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Recent U. S. Foreign Policy How far and to what cost militarily to pursue human rights and idealism in the name of democracy and justice; how far to pursue self-interest in the name of power, advantage, and security, were to be challenges of foreign policy and decision faced by presidents Ronald Reagan in El Salvador, Grenada, Lebanon, and Nicaragua; by George Bush in Panama and the Gulf War; by Bill Clinton in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo; buy George Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, the American president closest to the Democrat Wilson in his crusading moralist and trumpeting of Americas divine mission was the Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980 s. In language that could have been Wilsons, Reagan pledged the United States to an ideological crusade against the USSR and communism, which he saw as the focus of evil in the modern world. His New Patriotism brought together impulses with which Wilson would have been entirely comfortable.
Among national security and balance-of-power considerations, it was an amalgam of evangelical, born-again Christianity and older precepts of Manifest Destiny, which Reagan would wield as a righteous weapon in the global struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. The end of the Cold War did not lead to any rejoicing in Washington. There were no victory speeches, celebrations, or medals. A certain justified, quiet satisfaction was apparent, but President George H. W. Bush rightly held that there was no need to rub Soviet faces in the mud, particularly as there were many daunting problems to overcome, including the reunification of Germany and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Even if there were to be no more major wars, there were numerous smaller wars that posed difficult choices for the US. One of the problems Bush faced was a reduced budget to buttress his foreign policy efforts. Largely as a result of the massive arms expenditure during the Reagan years (1981 - 9), the US had moved from being a creditor nation to being the largest debtor nation in the world. As the treasury coffers were empty, albeit not for the Pentagon, Bush could not offer the new emerging democracies in Eastern Europe anything like the Marshall Plan that had benefited Western Europe after 1945.
Nearly all US assistance in the early 1990 s was directed to Israel and Egypt plus the small countries of Central America. Bush rejected the idea that the US should become the worlds policeman but in the wake of the Cold War, as the only remaining superpower, it is our responsibility - it is our opportunity - to lead. This vision of a new world order had echoes of Wilson's idealism but Bush did not maintain his grandiose rhetoric for long. His administration was faced with numerous pressing problems including the break up of the Soviet Union, the unification of Germany (a task it managed with considerable skill), a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia, and the tragedy of Yugoslavia. The break-up of the Soviet Union was a major headache for the US as there were around 30, 000 nuclear weapons spread around the constituent republics of the former communist superpower. It became a top priority to ensure that these weapons remained under safe control.
Washington helped Moscow financially to secure the return of these weapons to Russian territory and their eventual destruction. Despite having won a spectacular victory in the Gulf War that demonstrated US military dominance, Bush was reluctant to become involved in the Balkans. 1992 was an election year and Bush, already under attack by his Democratic rival, Bill Clinton, for spending too much time on foreign policy, was not willing to commit American troops in a precarious situation. The sudden collapse of communism and the swift success of Operation Desert Storm raised a number of questions about America's post-Cold War role. Would the US be willing to continue playing the role of world cop or sheriff? If so, would it continue to adopt a selective approach?
What should be the criteria for intervention? During his four years in office, President Bush managed a huge and complex agenda of difficult foreign policy issues with a sure touch. He found it difficult, however, to explain the changed international environment to the American public and did little to transform the US military and intelligence communities to deal with the changed world. Although his preoccupation with foreign policy may have cost him re-election, his defeat in 1992 ultimately led to his son occupying the White House eight years later. Foreign policy played little or no role in the 1992 election apart from Bill Clintons criticism of President Bush for paying too much attention to foreign as opposed to domestic policy.
Clinton's informal campaign slogan was It's the Economy - Stupid. Clinton had also sniped at the Republicans for failing to do more on the human rights front in China and in the Balkans but in reality there were no major foreign policy differences between Clinton and Bush. Perhaps as a sign of the public's lack of interest in foreign affairs, neither candidate was prepared to launch a national debate on what role the US should play in the post-Cold War world. There were, however, numerous foreign policy challenges awaiting Clinton, including the spreading conflict in the Balkans, the economic collapse in Russia, the breakdown of law and order in Haiti, several rogue states attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction and rising tension in the Middle East. Clinton seemed to recognize that he was heading into uncharted waters. In his inaugural address in January 1993 he stated that not since the late 1940 s has our nation faced the challenge of shaping an entirely new foreign policy for a world that has fundamentally changed.
Clintons administrations three primary policy objectives were promoting democracy, promoting prosperity, and enhancing security. Enlargement of the world's free communities of market democracies was the stated rationale for the Clinton administrations global posture. Given the fragility of emerging markets and democracies in Russia, Asia, and Latin America, especially during the late 1990 s, the theme lost some of its appeal, only to make a strong comeback toward the end of the Clinton presidency. The Presidents apparent lack of interest in foreign affairs caused some apprehension with Americas allies in Europe and Asia. To Asians, Clinton seemed preoccupied with NATO and Russia. To Europeans, however, Clinton seemed obsessed with correcting trade imbalances and opening markets in Asia.
Despite his emphasis on domestic policy, Clinton soon found that there was no escape from the world outside. In contrast to previous presidents Reagan and Bush, Clinton sought to increase the economic dimension of Americas foreign policy and gave top priority to the negotiation of new trade deals, opening new markets for American business and encouraging Americans to take advantage of globalization. In Clintons view, the US was like a large corporation competing in the global market place. Clinton upgraded the importance of trade and economics in foreign policy and arguably succeeded in his aim of promoting market democracies around the world. He was always mindful of domestic opinion and would often consult focus groups before taking decisions. Bush's administration in 2001 was determined to set its foreign policy in opposition to the course charted by the Clinton administration.
There was little evidence of support for multilateral institutions or global engagement. The debate and criticisms of American foreign policy ceased abruptly on 11 September 2001, the day of the tragic terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As Bush and Powell prepared to assemble an international coalition to fight terrorism, the President's father, George H. W.
Bush, called for an end to unilateralism. There was little sign; however, that Bush seniors remarks were taken to heart by his son or his sons foreign policy advisers. By early 2002 there was no evidence of changed US views on the Kyoto Protocol, the ICC, CTBT or other arms control treaties. A fortnight after the attacks, Colin Powell said that the US would not let terrorism hijack American foreign policy. The US would continue to pursue a full international agenda. But it was clear that foreign policy henceforth would be conducted through a new prism.
According to the President, the US would assess each country on the basis of whether it was with the US or against it in fighting international terrorism. The current Bush's administration shows many similarities to the Reagan period. U. S. exceptionalism, for example, contributed to the pronounced pique directed mainly against France for opposing the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein. In Washington there was deep resentment against Paris for having the audacity to lead the opposition against what the U.
S. desired. Bush's evident tendency to see himself and the U. S. as on the side of the angels against the butcher of Baghdad was reminiscent of President Reagan's speech about the Soviet Union as an evil empire. These moralistic inclinations are historically grounded in the U.
S. self-image of an exceptionally good nation that is inherently worthy of support by all right-thinking persons. Bush's foreign policy was aimed at making America unchallenged in aspects of power. Reagan and George W. Bush came into office with an intuitive commitment to U. S.
exceptionalism, it is still the case that they did not display a carefully considered position on whether this type of nationalism could or should be combined with unilateralism or multilateralism, or with the more optimistic liberalism or the more pessimistic realism. Clintons administration considered strong economy to be the key in American foreign policy. If one looks back at American history, it is not surprising that the US struggled to find a set of guiding principles for its foreign policy after the end of the Cold War. The differences and debates that may be observed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as regards idealism v. realism, unilateralism v. multilateralism, are still on display today and it is unlikely that they will be resolved quickly even in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
All three post-Cold War Presidents found it difficult to articulate a new strategy for the US. All were ready to intervene overseas to protect American interests. George H. W. Bush ensured public support for the Gulf War by linking it to American oil interests. Clinton was also ready to use military force, albeit reluctantly, for a mixture of motives, including humanitarian purposes.
Clinton and George W. Bush differed in their approach toward multilateral institutions but the differences narrowed somewhat in the wake of the terrorist attacks and the need to secure international support to combat the terrorist threat. Bibliography: Minkenberg, Michael. The American Impasse: U. S. Domestic and Foreign Policy after the Cold War.
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.
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