address the Asian or Russian financial crises, Serbian brutality in Kosovo, human rights abuses in South-east Asia, turmoil in Indonesia, civil wars in Africa, or covert nuclear weapons programmes in Iraq and North Korea. The United States was frittering away its power by dashing about as a global sheriff for an ephemeral `international community'. Fretz cited with approval Samuel Huntington's thesis that America and Europe (`the West') should co-operate to guard their values and achievements against `the rest' of the world if necessary.

Would Lewis Fretz have approved of developments during the ensuing three years? Clinton's firmness on Kosovo and leadership of the NATO bombing campaign to expel Serb forces might have aroused some last-minute respect for the out-going President. But Fretz would have reserved greater enthusiasm for candidate George W. Bush. For starters, Bush was a descendent of a politically accomplished conservative family and was unblemished by scandal in his personal life (his college-years insouciance and his spotty business record aside).

Bush's and Republican Party leaders' castigation of the Clinton administration's fatuous `liberal internationalism' would have been welcomed. So would Bush's pledges to concentrate on regions central to US interests rather than deploy peacekeepers promiscuously, avoid `nation building', resist infringement of US sovereignty by international organisations and treaties, deal firmly with Russia, China, and rogue states, upgrade military capabilities and build a national missile defence system.

Fretz would certainly have rallied to Bush's war on terrorism and all that it entailed: unashamed patriotism, strengthened security measures at home, and military action against perpetrators and their government-accomplices abroad. He would have regarded Bush and his lieutenants Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz as the kind of leaders America needed in the trying times after 11 September. He might have had reservations about Colin Powell ... too internationalist.

Different path

But US policy has not unfolded quite as hoped, or feared, three years ago. The fear on the part of internationalists that Bush would lead the United States into neo-isolationism proved to be without foundation, a wilful misperception fed by East Coast intellectuals and European sceptics. As is often the case in television media-infused elections, the candidate was obliged to seek visibility by exaggerating his differences with the incumbent's policies. But upon taking office, Bush, like his predecessors, adopted the majority of those policies, albeit with new labels and changed emphasis.

Therefore, Bush did not yank US peacekeepers out of Bosnia-Herzegovina, troops out of NATO, or ambassadors out of the United Nations and other international organisations. Nor did he implement Republican hopes for a turn away from China in favour of Taiwan and Japan. Bush did not let the reconnaissance plane collision incident precipitate a damaging confrontation with China, and stopped short of selling Aegis-class destroyers to Taiwan or encouraging that government's further estrangement from China (some loose rhetoric aside).

Meanwhile the Bush administration continued normal trade and diplomatic relations and supported China's, and Taiwan's, entry into the World Trade Organisation, finally achieved in November 2000. Bush encouraged the new WTO round, moved ahead with the Free Trade Area of the Americas initiative, and attended the 2001 APEC summit. He visited China, Europe and Russia and reportedly established good rapport with Jiang Jemin, Vladimir Putin and even Jacques Chirac. …

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