Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



After six weeks in office, George Bush's foreign policy priorities are becoming clearer. He plans to give a higher priority to relations with our north American neighbors and to South America. His first trip outside the United States was to Mexico where he met with its new, reform-minded president, Vicente Fox. In April he meets with all the Western Hemisphere leaders, in Quebec City.

As the Bush team formulates foreign policy priorities for the next four years, Mexico and Canada rank high on the agenda, for two reasons. First, they are our two largest trading partners and account for a major share of America's current prosperity. Second, the United States desperately needs additional energy supplies from both countries in order to avoid the electricity blackouts that threaten California's economy and those of other states.

Canada and Mexico have large reserves of natural gas and oil. Canada's resources, specifically the tar sands in northern Alberta, are being developed and will supply much petroleum to the U.S. market. Mexico, however, requires an infusion of foreign capital to help it explore and bring to market its large oil and gas reserves. Current Mexican laws discourage such investment, and President Fox, a businessman turned politician, will hear from the Bush administration that changing Mexico's laws on foreign investment will be beneficial for both countries.

During last fall's election campaign candidate Bush proposed enlarging the NAFTA free trade arrangement that Washington currently has with Canada and Mexico. He hopes eventually to include all of the Western Hemisphere as a way to balance the growing economic power of the European Union. And he wants Congress to grant his administration trade enhancement authority in order to speed up the process of negotiating trade agreements with South American governments. However, U.S. labor organizations and leading congressional Democrats oppose his plan and it will be hotly debated in Congress.

As for Europe, it continues to have a high priority in U.S. foreign policy and Bush will be in Europe this spring to reassure NATO of his commitment to the alliance. But these relationships will be under strain until he and the European heads of government sort out differences over a U.S. missile defense plan and the president's desire to withdraw U.S. ground troops from Bosnia and Kosovo.

Another issue is the European view of security and economic relationships with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Whereas Europe's leaders, especially Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, believe continental security depends on good relations with Russia, some in the Bush administration worry that a resurgent Russia will one day again present a danger to Europe and that it should be confronted now on policies that Washington objects to.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent visit to the Middle East included a meetings with Russia's foreign minister and with NATO leaders. Some observers fear that Bush wants to reduce the high priority that Western Europe receives in U.S. foreign policy, while he gives more attention to the Western Hemisphere, and to Japan and China.

Bush's national security team wants to focus on the security challenges posed by Communist China. Although China is relatively weak today, its military is expanding and Beijing clearly aspires to be the major power in East Asia. Our new president will need to decide how seriously China's aspirations will affect U.S. relations with Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was tasked by the president to conduct a thorough review of defense priorities and military missions, with a view to reorganizing America's armed forces. This reappraisal will have an impact on the Bush administration's broader foreign policy priorities in the coming decade. The president wants Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to have a voice in the NSC (National Security Council) deliberations on these broad questions.

Another shift from Clinton's foreign policy will be Bush's desire to avoid sending U.S. combat forces to support humanitarian missions abroad, especially interventions in civil wars where no American economic or security interest is at stake. He rejects the idea of establishing the United States as the hegemonic superpower of the 21st century, preferring instead the more modest role of working with allies to fashion a coalition of countries to maintain regional peace.

Despite the president's desire to focus his foreign policy on a new set of priorities, international events have a history of intruding on presidential plans. For example, Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1993 determined to emphasize domestic policy, but he soon found himself embroiled by conflicts in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia.

Although George Bush may want Congress to pass his education and tax cut legislation before he is diverted by a foreign policy crisis, he could be forced to shift his emphasis because of a dangerous political situation in the Middle East.

Ariel Sharon, Israel's newly elected hard-line leader, expects to organize a national unity government. But, unless he is willing to make substantial concessions to the Palestinians regarding the status of Jerusalem and West Bank territories, there is small prospect for peace. If a larger conflict erupts, Bush will be faced with the prospect of giving full support to Israel and thereby risking an OPEC oil price increase resulting from the Arab governments' displeasure.

In short, George Bush may hope for a period of calm before facing a foreign policy crisis, but a Middle East conflict could make this an improbable dream.

File last modified on Thursday, 13-AUG-2004 08:30 PM EST

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