February 2, 2005
George W. Bush was sworn in as president in 2001 with no intention of focusing on foreign policy. The second inauguration of George W. Bush on January 20 was quite the reverse. In his inaugural speech, he laid out one of the most expansive manifestos ever offered from an inaugural platform as he dedicated his presidency to spreading democracy and freedom. He portrayed the US as a beacon for the subjugated and promised to confrontdespots who enchain them. The catalyst for this about-face in foreign policy, of course, was 9/11 and the subsequent Global War on Terrorism.
It was the military activity in Afghanistan and then Iraq that provided an opportunity for Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to assume the dominant role in the fight against terrorism, America’s major foreign policy engagement. In this, he was ably assisted by Paul Wolfowitz, his brilliant deputy secretary who is the intellectual father of the notion of pre-emptive military action that was employed against Saddam Hussein, and by Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defence policy. Vice President Richard Cheney’s support for Rumsfeld guaranteed the victory of Rumsfeld and the Department of Defence against the Department of State headed by Colin Powell, in the bureaucratic battle for control of Iraq policy. The Defence Department’s preeminence was revealed when it asserted control over the postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
The botched reconstruction efforts, the emergence of Iraq as a centre of terrorist activity and the continuous killing of American soldiers in Iraq have not been held against Rumsfeld and his team. Not only was he asked to continue in office soon after Bush’s November 2 victory. his chief deputies, Wolfowitz and Feith, appear to be remaining in place as well. Given the Bush campaign’s refusal to admit any mistakes in Iraq, it was inevitable that the Pentagon leadership that managed US policy in Iraq would remain. Any other course would have reflected badly on the administration’s policy line. Powell, however, was expendable and he was not invited to stay on. His loyal deputy, Richard Armitage, too has left. Armitage had played a major role in the US formulation of policy toward South Asia that witnessed the effective end of nuclear related sanctions on India and Pakistan, the revival of military ties with the two countries that was shaped by larger counter-terrorism objectives, and US efforts to reduce tensions between them.
Taking Powell’s place will be Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security advisor during his first term. Looming foreign policy challenges such as nuclear weapons programmes in Iran and North Korea, the Palestinian issue, and a post-election Iraq will test her bureaucratic skills against rivals, especially in the Department of Defence, and will determine how effectively she can rebuild international alliances to address these issues. At least on the bureaucratic politics, Rice has several advantages over her predecessor: she is personally close to the president; she goes into her job with a wealth of knowledge about the issues and the complicated bureaucratic policy formulation process; her loyal deputy at the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley, has been appointed her successor.
At her January 18-19 confirmation hearings, Rice said the State Department would be the “primary instrument” of foreign relations. She stressed the importance of alliances in fighting the war on terror and encouraging the spread of democracy and asserted that the “time for diplomacy is now.” She made specific reference to the creation of an office at the Department to handle reconstruction in crisis situations, a not-so-subtle reminder that State will not abdicate this traditional diplomatic responsibility to the Department of Defence, as it was forced to do two years earlier. Her initial appointments suggest the continuation of a non-ideological approach to issues at the State Department. Her first personnel action was the choice of a deputy and she selected Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative and a moderate, an appointment that also points to a more focused approach to economic issues. Bush gave his personal blessing to this team, stating in their presence that the two “will form one of the really strong, capable foreign policy teams our country has ever had.” Rice bypassed John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, a hardline ideologue who is widely believed to have lobbied for the position. Bolton’s likely replacement is Robert G. Joseph, who worked closely with Rice on non- proliferation issues at the NSC. These appointments would represent a victory for foreign policy realists in the Republican Party over neo-conservatives who dominated foreign policy in Bush’s first term. The pragmatic thrust will be further strengthened by the likely appointment of NATO Ambassador Nicholas Burns, a skilled negotiator and career diplomat, in the number three position at State, the under secretary for political affairs. Informed opinion in Washington predicts that most assistant secretaries in charge of the regional and functional bureaus at the State Department will be her appointees and not ideologues thrust on the Department to curb dissent, as was once widely rumoured would be the case.
Regarding South Asia, Rice has an opportunity to build a strategic relationship with India, a stated US goal that has lacked momentum, in part due to the focus on Iraq. A tentative start was taken in the decision to work closely with key Asian powers of India, Japan and Australia on tsunami relief. While this coordinating function was turned over to the UN, it is a sound model. These are democracies with no expansionist ambitions and share the fundamental security views of the US. The president in his inaugural address dedicated his second term to the spread of democracy and the curbing of tyranny. A good place to begin is to seek the cooperation of the world’s largest democracy, India. Key to this happening will be the appointment of a forceful and politically well-connected assistant secretary for South Asia.
The writer is associate director, South Asia Studies Programme, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
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