Bush Claim to Foreign-Policy Skills Doubted
Drift and timidity said to mark president's response to Yugoslavia, Iraq, but defenders point to world's complexity
IN the run-up to the Republican convention, President Bush's beleaguered campaign managers took solace in at least one conviction: In the realm of foreign policy, their man was invincible. Sporting victories in the cold war and the Gulf war, they reasoned, Mr. Bush could hardly be challenged by an inexperienced Arkansas governor.Skip to next paragraph
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But as the president begins his last and most daunting campaign, even that confident assumption is now in doubt. Bush's response to recent events in Yugoslavia and Iraq has created an impression of drift and timidity that could prove an equalizer in the campaign, nullifying the advantage of his long diplomatic experience. More threatening to Bush, say some analysts, is a growing suspicion that the diplomatic skills he honed during the cold war may be inappropriate to the new world order he has yet to def ine. `Wrong man' for future?
"Bush was the right man for his time but the wrong man to build the future," says Robert Hunter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"He was a leader who was lucky enough to be present at the end of the cold war and he managed the endgame of the cold war well. He was also a reasonably good commander-in-chief during the Gulf war," adds Hans Binnendijk, director the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. "But since last summer he's lost his compass."
Dr. Binnendijk says the "high-water mark" was reached when Bush played a crucial role in bringing about the unification of Germany. In an era of greater complexity, he says, Bush has faltered.
After skillfully shaping the sudden changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bush was curiously slow to frame measures to encourage democracy and free-market reforms in Russia and the other new republics.
After defining the "trialogue" of the US, Europe, and Japan as the architectural centerpiece of the post-cold-war era, Bush has largely neglected Japan, even as relations with Germany and France have been strained by differing visions of America's role in European security.
The most visible symbol of Bush's troubles is Saddam Hussein, who still reigns despite a punishing defeat during the Gulf war. As the glow of victory fades, analysts describe the war as a bright moment squeezed between major miscalculations - encouraging Saddam with money and weapons before the war, then failing to press harder for compliance with UN cease-fire resolutions afterward.
The other symbol of Bush's problems is Yugoslavia, where his hesitant response to Serbian atrocities has given the suddenly more hawkish Clinton campaign an unexpected opening.
At the height of his popularity just after the Gulf war, nearly 80 percent of Americans polled by the Gallup Organization approved of the way Bush was handling foreign policy, with only 11 percent disapproving. By last month the president's approval rating on foreign affairs was down to 52 percent, with 42 percent disapproving.
"People respond in context and the context is no longer the Persian Gulf victory," says Larry Hugick, managing editor of the Gallup Organization.
"As memories of the Gulf war begin to fade, attention has shifted to other things, like policy toward Japan or the former Soviet bloc, were people are not as happy with the way things are going," Mr. Hugick says.
Diplomatic analysts advance several explanations for Bush's slide from grace in the once-secure domain of foreign policy.