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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

The World Casts a Critical Eye on Bush's Style of Diplomacy

Second of two parts

March 03, 2003|Doyle McManus | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way," George W. Bush said during his 2000 presidential campaign. "But if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us."

Little more than two years later, the world's verdict on President Bush's diplomacy is split -- between critics who see it as arrogant and allies who support its goals but sometimes wonder where the "humble" went.

The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and China, all nations Bush hoped to count as allies in the confrontation with Iraq, have joined to resist the president's drive toward war, with complaints over what they see as American highhandedness.

Even staunch allies such as prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain have sent word to Bush that some U.S. bravado -- like Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissal of "Old Europe" -- has done more harm than good.

And a few senior Republicans, like Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Charles Hagel of Nebraska, have warned that the Bush administration's take-no-prisoners style risks alienating allies it needs in the long run.

"In an era when allied cooperation is essential in the war against terrorism, we cannot afford to shrug off negative public opinion overseas as uninformed or irrelevant," Lugar said at a hearing last week. "The governments of most nations respond to public opinion, whether it is demonstrated in the voting booths or in the streets."

"The responsibility of leadership is to persuade, not to impugn the motives of those who disagree with you," Hagel said. The administration is "seen as bullying people. You can't do that to democracies. You can't do that to partners and allies. It just isn't going to work."

Bush and his aides, not surprisingly, push back.

"What you have here is a president who is willing to point out what's right and wrong, maybe sometimes undiplomatically," said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some administration officials privately acknowledge that the critics may have a point -- at least on the question of style. And Rumsfeld, without acknowledging any error, took pains to soften his acerbic comments on Europe after British officials complained.

But beneath the flap over a few ill-chosen words lie deeper, more difficult questions: Should the world's only superpower adjust its goals and strategies at the behest of weaker allies? And is Bush likely to do so?

When Bush arrived at the White House in 2001, many Europeans assumed that he would turn out, in foreign policy terms, to be his father's son: a cautious consensus-builder with great-power relationships at the center of his strategy.

In retrospect, they may have missed signs that Bush's diplomacy would more closely resemble that of Ronald Reagan: assertive, sometimes impatient with more cautious allies, and prone to divide the world into good and evil camps.

The new president's willingness to override traditional partners surfaced early: Bush surprised his first major foreign visitor, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, by announcing that he did not intend to resume talks with North Korea, discussions that Kim saw as important for his own efforts to open ties with the North.

In short order, the new administration also announced that it intended to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, that it would not agree to a newly completed agreement on biological weapons and that it planned to scrap the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty prohibiting most long-range missile defenses.

None of those decisions was a surprise; all stemmed logically from conservative foreign policy principles that Bush and his aides had outlined in the campaign.

The ABM treaty, for example, would have blocked the missile defense program that was the centerpiece of Bush's military strategy. And the Kyoto treaty had already been dead in the Senate for three years.

Still, many U.S. allies reacted with dismay. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said he believed that the ABM decision was a mistake, but he added that he had little choice but to accept it. On global warming, allies said they hoped the United States would come up with an alternative approach to solving the problem; almost two years later, the administration has yet to do so.

All that was before the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terrorism -- a global effort that both rallied a vast coalition to Bush's side and gave the president a new sense of mission.

"You've probably learned by now, I don't believe there's many shades of gray in this war," Bush said last year. "You're either with us or against us. You're either evil, or you're good."

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