Iraq War Defines Foreign Policy; 'Axis of Evil' Declaration Takes Its Place in History

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Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Bush administration's foreign policy will be remembered mainly for the Iraq war, the doctrine of pre-emption and unilateralism, even though Bush foreign policy focus shifted more to multilateralism and diplomacy in the second term, diplomats and analysts say. As for President Bush's rhetoric, the phrase axis of evil - used in his 2002 State of the Union address to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea - will live on in memory and history books for years, they say.

Both President-elect Barack Obama and his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, have criticized the Iraq war as the biggest U.S. foreign policy disaster in modern history, even though Mrs. Clinton voted for the 2002 measure authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

Administration supporters counter that the war's last chapter has yet to be written and that it may be judged less negatively in the future. Most agree, however, that the policy was poorly executed in its initial phases.

The conduct of the war and the lack of planning is the lowest point in the administration's foreign policy, said Lorne W. Craner, president of the International Republican Institute and a State Department official during Mr. Bush's first term.

It took a couple of years to get the strategy right, but I don't think we've reached the end of the story, Mr. Craner said, referring to the 2007 surge that helped turn the war around. I think things will look much better in 10 or 20 years.

Stephen Flanagan, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Bush administration is handing Iraq over to its successor and to the Iraqis in a much better shape than anyone expected.

It may have been a war of choice, and we can't declare peace yet, but there is some stability, Mr. Flanagan said. Still, it's inevitable that Bush's legacy will turn on the question of Iraq.

Mr. Bush's doctrine of pre-emption, which calls for attacking a country or group deemed to be posing an imminent threat before it attacks the United States, also will figure prominently in any final reckoning of his foreign policy, said Steve R. Weisman, a public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

Mr. Weisman covered the State Department for the New York Times during Mr. Bush's first term, when the White House and the Pentagon marginalized the department in decision-making on Iraq and other important issues.

Mr. Bush proudly notes that al Qaeda has not struck the United States homeland since Sept. 11, 2001. However, in the aftermath of those attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed so much foreign policy territory that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell struggled to restore a sense of balance.

The State Department still managed relationships around the world, Mr. Powell devoted considerable attention to upgrading resources and technology in the agency, and morale under Mr. Powell was the highest it had been in nearly two decades.

But U.S. diplomats say that the message the Foreign Service received from the White House was that military power was the preferred tool in carrying out America's foreign policy.

Some things worked before 9/11 and diplomacy was given a chance to resolve a crisis with China in April 2001, when an EP-3 U.S. reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese military aircraft and destroyed it, said Anthony Holmes, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats' union.

After 9/11, the entire equation changed, and there was no longer even begrudging acceptance on part of the White House to put diplomacy first, Mr. Holmes said.

Around the world, the administration was viewed as unilateral and almost allergic to international treaties. …