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Bush’s Foreign Policy--Should America Go It Alone?

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. In recent months, some highly publicized European views about President Bush’s foreign policy and about America have ranged from skepticism to outright opposition. Europeans espousing such views have been angered by Bush’s dismissal of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty and shaken by his proposal for an American nuclear missile defense system. These European critics claim that America is a hegemonic hyperpower and aiming to go it alone, but the end of the Cold War has brought about a new world order. The United States is the predominate power and no one yet knows quite what to do about it. To discuss the issue, Think Tank is joined by three experts: Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and author of a recent article in The Weekly Standard entitled, The Bush Doctrine: ABM, Kyoto and the New American Unilateralism. Robin Niblett, Executive Vice President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-author of Rethinking European Order: Western European Responses 1989-1997 and Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow and Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and co-author of Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense. The topic before the house: Should America go it alone? This week on Think Tank.

For new American presidents, it seems as if disdain among European elites has become a rite of passage. In 1953, Europeans were appalled by President Eisenhower’s so-called brinkmanship with a nuclear-tipped Soviet Union. They were alarmed by President Kennedy’s bear any burden inaugural address in 1961 and horrified two decades later when a hawkish Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan moved into the White House. What is new now is that the 45-year face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union has come to an end. The Europeans no longer want to be seen as strategic subordinates between two competing superpowers. They want to be recognized as equal partners, perhaps, as a superpower himself or herself under the banner of the European Union. The question now is where does the American/European relationship go from here?

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Charles Krauthammer, let us begin with the Krauthammer doctrine, or as you call it, the Bush doctrine, a very controversial article recently in The Weekly Standard, what was it about?

MR. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think as you said, we live in a new world, and I don’t think we have a foreign policy or we have had a foreign policy for the last decade that reflects that new world. We no longer have to be constrained by thinking about what Moscow worries about or wants us to do. Russia is neither an enemy nor a superpower. It leaves us in the position as you indicated of being a hyper-power. It’s a situation so unusual that I don’t think we have actually thought it threw and I would argue that we ought to think it through and see ourselves as we are, the protectors of the idea of liberty and of the country’s—democracies who espouse it and that means not allowing ourselves to be constrained by obsolete treaties as the ABM Treaty is or by idiotic treaties if I may say like the Kyoto Protocol. And when we find ourselves in this situation where we are constrained, we ought to say we will not allow ourselves to be and if we have to, to act unilaterally.

MR. WATTENBERG: Unilaterally meaning do we want to—

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: On our own.

MR. WATTENBERG: Robin, what’s your problem with that?

MR. ROBIN NIBLETT: I think the description of it, as a unipolar world in contrast to the bipolar world clearly is an accurate one. What I would caution, I suppose, is—

MR. WATTENBERG: Unipolar meaning—

MR. NIBLETT: One power—

MR. WATTENBERG: In the target, we’re number one—

MR. NIBLETT: The United States is number one and clearly so and stands in that position way above everybody else. My first comment on that would be it is a dynamic situation. Unipolarity is not a natural state of being that’s going to continue over time and the first thing that I’d be concerned about if I was a unipolar power is how are people going to gang up against you in that situation.


MR. MICHAEL O’HANLON: I think you have to think in terms of specific problems. For example, let me just raise the idea of Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon. If Saddam has a nuclear weapon someday and a missile to go along with it, I think Charles is a hundred percent right. We have to have a missile defense against that capability, regardless of what other countries say, but to stop Saddam from getting that nuclear weapon in the first place and the missile to go along with it, which is clearly the preferable way to go, you need international cooperation, because you need other countries not to proliferate technology to go along with sanctions. So it depends on the problem. In every case, we are the leader, but in some cases, unilateralism will work in some cases, it just simply won’t work.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: If I make two points. One is, for eight years under the Clinton administration, we were not unilateral, we were very multilateral. Our signing of the Kyoto Protocol is an example of that and yet, we got no cooperation from a lot of these countries. So it’s not as if the Bush administration with its unilateralism has provoked all of this stuff.

Secondly, on the issue of creating—a ganging up against us which, you know, has been the history whenever you had a hegemon, you get an anti-hegemonic coalition, it hasn’t happened in this case, which is extremely unusual. And the reason is, that American hegemony is unique in history. We are not interested in territory or conquest. We are a benign hyperpower and it’s not a form of boasting if you ask countries in the Pacific Rim about American navy or protection, they aren’t afraid of us. They want us, because they understand that.

MR. WATTENBERG: Do Europeans regard it as boasting when we say, I mean, again, popularly we’re number one? Does that fry the Europeans?

MR. NIBLETT: I think the boasting obviously irritates and annoys the Europeans, but another level certainly amongst the political elite, it couldn’t be better for them, because it acts as a unifying force amongst various European countries who normally probably would not be able to agree on a number of foreign policy issues.

MR. WATTENBERG: But you—did use the word, elites. Are those European elites talking for their voters? I mean, there voted 80 percent of the movie admissions in the continent of Europe go to American movies. So, who are they talking for?

MR. NIBLETT: I think they’re talking—they’re talking partly for themselves clearly and I think there is a division in Europe that’s been commented upon a lot. On the other hand, I think that at a deeper level, governments do represent a fair commonality of views and I’d say the Kyoto Protocol, it was remarkable the popular opposition to the Bush position on that area.

MR. WATTENBERG: How come if it was so popular, none of those countries approved it?

MR. NIBLETT: They haven’t ratified it yet. I think what’s interesting is that following his visit; they’ve now pledged to ratify the Kyoto Protocol within the next 12 months.

MR. WATTENBERG: But they haven’t done it yet.

MR. O’HANLON: An interesting point, Ben, on Kyoto is the Bush administration, I think, has recognized their style was wrong, even if their substance was right. You don’t go out and just take on a cherished symbol. You criticize on the merits, I think, on the way Charles has and the way others have, that this treaty does not make a whole lot of sense. It’s not likely to be that effective.

MR. WATTENBERG: Your view.

MR. O’ HANLON: That is my view, although I’m a little concerned about the dismissive attitude. I think we have to get serious about limiting CO2 production, but I think the Bush administration learned, even if we are right on the merits, be more careful about the diplomacy. This administration has proven it can learn from its mistakes, because the way it handled Kyoto was not that wise, even if it was right on the merits.

MR. WATTENBERG: I would agree—

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: I agree with Michael on that and I’ve argued in this article and in others that if you’re going to be unilateral, you’ve got to disguise it and be polite and I think it was a very good thing that when the president was actually asked in Europe, are you a unilateralist? He denied it. A good unilateralist has to deny it. If you look it, in fact, what happened he didn’t flinch. He didn’t cave. He held tough on Kyoto. He held tough on ABM. And he was, I think, polite and nice about it, which is, I think, the way you’ve got to do it.

MR. NIBLETT: What Bush is doing which I think one has to give him—his administration credit for is saying, the world has changed. For ten years after the end of the Cold War, the world has been continuing on with its old habits, its old alliances, its old assumptions. We need a new concept, a new way of looking at defense, economic integration, and all types of issues. And being bold in that sense, is something that I think Europeans look to the United States for to lead with the ideas.

MR. WATTENBERG: They look for America to lead. On the other hand, America is the one nation that can be self-sufficient and autarchic and can say that we will go it alone, if we want to. So consequently, we’re going to have a very different view or may have a very different view about this issue. I mean, Pat Buchanan used it as buzzword of sovereignty.

MR. NIBLETT: What you’ve got to watch out for because it will be interesting is the extent to which the European Union, that collection of European countries that are integrated at the moment, start to take on some of the characteristics of the United States, so as long as those countries were divided and split in separate countries, separate markets, separate defense capabilities, in essence, America can play divine rule and did it very effectively and divide and lead you might call it.

But to the extent that the Euro has started to emerge, the currency—the single currencies emerging is creating a new, in essence, an ability for the European Union to be a little bit more protected from the international economy, much the way the United States is. And similarly within the foreign policy realm, you’re finding a greater desire, partly in reaction to the United States, to be able to stand together on particular issues. So you’re going to develop, I think, over time, a greater desire for autarchy and a capability to exercise it by the Europeans and will make it more similar to the United States. That means greater confrontation.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: I doubt that’ll actually happen. The Europeans are all cutting their defense budgets. Countries that are cutting it are not going to produce an independent military force in the world. I think it’s a real test of the European unity in resolve and I think it’ll fail.

And secondly what you have is a free rider problem. As the superpower, we provide a lot of stuff and protection. Open seas, open trade at great cost to the United States. Our defense spending is huge and I think as part of that, the American public is not going to accept those costs, unless we have in return a kind of a freedom of action.

MR. WATTENBERG: Robin, your saying one of the problems with this—with Charles’ view is that it’s pushing the Europeans together, but the American policy for 50 years has been to favor European unification.

MR. NIBLETT: But there’s real ambivalence, as you know. There is a—let’s have Europe together, free market, democratic, stable. These are all things that are in the U.S. interest, clearly, as one of the most important export markets and clearly in the European interest as well. There’s a great ambivalence of that leadership and the leadership is you didn’t really matter in the days of the Cold War, when, in essence, one had to come to agreement in the end and the Europeans depend on the United States ultimately for that protectorship.

Today, things are somewhat different. Just 5-6 years ago, people were talking about the collapse of the United States and how it was falling behind Japan.

MR. WATTENBERG: Can you think of any nation that is in second place? Maybe you could say China, but China—that’s two, three, four decades off. It’s still an underdeveloped country. I mean—in the immediate term and the intermediate term, let’s say 30 years. Is there a plausible threat to America?

MR. O’HANLON: No. There is no plausible threat and if there is going to be one, I think you have to look at China as an entity and the European Union as an entity and even with each of those as I think you just suggested, there are real constraints in certain areas of action for either one.

So one country by itself, no, there is no serious competitor in the short term across the board.

MR. WATTENBERG: As the sole surviving superpower with as Charles say, an ideology which we are trying to promote with some success, democratic values, market economics, human liberty, are we as a government doing a good job of promoting that? I mean, I noted that during the Clinton administration, they for some picayune budgetary razzmatazz within the State Department, they did away with the United States Information Agency or USIS as it was called overseas, the United States Information Service. I mean—I was just thinking about it in terms of Bush’s recent trip and the old days, the USIS staff members at the American—at the various American embassies and consulates around the world had the contacts with the press, would have been all over these people saying, you got it wrong about what he really thinks about Kyoto and here is what America’s really like on the death penalty. You didn’t have any of that—you had very little of it.

MR. NIBLETT: And you wouldn’t have had a very receptive audience to it either. I mean, it’s quite pressed itself, it sells great coffee—

MR. WATTENBERG: To call Bush---

MR. NIBLETT: Everybody wants to hear that in Europe to a certain extent.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: But as you indicated, how new is that? They’ve been really queuing American presidents all the way to Eisenhower, who incidentally, liberated them.

MR. NIBLETT: In essence, you have a different viewpoint and different conceptual outlook right now and what was fascinating certainly about the Clinton administration, was there was a time, really an exceptional time, where you had almost all of Europe led by left wing governments, led by labor or socialist or Christian—sort of democratic in the sense of the left parties. All of whom thought they had a kind of third way commonality with Bill Clinton, who spend a long time out there, sharing time with them, talking with them, discussing with them. They were comfortable with that set up and it’s been quite a rude awakening to suddenly return, in essence, to a set up where you have a leader who has radically different views to the bulk of the leaders right now in Europe.

MR. WATTENBERG: At the same time, there is this fear by those same elites in Europe and around the world I must say of this phenomenon of Americanization. No one is forcing people to go to American movies. No one is forcing people to listen to American music. No one is forcing people to try to emigrate to the United States. No one is forcing that we ought to go toward a market economy. So is it—are these leaders, European, Asian, who are resisting this Americanization? Is it they who are out of touch with their own people?

MR. O’ HANLON: I would tend to say yes. The place I worry about a culture clash is not between the United States and Europe, because as you say, Europeans—they’re Westerners, they’re adults, they can go to which movies they want. I worry a little bit about the clash of civilization between ourselves and the Islamic world.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: I would agree with Michael on that. I do think that European anti-Americanism is in the end on the serious. Look, nobody forces Frenchmen to eat at McDonald’s, but they do in very large numbers. And there’s a guy who ends up burning one, and he becomes a cultural hero of the elite, but you’ve got a French government, which has to legislate to outlaw the use of American English words, which, of course, everybody is using on the street. It’s true. The real threat is from outside the Western world and that is, Islam, possibly China, but that’s where are threats lie and this anti-Americanism is quite serious.

MR. WATTENBERG: Robin, are the Europeans also concerned, I think with some merit, that America is turning toward Asia?

MR. NIBLETT: Clearly, the policy elites, the people in government, the people in parliaments are concerned about the shift in U.S. focus towards Asia, and they were concerned about this in the first presidency of Bush took place.

MR. WATTENBERG: Is it a wise shift for America?

MR. NIBLETT: Well, if you believe that American leadership in terms of providing stability to the world, in essence, at a level of security and prosperity is important, then it is a wide shift. The dangers—clear and present danger, do not exist in Europe. Now, in the area of greatest instability, the area that lacks institutions that can mediate concerns between the relative power of individual countries exists in Asia. It does not exist in Europe.

On the issue of anti-Americanism, there is an ambivalence in Europe. Sure. They want to go McDonald’s. They want to watch the movies, but ultimately, the fear is partly about globalization, about the loss of cultural identity. I think people are concerned about American power.

MR. O’HANLON: But they like American power.

MR. NIBLETT: The problem here is ultimately as long as America—the American leaders are sophisticated enough to understand the complexity with which other countries approach issues will be find. Black and white solutions in this world are not going to work.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: But there’s another split. It’s not just elites and people; it’s also east and west, new Europe and old Europe. The Poles and the Czechs and the Hungarians and all the other countries in the East who want to join NATO, they love us. They’re grateful and their kind of anti-Americanism is much, much less. In fact, when Bush was over, he got a lot of his support on ABM, on the missiles from the Czechs and the Poles and the sort of—people who have lived in the shadow of the other guy, of the Russians.

So I think when we say the Europeans, it applies—we’re speaking largely of the old Europe, the secure Europe. The French and the Germans and the others, but on the periphery on the frontier, those are our friends, Ben.

MR. WATTENBERG: But what about this sovereignty issue? I mean, Charles pointed out in his article that Clinton foreign policy team really went on a spasm of treaty signing. And each time you do that; you do see a little bit of American sovereignty. Is that something that we should be trying to do? Trying to avoid? Play it case by case? How does that work?

MR. O’HANLON: I would play it case by case. I think, for example, let’s take the nuclear comprehensive test ban treaty where I think we had differences of opinion here amongst the four of us. I favor the treaty, but I think you have to favor it only because you think you can keep a secure nuclear arsenal and a reliable one without it and have the capabilities you would need without it. If you don’t feel that way, you must oppose it. You cannot allow some broader ideology for or against arms control, for or against treaties to intrude on that kind of a core matter of national security.

MR. NIBLETT: The shift towards multilateralism and the search for kind of non-sovereign solutions, I think, is going to be a feature of the next 10 to 20 years. In a way the European Union and the countries there, not because they like it, they have to do it. It is in their national self-interest, are quite used to sharing sovereignty, dicing it up, splitting it. They have no problems. The Americans—the United States has no experience of this. No need to have done it so far. And I’m not arguing the United States should either. I would agree on the case-by-case basis. But you have to take into account what other countries are thinking about at the moment.


MR. NIBLETT: As you calibrate your own responses. To take one route, while the rest of the world is going in a different direction, is a source of tension.

MR. WATTENBERG: It’s a source of tension, but it is—I mean, if you’re acting in the American national interest, isn’t that the basis axis along which we ought to decide?

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: The classic example of America acting in it’s own interest, but also in the interest of the world and the West, in particular, is the Gulf War. Now what happened in the Gulf War? The Bush administration announced that it would liberate Kuwait one way or the other with allies or without. And what happened as a result of that unilateralism if you like, everybody else came on board.

Now, if we hadn’t—if we hesitated at the beginning and said as the Clinton people would have wanted to say, well, we’ll consult if we get allies, we’ll proceed, it would not have happened. The multilateralism follows unilateralism.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. We are running out of time. Let me just go around the room quickly with this final question to which I would appreciate a brief answer. Will the Krauthammer doctrine prove to be the Bush doctrine? He has denied it. He said I’m not a unilateralist.

MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, you know, as long as they do it, it’s okay if they don’t call it that. That’s fine. What’s really important is to act in the right way and what I try to do is to provide sort of a theory of why it works and the reason it works is because it’s a new world. And I think that this administration understands it’s a new world. That you don’t have to spend eight years negotiating with the Russians about nuclear weapons as the Clinton administration did because they don’t matter. And I think that recognition is what’s happening here.


MR. O’HANLON: The Bush administration will, in some cases, act with strong leadership and it will try very hard to convince people that what it wants to do is right. There are constraints and caveats. We may be the most powerful country in the world in some ways by some metrics, but we really need to lead and ultimately lead with a coalition behind us. Charles is right. We’ve got to know if we want in the first place, but we can’t really do it alone at the end.

MR. WATTENBERG: Robin, is this the way the Bush administration is heading wittingly or not in the Krauthammer direction?

MR. NIBLETT: I think that President Bush—his administration is changing the terms of the debate in international relations, in strategic issues. It’s high time for that debate was changed. It’ll be tough selling because there are a lot of people invested in the last 45 years in the type of structures that were developed then. The Europeans were in the lead of people who were well invested in those. They need a lot of convincing to change.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you Charles Krauthammer, Michael O’Hanlon and Robin Niblett and thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via e-mail. For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.

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