Contrary to Critics, Bush Foreign Policy Isn’t ‘Unilateralist’

Posted May 2, 2003 at 11:35am

Democrats and foreigners accuse the Bush administration of “unilateralism,” but they’ve got it wrong — as demonstrated by current diplomacy on the Mideast, North Korea and, I hope, by NATO involvement in Iraq.

To the extent that Democratic presidential candidates talk about foreign policy at all any more, they blast President Bush for “bullying” other countries and “going it alone.” Liberal newspaper columnists and foreigners who opposed the war with Iraq sound the same theme, often adding that Bush practices “cowboy” diplomacy.

[IMGCAP(1)] But the charges don’t square with Bush’s current cooperation with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union in laying down a “road map” for Mideast peace or his effort to involve China, South Korea and Japan in nuclear talks with North Korea.

And it’s been reported in the Financial Times that both the Pentagon and the State Department favor NATO forces taking over security functions in Iraq from the United States.

All this — and NATO’s recent decision to take over security in Afghanistan — is evidence that the Bush administration is dedicated to multilateralism in foreign policy, after all.

To be sure, there’s a big difference between Bush-style international cooperation and that recommended by most Democrats and preferred by foreigners.

And, as the attack leveled against the State Department by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) demonstrates, there’s tension in the GOP — and also in the administration — over how much the United States should accede to the wishes of other nations.

Democrats have been chronically averse to using force to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals ever since the Vietnam War. Majorities in both houses voted against the 1991 Persian Gulf War, for instance.

A majority of Democrats in the Senate (not the House) supported the recent Iraq war, but many immediately began protesting that Bush had not secured enough international backing for it. Democrats seem reluctant to act militarily unless there is overwhelming international agreement — preferably expressed through the United Nations.

That course would give countries with a veto in the U.N. Security Council — in the Iraq case, France, Russia and China — a veto over U.S. foreign policy.

Bush demonstrated that he won’t let such opposition stand in the way of carrying out what he deems in the U.S. national interest.

Yet it’s not the case — as critics charge — that he’s unwilling to seek international consensus.

Before going to war, Bush took the Iraq dispute to the United Nations, winning unanimous support for one resolution, 1441, and trying to get another that was blocked by a threatened French veto.

Gingrich, reflecting views held by some hawks within the administration, condemned the State Department for “a pattern of diplomatic failure” before the war and of intending now to “throw away all the fruits of hard-won victory.”

Gingrich denied that he was aiming his attacks at Secretary of State Colin Powell, but the initiatives he cited — including 1441, the failed second resolution and the Mideast road map — were all Powell-backed. More importantly, they were Bush-backed.

Now, Bush has decided to go the multilateral route in the Mideast and on North Korea. And he should go that way in the Iraq aftermath.

On North Korea, many leading Democrats — including Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — actually argue against the multilateral approach, advocating accession to the communist state’s demand for one-on-one talks.

Despite North Korea’s threats to manufacture and sell nuclear weapons, the administration is sticking to its insistence that neighboring countries be involved. And the dire danger finally may have persuaded China to intervene.

Foreigners and Democrats are not complaining about the multilateral Mideast road map, but conservatives like Gingrich are — and with some justification.

Bush’s partners — the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — habitually side with the Palestinians against Israel and likely will urge creation of a Palestinian state in three years regardless of whether the Palestinians eliminate terrorist groups.

Bush, however, has made it clear that terrorism must stop. If it doesn’t, he may have to abandon multilateralism and back Israel. But he’s not going it alone now.

And he definitely should try to internationalize the post-war policing of Iraq through NATO.

The best arguments for doing so were cited by Biden, ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“If we are the only ones in charge,” he said, “then we will get the blame for everything that goes wrong. If we’re the ones picking the new Iraqi government, it will be seen as a puppet regime by the Iraqi people.

“And … it will be our sons and daughters patrolling the streets of Kirkuk and Tikrit, running the risk of suicide bombers and snipers. It will be our taxpayers footing the entire bill.”

True to Democratic form, Biden wants the United Nations to bless the post-war operation and Bush to make up with the French. That may be more multilateralism than Bush can stomach.