On foreign policy, how bold will Bush II be?
White House goals may be chastened by Iraq, but new challenges also loom in Iran and North Korea.
WASHINGTON — On the heels of a campaign that hinged like few before it on foreign policy and national security, President Bush must now determine if the "Bush revolution" in foreign policy is to be pursued with vigor - or scaled back.
With his decisions in coming days and weeks on key foreign policy appointments for a second term, on Iraq, and on such pressing issues as Iran and North Korea, Mr. Bush will begin to send the signals.
The president Thursday said he'd made no decisions about appointments, but emphasized that promoting freedom will be part of his foreign policy, even in the face of those who disagree with such interventionist action. "This adminstration's faith in freedom to change people's habits ... will be central to my foreign policy," Bush said at a press conference. He also emphasized having "the will of the people" at his back in foreign policy.
Indeed, the aura of a clear-cut victory could tempt him to continue on a path of unsheathed American power and uncompromised pursuit of preeminence. On the other hand, a traditional second-term attention to legacy, the bruises of a divisive campaign, and a rendezvous with the limits to US power could prompt a reorientation to a less aggressive global profile.
"On the one hand is the theory that, chastened by the experience of Iraq, the second administration will be much more restrained and will resemble the traditional Republican foreign polices of years past," says Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.
"Then there's the opposite view," he adds, "that the president and his neoconservative advisers will be emboldened to interpret this election as a mandate and will be even more aggressive about pursuing their goals. And I happen to subscribe to the latter."
Some experts believe a battle could break out within the GOP over foreign policy if Bush suggests, especially by key appointments for a second term, that he is set on pursuing preemptive strikes, unilateral projection of power, and ad-hoc alliances over institutionalized pacts.
"I see an internal struggle for the [Republican] party over the next couple of months between the neoconservatives and the realists, because both wings supported the president, and people will want something for their loyalty," says John Hulsman, a foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "It's an inside-the-Beltway battle that actually matters to the rest of the world."
Others say such a battle would have been guaranteed had the president lost, but will now be muted, and will depend on staffing decisions and directions on matters like nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
"If there'd been a Republican defeat, we would have seen an attempt by what I'd call the realists in foreign policy matters to retake the ground captured by the neocons in the first term," says Geoffrey Kemp, a former national security adviser to President Reagan now at the Nixon Center in Washington.
Still, he adds, "It depends on how Bush handles the next month or so. [Such a battle] is a lot less likely if he does things like take that period to reach out to people like Brent Scowcroft." The first President Bush's national security adviser, Mr. Scowcroft warned publicly of the pitfalls of invading Iraq and has more recently been critical of the Bush administration's close relationship with Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon.
Much speculation centers on the futures of Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as key clues to the direction the second term will take. Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld embodied the tension throughout the first term - but especially after 9/11 - between prioritizing diplomacy and relegating it to a back seat in the Pentagon.
On Iraq, Mr. Powell tried to rally the world to the US position, most notably with a UN appearance, but largely failed, and saw the State Department initially shut out of a postwar role. Rumsfeld put meat on Bush's "with us or against us" stance, dividing Europe into "new" and "old," and gathering much of his "new Europe" under the American wing in Iraq.
Most insiders and Powell associates assume that Powell prefers to leave office, but may be reluctant to do so if Rumsfeld is not leaving, too. That leads some to speculate that he may stay on for a short time to avoid looking as if he is leaving foreign policy to an ascendant neoconservative influence.
But some analysts say the key indicator will be what happens to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is considered the architect of the Iraq invasion and principal promoter of the Bush drive to reform the Middle East.
"Wolfowitz is the bellwether to watch because he's the personification of the Iraq policy and so much of what this administration has done in the neocon vision," says Heritage's Mr. Hulsman. "If Wolfowitz is promoted, it's a pretty good sign that it's full steam ahead."
Wolfowitz would likely face stiff resistance from both parties if nominated to a position requiring Senate confirmation, some analysts say, so they assume that, were he to move, he might go to the White House and the National Security Council.
Cato's Mr. Carpenter says one reason he believes Bush will keep US foreign policy on a muscular course is that people like Wolfowitz, who were on watch when policies went badly, have not been held accountable and made to resign.
"The president had ample opportunity to purge the administration of people who had a hand the Iraq debacle, but not a single one is gone," Carpenter says.
Iran is likely to be key indicator of either a confrontational or internationalist, conciliatory road. Will he attempt to shore up European efforts to negotiate some settlement on Iran's nuclear program - or press, as some hawks advocate, for a blockade or military strikes?
Some who have worked inside the administration say Iran provides the second Bush administration with an opportunity to demonstrate that it has overcome first-term internal differences on key issues.
"One of the first national security meetings of the first term was on Iran, and they could never agree," says Jon Alterman, who was on the State Department's policy-planning staff early in the first administration and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Iran could be the harbinger of the administration actually uniting on something that can no longer be avoided."
One problem hampering unity in the first term was a White House perception that some State Department officials forgot that their job is "working for the president's policy, and not against it," he says. Beyond that, he says a second term will have a more coherent policy if more appointees share Bush's perspective that reform in the Middle East is a moral imperative, rather than explaining it away as just a political agenda. [Editor's note: In the original version, the last paragraph incorrectly paraphrased Alterman.]