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A YEAR AFTER

U.S. Foreign Policy Assertive, Divisive

Strategy: The terrorist attack shook the White House's thinking on military involvement overseas and gave rise to the 'Bush Doctrine.'

September 01, 2002|DOYLE McMANUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — When George W. Bush arrived at the White House in January 2001, his foreign policy goals appeared modest. The main international plank of Bush's presidential campaign was a promise to restrain U.S. military intervention in conflicts overseas, not expand it.

But 19 months and one terrorist attack later, Bush's response to the challenge of Al Qaeda has expanded into an ambitious and controversial vision for a more assertive foreign policy on a global scale.

Already being called the "Bush Doctrine," the new policy--to be outlined formally in a report to Congress this fall--declares the United States ready to launch preemptive attacks on hostile countries that deploy nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, with Iraq the most likely target.

Equally important, Bush aides say his "National Security Strategy" report will range far beyond Iraq to chart a broad global role for the United States, including calls for more cooperation with Russia and China, more military aid to countries battling terrorists, and more economic aid to poor nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Not surprisingly, the call for military strikes against Iraq has become a lightning rod for controversy. But the administration's broader argument--that the fight against terrorism provides the core of a new U.S. strategy for what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell calls the "post-post-Cold War era"--has also sparked debate.

Some are ready to applaud. "It's a pretty sweeping set of ideas, but I think it's feasible," said John Lewis Gaddis, a foreign policy scholar at Yale University. "There's a degree of coherence that we haven't seen for a long time. You didn't see it in the previous administration, and you didn't see it in the first months of this administration."

Others are less enthusiastic, warning that the new policy, far from sparking cooperation with other great powers, is causing unnecessary friction.

"I don't think it works," said John J. Mearsheimer, a theorist of international relations at the University of Chicago. "Their point that dealing with terrorism becomes the focus of foreign policy for all the great powers, I don't believe that. It's not the focus for Russia; it's not the focus for China. Even the Europeans think we're obsessed."

But most analysts agree that the new doctrine reflects a major shift in thinking for a president who came to office with only a few foreign policy ambitions--mainly to reduce U.S. peacekeeping commitments abroad and deploy anti-missile defenses at home.

What changed Bush's focus? The terrorist attack of Sept. 11.

Sept. 11 was "an earthquake," said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, in an interview. "It was such an earthquake that it began almost immediately to move things around--to the point that you could say there are new dangers here, but there are also some new opportunities."

Among the opportunities, she said, is the hope that the United States, Europe, Russia, China and Japan can find common ground in a joint struggle against terrorism. "For the first time in international history, it's probable that you won't have great power rivalry--and that's a big deal," she said.

On that front, though, the results have been mixed.

Last fall, when the issue was the threat of terrorism from Al Qaeda, other nations quickly rallied to the U.S. side. Rice recalled that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told Bush at one meeting: "You understand that you cannot afford to lose--because if you lose, we're all done for."

But more recently, as Bush has expanded his doctrine to focus on hostile countries with weapons of mass destruction--in his words, the "axis of evil" of Iraq, Iran and North Korea--the only ally to offer open support has been Britain's Tony Blair.

Asked why there hasn't been more public support from other countries, an official replied almost testily: "Because nobody's been asked."

Even within the administration there has been division over exactly what the Bush Doctrine requires. Aides say there is a consensus that the combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction poses a clear and present danger, and that overthrowing Iraq's Saddam Hussein must be a U.S. goal. But how to get there, and how fast, is still being debated.

Bush gave a preview of the strategy at West Point's graduation ceremony in June, when he argued that countries such as Iraq are too dangerous to be "contained."

"Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend," the president argued. "Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."

As a result, Bush said, Americans must "be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."

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