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World Views: President Bush’s Foreign Policy

From violence in the Middle East to involvement in Iraq, experts assess President Bush's foreign policy.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is but one of several interrelated foreign policy challenges President Bush has faced since September 11. For an assessment of how he's handling those challenges, we turn to: William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and a columnist for Newsweek magazine and the Washington Post. And Jessica Tuchman Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Welcome, all. Jessica Mathews, the president finally got Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon to actually agree on something. Should this be seen as a coup for his foreign policy and for his handling of foreign policy?

    JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: I think coup overstates it but it's an important step on what is going to be a very long and bumpy road.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Bill.

  • WILLIAM KRISTOL, Weekly Standard:

    Well, I just don't think it means that much. Arafat I think is finished. The Oslo peace process is over. That's the big story of the last few weeks. This process from 1993 to 2002 the peace process that did not produce peace is over. Now we may be able to get a new peace process going through an international conference. But I think Arafat is no longer a central figure.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Fareed Zakaria, do you think that the way the president handled this this weekend represents something of an evolution in his approach?

  • FAREED ZAKARIA, Newsweek International:

    Margaret, I think it does mark an evolution in his approach and I think it marks the effective exercise of American power. Look, the United States has been calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the ending of the seizure of Ramallah for four weeks with one flip flop in the middle. The reason it happened was the president did more than just toss words out at a news conference and actually used American power. He got on the phone. He got others online. And there was a kind of consistency. You know, the president talks a great deal about moral clarity. Which is very important in foreign policy. But there's also the importance of policy clarity. It's important that it be clear, it be consistent, that there aren't people undercutting you left, right and center, while you're pursuing a policy.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Jessica Mathews, if you look back at what President Bush has for instance said about Yasser Arafat you wouldn't have expected this deal to take place. How do you explain it?

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    Well, I think it's clear that much as we'd perhaps prefer to have some other leader of the Palestinian people, that Sharon's policies have brought Arafat back into the center and that U.S. policy had to deal with that, had to… and I think the other important point about this is that if there was ever a situation that illustrated the dangers of overdoing talk about moral clarity, this is it. And that seeking moral clarity in a situation of moral ambiguity, where there's right and wrong on both sides, is a misguided goal. And I hope the Administration takes that lesson from it.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    When you say moral clarity, do you mean essentially dividing the world into good and evil.

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    I do, yeah.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Or sketching out American foreign policy as a fight against evil.

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    There are a whole bunch of risks with doing this. One is it's an invitation to oversimplification. And you get things out of it, slogans like "axis of evil" that lump together totally different countries and that are very counterproductive to U.S. interests. It also invites you to expose your own weakness because governments almost never act with moral clarity for a very good reason. And that is that they have competing interests. And the U.S., above all, has lots of competing interests. Foreign policy is about making choices. Fareed is right. You've got to have some degree of policy clarity. You want to act with as much of a moral content as you can, but moral clarity as a policy goal which has now become such a mantra of everybody's, any policy can be used to support almost any policy. It's a mistake. And we have suffered I think since 9/11 and increasingly over the last couple months with the policy that wrongly portrays the world as right and wrong, with us or against us.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Do you think, Bill Kristol that the president has overemphasized this moral clarity, this good versus evil as a sort of guiding principle of his foreign policy?

  • WILLIAM KRISTOL:

    I think good and evil is a pretty good guiding principle of life. And it's a very good guiding principle for American foreign policy. The countries — the regimes that he labeled the axis of evil do have one thing in common which is they're pretty evil. People would be better off if they were changed and we should seek to change those regimes, diplomatically if we can and militarily if we must. That's a reasonable goal and an important goal of American foreign policy given that they're developing weapons of mass destruction. I'm a defender of moral clarity. I mean obviously there are times when you have to make compromises.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Was this one of those times?

  • WILLIAM KRISTOL:

    Sure it was. I think the reason he did it incidentally was not that he's changed his mind about Arafat; it was because it was important to the Saudis. The administration in my view incorrectly but still this is their view thinks it's very important to give the Saudis some gesture that shows that the Crown Prince Abdullah's trip was — produced something. The easiest thing to produce was to let Arafat go free from Ramallah and wander around I guess the rest of the West Bank. But I think that's what was involved here. It wasn't a change of the president's attitude towards Arafat or I think towards the basic Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. It was a little bit of a gesture to the Saudis.

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    Of course, it not just Arafat. Not just the Saudis, the whole Arab world.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Fareed Zakaria, people close to the president have said for months now that September 11 really gave him a focus. And really gave him a way to have a coherence and a consistency to his approach to the world. One, do you think that's true? And two, do you think it's been useful?

  • FAREED ZAKARIA:

    Oh, I think it's very true. And I think it's been very useful. Look, the president's handling of foreign policy has been in the first phase of this war on terrorism very good. He rallied the country. He infused this struggle with a certain kind of moral purpose and clarity, which was very useful. The problem is now we've gone past the kind of reactive phase of the war on terrorism, you know, fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan, doing the initial rolling up of al-Qaida. We now move to the longer-term strategy. And we are at a crossroads because using those simple rules of thumb are not very useful when you get into this big messy world out there.

    I entirely agree with Bill Kristol that moral clarity is a good thing in life and in foreign policy in particular, but you have to remember that that doesn't tell you what to do tomorrow in a certain policy situation. Ronald Reagan was one for great moral clarity and spoke about the evils of communism, but he forged and expanded our alliance with Communist China. Winston Churchill railed about totalitarianism and he got into bed with Soviet Russia.

    So it's fine to have moral clarity but now we're going to have to figure out how we achieve American interests, which are much broader than a simple good versus evil in any specific circumstance. For example, we're against terrorism. But when we see the Russians respond to Chechen terrorism by leveling whole villages in Chechnya, are we just going to say, well, it's the war on terrorism and terrorism is bad and that means those fighting it are good? No, of course we're going to have a more nuanced response to it as we should. Even on moral issues leave alone political issues there's a whole world of grays out there.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Do you see, Jessica Matthews, in this administration an appreciate of those world of grays, an evolution to that or that?

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    No, not nearly enough. I think that there's a more important word missing from all this, which is legitimacy, missing from the administration's appreciation of the U.S. role in the world. The last thing we want over the long term is to live in a world where countries are invited to decide that they don't like another government or they have a right to depose it because they consider it evil. What we want and what is in our interest is to live in a rule of law… governed by the rule of law. And by that measure, it matters to the U.S. the legitimacy of how it acts, what it chooses to do, and there, and that also pre-supposes a recognition that other countries, particularly all 190 of them, you know, together, what they think matters. And I think more and more as this, since September 11 but in this recent period, the administration has shown a very thinly veiled contempt for the opinions of others and a more and more of an inclination to say we'll decide. I mean this is the key issue about Iraq — about moving against Iraq. We think they're evil. We'll act as a preventive self-defense. But, you know, suppose India decides that Pakistan is evil, we'll have a nuclear war on our hands. So it's not a good measure.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    This is a question for you, Bill Kristol. You are of course an advocate of action in Iraq. Is there the danger that Jessica Mathews just outlined?

  • WILLIAM KRISTOL:

    No, I don't think-

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    In the sort of go it alone.

  • WILLIAM KRISTOL:

    Well, obviously we should get the allies we can. I think we will have allies in deposing Saddam Hussein. This is not a subjective matter that we happen to think he's evil and other people happen to think he's good. He's a horribly brutal dictator, developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions — no inspectors there for three or four years. The alternative is not the rule of law. The alternative is to sit there and let him develop weapons of mass destruction. I don't think that's an acceptable alternative.

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    The alternative is an effective inspections regime, which we have not tried and could.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Fareed Zakaria, jump in on this debate.

  • FAREED ZAKARIA:

    Well, I think it's very important to try to fuse power and legitimacy. This is something the United States has always tried to do. I think that Iraq is a real problem. And I think that we have to do something about it. I would prefer that the Administration go down a path that tries to use international legal tools, the U.N. inspections, et cetera, and if that doesn't work, as I suspect it won't, you have built a certain kind of legitimacy and you have built allies, which makes it more likely you can act in a way that doesn't seem unilateral. This is something the United States has typically been very good at.

    You see, when you have the kind of power we do, I think Jessica is right. There is a danger that it seems that, you know, that you are simply acting on whim. And it's important that we demonstrate that we are restrained by certain norms, conventions, only because it makes the exercise of our power more effective. The greatest empires in the world and the United States is in some sense an empire, have always exercised power by seeming to take into account the interests of others. The president has been great at rallying the country toward a common purpose. Rallying the world toward a common purpose is a similar task. He can do it but he has to take into account the interests of other countries, the passions of other countries, and not do it in a way that, you know, gets, that subsumes or waters down our own interests or our own policy. These things are not either/or propositions. I think we have to do something about Iraq. I think the president is right about. Regime change is probably the only option. But there are ways to do that. That's what diplomacy is all about.

  • JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS:

    But I think you have to put this in the broader context of what other countries are seeing. Over the last two years, the United States has rejected the creation of the international criminal court, rejected the treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines, rejected the climate change treaty, unilaterally abrogated the anti-ballistic missile treaty, announced it will build a national missile defense. All of these decisions split us from our closest allies, Europe, unanimously, and were overwhelmingly everyone that was voted on, overwhelmingly approved by a great majority of countries in the world and in which the countries that opposed them, our company, were China, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Iraq. In only one case, two other democracies, India and Israel in one case. Now that kind of isolation is not a position from which the country can rally the rest of the countries of the world towards its interests.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Self-defeating.

  • FAREED ZAKARIA:

    The one point….

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    No. I'll let Fareed.

  • FAREED ZAKARIA:

    I'm sorry.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Go ahead, Fareed.

  • FAREED ZAKARIA:

    The one point I would make, Jessica. I think that the United States and the Bush Administration should have tried much harder to work within these organizations and treaties but the United States does have — play a unique role in the world. We are, you know, the Hegemon of the world. Our troops are out there keeping peace, making peace, fighting wars. It is… we occupy a slightly different place in the world than Sweden or Norway.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    I'm so sorry. We have to leave it there. We're totally out of time. Thank you all three.