Bush Administration Sends Mixed Signals on Its E Volving Foreign Policy

By Sands, David R. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bush Administration Sends Mixed Signals on Its E Volving Foreign Policy


Sands, David R., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The celebrated Bush administration foreign policy team, in its first major tests, can't seem to decide who bats leadoff and who hits cleanup.

Mixed messages and public confusion have plagued the administration in its early weeks, first on U.S. policy toward Iraq and then on President Bush's willingness to continue the Clinton administration's rapprochement with North Korea.

"I think it's fair to say that the rhetoric to date hasn't been well coordinated yet," says Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon and State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"That's not unusual when the people in a new administration have not had time to develop a nuanced policy in the crush of events," he says.

But the muddle has surprised Washington because of the experience and depth of the foreign-policy team Mr. Bush recruited.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell came to their posts trailing glittering resumes and long records of government service at the highest level. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was a rising star in Republican foreign-policy circles even before signing up for Texas Gov. George W. Bush's successful presidential campaign.

But in the space of two days this week, the administration effectively reversed itself on what it would do about missile talks with North Korea, which were left unfinished when President Clinton left office.

Mr. Powell on Tuesday said the new administration planned "to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off."

A day later, following a meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, Mr. Bush publicly questioned key parts of the Clinton strategy and signaled he planned to go much slower on thawing relations with Pyongyang.

A senior White House briefer spent considerable time afterward trying to persuade skeptical reporters that the abrupt change in tone did not signal either an abrupt change in tone or an internal rift between senior policy-makers.

By yesterday, Mr. Powell was suggesting stiff new conditions for any deal with North Korea and even talking about trying to reopen a deal made in 1994.

On Iraq, the administration has struggled to coordinate its evolving policy on international sanctions against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Powell told a House hearing Wednesday that it is critical that U.N. weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq to keep Baghdad in check.

Mr. Cheney had told a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, in an interview published earlier this week: "I don't think we want to hinge our policy just to the questions of whether or not inspectors go back in there."

The administration has struggled to explain its efforts to "re-energize" the sanctions against Iraq while at the same time decreasing the number of goods banned from sale to the regime. …

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