Bush taking tough, realist line on foreign policy

Bush taking tough, realist line on foreign policy

The expulsion of 50 Russian spies has underscored the tough, "realistic" line adopted by President George W. Bush, whose plate is piled high with foreign policy challenges after just two months in office.

While it could help the new president assert himself as a determined leader setting his own agenda, some analysts have identified an emerging trend in Bush's approach to national security as cause for concern.

The Bush team reflects a "a remarkable Cold War mind-set highlighted by what happened last night," when it disclosed its decision to expel 50 Russians as spies after the arrest of FBI counterespionage expert Robert Hanssen last month, said Ivo Daalder, who advised Bill Clinton when he was president.

The Republicans seem to view the world as "one of threats, in which even Russia is looked at as a threat ... instead of looking at the opportunities that globalization is bringing about," said Daalder, now with The Brookings Institution.

Since taking office, Bush has reaffirmed his intent to deploy missile defenses despite opposition from European allies and has echoed conservative concerns about China's rising power as he considers a major new arms sale to Taiwan.

Publicly repudiating his secretary of state, Bush postponed indefinitely fresh missile talks with isolationist North Korea; made clear he has no plans to reprise Clinton's active role in Arab-Israeli and Northern Ireland peacemaking; and decided against deploying more U.S. troops to defuse war in Macedonia.


The White House said Bush was signaling China, Russia and the world that the United States "is going to be a peaceful partner and cooperate ... on all issues where we have mutual agreement. But on areas where there are differences the president's policy will be marked by realism."

Daalder, however, was "struck by the degree to which this administration appears reluctant to use American power. The emphasis is on non-engagement.... I think it's part of a larger theme which is that we are so uniquely powerful today that we have the luxury of being irresponsible."

Deferring talks with Pyongyang indefinitely while the administration conducts a full review of Korean peninsula policy seems to cause the most specific unease.

The president's national security team, long skeptics of engagement with North Korea, "inherit a much better situation than Clinton did and don't seem to know what to do with it," said defense analyst Michael O'Hanlon.

The Bush approach is not unexpected. Charles Kupchan, also of Brookings, said Bush is staying true to his campaign pledge to craft a more discriminating and selective internationalism.

"I detect a shrinkage and a more tentative, cautious tone to America's engagement in the world," he said.

Kupchan considers this "healthy." He argues that intense U.S. international engagement over the past decade, a legacy of the Cold War, was not sustainable politically and could be jeopardized in any event by the current economic slowdown.

Still, he worries that Bush's national security team, while accomplished and experienced, "are all ex-Cold warriors and there is a risk they are going to turn the clock back."

Much has been made of the fact that Bush's team includes two distinct Republican poles - hard-liners versus moderates, neo-conservatives versus more traditional internationalists.

This has set up inherent tensions within the administration and is already having an effect, with the hard-liners appearing to have the edge. The team is also handicapped because few key players on national security policy are in place.

Alton Frye of the Council on Foreign Relations said Bush's start is similar to that of Ronald Reagan, a Republican predecessor who also "felt a need to lay down a firm line to demonstrate he was taking a fresh tough-minded approach."

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