Foreign-policy tussles ahead?

When I did a stint in the Reagan administration in a couple of sub-cabinet posts, one of my responsibilities was the United States government's television operation, the agency that projected and interpreted foreign policy to nations abroad.

One day we were facilitating a live interview by Japanese correspondents with then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The interview went well until the last question.

One of the Japanese newsmen asked for Secretary Haig's take on American press reports of policy disagreements and infighting between Mr. Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. "All nonsense," replied Haig in the last seconds of the interview. "The relationship is good. Why, we have breakfast together at least once a week and there's nobody there except Weinberger, myself - and our food-tasters."

With that the screen went blank, and the dumbfounded Japanese correspondents were left wondering how much of Haig's comment was jocular, and how much was a cover-up of really serious divisions in the top ranks of the administration's foreign-policy team.

Differences of opinion are inevitable when knowledgeable and influential people occupy high policy positions, even though their common goal is to serve the country.

My own boss, George Shultz, had philosophical differences with Mr. Weinberger when Mr. Shultz was secretary of State. Shultz felt diplomacy had to be backed by the ultimate will to use force. Under Weinberger, he detected in the Pentagon a reluctance to use force in regional situations, and a preoccupation with preparation for an increasingly unlikely world war.

Shultz had differences with National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane over the administration's decision to pull US marines out of Lebanon after the catastrophic terrorist bombing of a US Marine barracks.

He had tussles with the triumvirate of James Baker, Michael Deaver, and Edwin Meese, which for some time surrounded President Reagan, so much so that Shultz demanded, and got, a weekly one-on-one with the president to present his undiluted foreign-policy plans and strategy.

Now President Bush will soon be reconciling such differences and nuances of opinion among an extraordinarily talented and opinionated group of foreign-policy advisers: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a tough-minded expert on Russia; Colin Powell, his superstar secretary of State; Donald Rumsfeld, a seasoned bureaucratic infighter who is secretary of Defense; and last but not least, Vice President Dick Cheney, as much at home with foreign policy as with domestic, who seems destined to occupy a kind of prime ministerial role.

Of the many international challenges that confront the Bush team, five seem paramount:

1. Terrorism. The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the destroyer Cole last year, are probably forerunners of other planned attacks on Americans. So far, the attacks have been with conventional explosives. The danger is that they may escalate to the use of chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons.

The culprits are Islamic individuals and groups, and the states that back them, who hate the West, primarily the US. The Bush team must seek better intelligence about their plans, and wrestle with the concept of punitive, anticipatory strikes against them.

In an untidy world there are also maverick, emerging nuclear states, such as Iran and North Korea. Even as President Bush is inaugurated, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein is celebrating a decade of recovery from his defeat at the hands of Mr. Bush's father. The unpredictable behavior of such states lends urgency to the new administration's consideration of a national missile-defense system.

2. Cuba. There is a strong prospect that President Bush's term may encompass the end of the Castro regime in Cuba. How should the Bush administration prepare for it? How ready is it to manage the relationship with the regime that ensues?

3. Middle East. The peace process is in tatters. What can be salvaged? What is the key to bringing moderate Israelis and Palestinians together?

4. Russia. President Putin's popularity for the moment remains high. But can he bring order to chaos at home? How does his recent sidling up to Cuba and China affect Russia's relationship with the US?

5. China. It wants to modernize and emerge as a respectable member of the community of nations, a laudable objective to be encouraged. But its questionable human-rights record, its lack of democratic progress, and its poaching of US military technology pose major challenges for Bush.

Bush's foreign-policy team is made up of strong individuals who will forcefully argue the course of action on such critical issues. But they are seasoned-enough Washington hands to know that it is he who will make the ultimate, tough decisions.

John Hughes, former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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