a Less Intrusive Foreign Policy?
is possible to view events this week as evidence that an administration
that has evinced little passionate interest in foreign policy, assuming
office after a campaign in which foreign policy played almost no
role in the debates or the outcome, could be drawn inexorably into
deeper involvement in some of the many crises around the world.
But it might also be the case that the administration is handling
this week’s events so as to limit its future commitments. It will
be fascinating to see how events play out.
with the media love affair with John McCain’s silly campaign for
campaign finance "reform" in full bloom, foreign visitors
and foreign crises have pushed their way forward to capture at least
some media attention. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have been in town, and a top Chinese
official is due in Thursday. The war in Macedonia/Kosovo is definitely
heating up, and if officials are calling for more NATO forces calls
for more intensive U.S. involvement can hardly be far behind.
ACQUAINTED OR GETTING INVOLVED?
yet, much of the intensive involvement in foreign affairs this week
can also be explained by the fact that President Bush is still relatively
new in office and is bound to undergo a fairly intensive introduction
to the issues and personalities that, for better or worse, any US
president will at least have to know about, whether the US is involved
directly or not. The important thing is whether the get-acquainted
sessions lead to more US involvement or interference.
far, at least, many of the early signals suggest an administration
lacking a fervent desire to increase US involvement or impose U.S.-dictated
outcomes on various conflicts. Whether these early signals will
be followed through consistently is another question.
meeting between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro
Mori amounted to a get-acquainted "grip and grin." Both
leaders murmured reassuring sounds to the effect that their economic
plans will pull their respective countries out of the economic doldrums
any day now.
not like the old days, when most commentators viewed the two countries
as twin economic colossi holding the keys to the world’s economic
future. In some ways a low-key meeting between the United States
and Japan, in which the sufficiency of apologies for a submarine
accident is the main issue on the table even though Mr. Bush was
quick to remind everybody that the two countries produce 40 percent
of the world’s GDP is refreshing.
main reason this was a summit with little drama had to do with Mr.
Mori’s tenuous status in domestic Japanese politics. The prime minister,
as Cato Institute vice president
for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Carpenter told me on
the telephone, is "barely warming the seat" of power in
Japan. Hampered by recent mistakes and gaffes, Mr. Mori has an almost-invisible
8 percent approval rating in the polls and has already announced
that he plans to step down.
Liberal Democratic Party, of which Mr. Mori is at least the titular
leader for now, and which has ruled Japan since the end of World
War II, might even be on the verge of breaking up.
the same time, even though the Bush administration has said that
attention to Japan will be a linchpin of its emerging policies toward
Asia and it was proper protocol to meet with the Japanese leader
before meeting with a Chinese deputy prime minister later this week,
Japan is clearly less important to the United States than once it
was. Its economy has been in the doldrums for more than a decade
even as the US economy has soared (until quite recently). And while
the long-range intentions of the mainland Chinese continue to be
worth pondering, there is no immediate crisis in Asia that seems
to cry out for US attention.
WERE THE DAYS
is almost difficult to remember now those palmy days, 15 years ago
or so, when the Japanese model of government-guided economic growth
was viewed as unbeatable, invincible, and inevitable. Remember when
Americans were worrying about the Japanese buying up American icons?
The Nippon hordes, brimming in through Los Angeles, San Francisco
and Seattle, seemed to some to be on the verge of dominating the
events developed, however, the Japanese model has entrenched so
many special interests with political influence that it has been
virtually impossible to restructure and deregulate the economy,
even as the economy has stagnated for years.
While spokespersons said the leaders and relevant undersecretaries
talked economics intensively, both sides refrained from public lectures,
aside from a prim little reminder from President Bush that Japan
can’t expect to grow out of this crisis through an export-led strategy
(which has been the Japanese way since about the late 1950s). Even
that warning was vague, backed by no agreement or sanctions, and
not included in the oh-so-proper two-page statement the two leaders
released after their meeting.
STAGNANT THAN DECLINING
worth remembering that Japan’s economy has been stagnant rather
than in the kind of downward spiral Russia has experienced. Japan
will continue to be economically important to the United States,
and individual American and Japanese companies will continue to
do business. But the political stakes are not as high as once they
were and maybe that’s not a bad development.
any rate, if the Bush administration does want to reduce American
involvement in Asia, the dicey status of the Mori government gave
it the opportunity either to think about matter a little longer,
or to send signals that even the next Japanese government will have
to muddle through on its own. The meeting was diplomatically proper
but (given that I’m not privy to the private conversations) apparently
devoid of very much substance. Good.
FROM MIDDLE EAST
that Ariel Sharon has joined the head-of-state club and successfully
formed a coalition government as prime minister of Israel, top US
officials including President Bush met with him, spoke cordially
and posed for smiling photographs. But both Secretary of State Colin
Powell and President Bush seemed to be sending signals that the
United States will not be as intensively some might say manically
involved in trying to micromanage the peace process as was the case
toward the end of the Clinton administration.
United States stands ready to assist, not insist" on progress
toward a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement, said
Colin Powell after meeting with Mr. Sharon on Monday. On Tuesday
President Bush told reporters: "I told him [Sharon] that our
nation will not try to force peace, that we will facilitate peace
and we will work with those responsible for peace."
news service called the president’s remarks "a sharp departure
from the US approach under his predecessor." Ted Carpenter
of the Cato Institute told me he gets the impression that most of
the Bush foreign policy team is convinced that former President
Clinton’s intensely personal involvement in negotiations, from Camp
David forward, was a profound mistake, and may even have contributed
to the violence, conflict and killing that have bedeviled the region
for the last six months.
President Bush and Secretary Powell, while echoing Sharon’s call
for an end to violence before serious new negotiations can be expected,
suggested that Israel lift the economic embargo on Palestinian regions
in the West Bank and Gaza that has contributed to economic collapse
and the growth of a sense of hopelessness.
the administration is genuinely determined to scale back direct
US involvement in Israeli-Palestinian issues this is good news.
As former Jerusalem Post United Nations bureau chief Leon
Hadar has argued, with the end of the Cold War the Arab-Israeli
conflict can be said to have been "de-internationalized."
MORE CONSTRUCTIVE ROLE?
United States obviously hopes for a peaceful outcome, but imposing
an outcome is not a core national interest. As the conflict is recognized
as one of many localized ethnic conflicts around the world, the
US will be able to treat it "with a certain benign neglect,"
Mr. Hadar wrote.
the urgency to get credit for a settlement can have advantages.
With a less direct stake in the outcome the United States can be
a more dispassionate, objective observer, closer to an "honest
broker" than it has been in the past. Over the long run, that
might even be a more constructive role for this country.
might be nice to see an American leader disavow any intention to
continue being involved in the Middle East, telling the two scorpions
in the bottle to call when somebody wins or both sides are ready
to acknowledge a stalemate. But these are diplomats and politicians,
and you can expect only so much from the breed. It will be important
to keep watching the Bushies and to remember that in conflicts ranging
from Iraq to Colombia they have not yet shown evidence of having
salutary second thoughts.
for this week, with these issues, they haven’t done badly.
contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's
out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets
on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism.
Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325