Saturday, November 06, 2004

Foreign Policy: Four More Years

Foreign Policy: Four More Years: "Four More Years

By James Mann
Posted November 2004
President Bush’s neoconservative “Vulcans” are back for a second term in office. But this time, they will discover they have limited resources and diminished credibility.

The world now anxiously waits to see which direction President George W. Bush will drive U.S. foreign policy over the next four years. Bush and his team of “Vulcans,” the Republican Cold Warriors who came back into office with him in 2001 stunned the international community with a preventive war in Iraq during his first term in office. What should we expect in Bush’s second term?

Over the past few months, a debate has already begun on precisely this subject. For simplicity’s sake, we can reduce this debate into two different schools of thought about Bush’s second term and about the United States’ relationship with the world from now until 2008. Let’s call these two schools the Doomsayers and the Skeptics.

The Doomsayers suggest that Bush’s second term is likely to produce further military interventions overseas, along the lines of Iraq in 2003. Perhaps Syria may be the next target of U.S. military power, they suggest, or Iran. They believe that the neoconservatives (that is, officials such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz), who were the driving force behind the Bush administration’s preventive war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, will have even greater power and influence, now that the president has won reelection. “Secretary of State Colin Powell is not staying for a second term,” warned one Foreign Service officer, writing under the byline “Anonymous” on Salon.com last month. “When he goes the last bulwark against complete neoconservative control of U.S. foreign policy goes with him.”

The Skeptics contend that Bush’s foreign policy in his second term will turn out to be more cautious and less belligerent than his first, if not by choice, then by compulsion. Whatever some hawks might like to do, the reality is that the Bush administration will face a series of constraints—military, diplomatic, political, and economic—that will curb its ability to launch new preventive wars. Moreover, say adherents of the Skeptic school, the power of the neoconservatives inside the administration will probably be diminished, not augmented, during Bush’s second term.

I need to disclose here that I am of this second school. I think the Doomsayers are wrong to assume that Bush’s second term will usher in new military interventions, or a foreign policy that is even more unilateralist.
Any analysis of Bush’s second term must of course start with Iraq. The Bush administration will have its hands full over the next few years merely coping with the mess its war has created there. It is not clear whether the United States can succeed in stabilizing the country in such a way that it can get its troops out.


The impact of Iraq affects virtually every other aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Above all, where is the administration going to come up with the troops for new military ventures in places such as Syria? The Pentagon is already struggling to cope with the troops it needs in Iraq. Any effort to commit U.S. forces elsewhere is likely to run into intense resistance among the uniformed military, from the joint chiefs of staff down to the rank-and-file.

Perhaps (so the Doomsayers can legitimately counter) the Bush administration might wield its military power in a way that doesn’t require a lot of troops, such as through airstrikes. And indeed, there is now some scary talk among hawks in Washington about the possibility of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities—an action that might delay for years Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons.

However, the additional diplomatic and political consequences of any new unilateral military action by the United States in the Middle East are so remarkably high that in the end, Bush is unlikely to go down this road. In his first term, the president has relied heavily on his relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Would the American president be willing to launch a strike against Iran, if doing so meant that Blair’s government would fall, or that the British prime minister, the United States’ closest ally, would feel compelled to come out in opposition to the Bush administration? Would Bush be willing to lose whatever support the United States still retains among moderate Islamic forces in the Middle East? I don’t think so.

Salon.com’s “Anonymous” from the State Department is right that the internal dynamics of the second Bush administration will change when Colin Powell is no longer part of the administration. Bush is likely to appoint a new secretary of state (whether National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice or someone else) who is more subject to the political control of the Bush-Cheney-Karl Rove White House.

But it’s a mistake to leap from there to the judgment that the neoconservatives will have complete control of the second Bush administration. During the last four years, the neocons were the dominant influence on U.S. foreign policy when it came to Iraq (which was no small thing). The neocons did not control the Bush administration’s first-term policy toward China or Russia, which conformed to the classic realist principles of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.

And the impact of the Iraq war has served to reduce further the neocons’ clout. The war they so strongly favored has lasted vastly longer than they predicted. It took more U.S. troops and cost much more money than they led the nation to believe. By early this year, even leading conservative Republicans, such as columnist George Will, were vehemently opposing the Iraq war and the larger goal of spreading democracy in the Middle East. That internal Republican opposition has been muted this fall during Bush’s reelection campaign, but it is sure to resurface.

I’m not suggesting that Bush’s approach to the world will be utterly transformed during a second term. The vision the Vulcans carried into office four years ago—a view of foreign policy based above all on overwhelming U.S. military power and a skepticism about accommodations with other countries—will not be abandoned.

But I also don’t think Bush’s reelection means that United States is gearing up for some new military invasion. There are limits. Iraq has proved that fact, even to the Bush administration. And a sense of limits may turn out to be one of the defining characteristics of Bush’s second term.

James Mann is the author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004). He is currently author-in-residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies."

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