Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

From the Center

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

From the Center

Article excerpt

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

In his inaugural address, President George W. Bush asked the nation's lawmakers to join him in setting a tone of civility and mutual respect in Washington. For the new administration, the nation's partisan divide poses a difficult challenge, especially in the realm of foreign policy. Controversial issues crowd the agenda--from national missile defense to Middle East policy and the status of America's troop deployments overseas--and Congress is nearly evenly divided along party lines.

In the days of Truman and Eisenhower, politics was said to "stop at the water's edge." But in recent decades, the spirit of bipartisanship in foreign policy has proved elusive. The war in Vietnam and the breakdown of the Cold War consensus greatly complicated the task of American leadership. More recently, as scholars have observed, the West's triumph in the Cold War has created new and somewhat paradoxical difficulties. In the absence of a serious military rival, the fetters on partisan instincts in Washington have been further loosened. The American public, meanwhile, has grown increasingly uninterested in world affairs, even as globalization gathers momentum.

Though he favors a conservative foreign policy, President Bush has shown that he is determined to build consensus. Reaching across party lines, he attended retreats held by legislators of the opposing party, a move that many called unprecedented in recent memory. He assembled a strong foreign policy team, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose integrity and experience command respect in both political parties, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. The appointment of Powell, who strongly supports the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was particularly reassuring to the many members of both parties who worry about the strength of America's commitment to Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War.

In a speech before the election, candidate Bush stated that his administration would not "dominate others with our power or betray them with our indifference." He said that U.S. actions abroad should be guided by the nation's deepest strategic interests, including free trade, the control of nuclear proliferation, and stability in the Persian Gulf. …

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