Behind US Foreign Policy, a Focus on Politics of Power ; the White House Reemphasized Ties with Japan This Week, in Effort to Check China

Article excerpt

The swearing-in was an extraordinary show of diplomatic pageantry.

In an expansive East Room ceremony that ordinarily would have taken place in the smaller Oval Office, former Senate majority leader Howard Baker this week officially assumed the duties of ambassador to Japan. The line-up of political glitterati in attendance included five former US ambassadors to Tokyo, two former secretaries of State, a US Supreme Court justice, and more than 300 other guests. It was the grandest swearing-in event for any US ambassador this year.

But it was much more than just a big party. In the subtle language of diplomacy, the event - and the visit of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan to Camp David tomorrow - is intended to send a signal, complete with crucial subtext: The US is reemphasizing its relationship with Japan, and it's doing so to counter China's rising influence.

This is just one recent example of the unfolding realpolitik of President Bush's foreign policy. Under this more hard-nosed approach, the emphasis is on countering perceived strategic threats and potential rivals rather than on safeguarding human rights and democracy around the globe.

"There is, going in [to this administration], something different," says George Shultz, secretary of State during the Reagan administration and an influential figure in this White House. "President Bush is trying to inject a greater sense of realism, a greater sense of US interests, a more hard-headed approach."

In the case of the swearing-in extravaganza, the administration was trying to "cement" the US-Japan alliance as a way to keep China in check, says a senior administration official. That's a departure from the Clinton administration's view of China as a "strategic partner."

"If you have a strategic sense of Asia as a triangle between the US, Japan, and China, that's not right," the official says. "It's more like a teeter-totter - a balance with China on one side and the US and Japan on the other."

An amorphous concept

Slowly, the world is getting a sense of what the Bush team means when it talks about a foreign policy based on the amorphous term "realism." Recent examples include the US rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming and Mr. Bush's derision of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty as a "relic" of the cold-war era.

In trying to apply its theory of realism, the Bush team is still feeling its way. "They are evolving a policy to make it operational, and it takes time," says Mr. Shultz.

Major areas of foreign policy are "under review," including the administration's military strategy, its approach toward Iraq, and its evolving relationship with Russia. Progress has been slow because of lack of key staff as the appointee-confirmation process drags on, and the intrusion of real-life crises needing immediate attention, such as the US spy plane in China and renewed Israeli- Palestinian violence.

In theory, foreign-policy analysts explain, realism means serving US security and strategic interests first - and that takes priority over goals such as strengthening human rights worldwide. …

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