Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Bush scores well on India and China, less so for Iran, N. Korea

Other key foreign-policy moves include his decision to boost aid for fighting AIDS in Africa.

By / January 15, 2009

Portentous shortfall: nukes

Skip to next paragraph

North Korea's development – and detonation – of a crude nuclear bomb in October 2006 may rank as the most portentous foreign-policy shortfall of the Bush administration and, arguably, the Western world. An inability to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions would not be far behind.

Conservatives like John Bolton, a former Bush diplomat, say US timidity let Pyongyang and Tehran make dangerous progress. Even foreign-policy traditionalists say President Bush's post-9/11 "we-don't-talk-with-evildoers" approach gave the two regimes an incentive to develop their nuclear programs.

In Mr. Bush's second term in particular, he looked to other nations to take the lead on nuclear nonproliferation, encouraging China to assume greater international responsibility and host multiparty talks on North Korea's program. He also agreed that the Europeans should be chief negotiators with Iran. So far, these diplomatic strings have yielded a yo-yo of ups and downs and UN resolutions of uncertain effect, especially on Iran's actions.

"On Iran, [Bush officials] wasted too much time focused on regime change in the first term, when I think a deal could have been done, and then they couldn't get their act together on what to do after they gave that up," says Joseph Nye, an international relations specialist at Harvard. "As a result, Obama comes in to find Iran is a lot closer to having the materials and technology it needs for a nuclear weapon."

A mixed record on managing big-power relations

President Bush garners widely positive reviews for his management of relations with two rising global powers – China and India – but encounters criticism for his direction on US-Russian relations.

In particular, many experts praise him for resisting pressure from foreign-policy hawks to adopt a more confrontational stance toward China. Others highlight last year's watershed nuclear cooperation agreement with India and predict that it will come to be seen as a cornerstone of Mr. Bush's foreign-policy legacy.