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



The large shift in U.S. foreign and national security policies that occurred during 2002 will sharply alter the way Americans view national security issues in future years. A review of 2002 suggests six areas where significant change took place.

Homeland security.

Last June the president proposed a sweeping reorganization of the federal government in response to the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington. His goal was creation of a new Department of Homeland Security and mobilization of the vast federal bureaucracy to provide greater security for Americans in this country. Congress also approved new legislation to expand domestic surveillance and toughen law enforcement. Critics say these laws give the government power to trample civil liberties. But opinion polls suggest that most Americans believe dangerous times call for tougher internal security measures, including infringement of some civil liberties..


After routing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan a year ago, the Bush administration resisted pleas from that country's new leaders as well as international aid agencies to provide additional security and economic development for cities outside the capital, Kabul. Last month the White House reversed its policy against nation-building. It authorized the Pentagon to begin building roads, schools, and health facilities as well as providing security in regional cities where public support for the Kabul government is crucial. Despite its previous stance against nation-building, the Bush administration is now embarked on that course in Afghanistan.

Regime change in Iraq.

Early in 2002 President Bush stated publicly that Iraq's regime, headed by Saddam Hussein, was a dangerous threat to regional security and needed to be removed, by force if necessary. Until last summer the administration seemed willing to proceed unilaterally to topple Hussein's government by force and to ignore the United Nations. But on September 12 Mr. Bush shifted policy and urged the United Nations Security Council to enforce its resolutions demanding Iraq's disarmament. He kept open the option of moving unilaterally if the U.N. did not act. The result was that after two months of negotiations, the White House won a unanimous vote in the Security Council for new, tough weapons inspections in Iraq, which are now being implemented.

Violence in Palestine.

An alarming rise in anti-American sentiment in western Europe ass well as the Middle East is the result, in part, of a suspicion that George Bush has abandoned the previous U.S. policy of evenhandedness in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until last spring European and Arab leaders were hopeful that the president would take a leadership role in the conflict after the Israeli army reoccupied many West Bank cities, in response to Palestinian suicide bombings. However, in June Bush spoke out publicly in full support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's harsh policy for dealing with the Palestinians and their leader, Yasser Arafat. By year's end, the violence had not abated and Bethlehem as well as other cities were patrolled by Israeli troops. Because of public disapproval of Bush's change in policy, European and Arab leaders drew back from giving Washington support for its confrontation with Iraq. In Germany, where anti-Americanism is rising. the Schroeder government declared that it would not join the United States and Britain in attacking Iraq even if the U.N. approved.

Trans-Atlantic relations.

After the 9-11 attacks, all European countries, even Russia, responded with an outpouring of support for the United States. However, beginning with President Bush's "axis of evil" speech a year ago, European opinion began to cool toward his foreign policy. This reached a crescendo last summer as the president and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, talked of "preemptive action" to deal with rogue states. In effect, the White House reserved the right to act unilaterally against any hostile country whenever Washington determined that regional security was threatened.

A recent opinion poll showed that a majority of Europeans, including in Britain, oppose military action to deal with Iraqi, but if the U.N. Security Council approves, more Europeans are willing to accept the use of force. Still, most respondents, except in Britain, would oppose their own country's participation even with U.N. approval.

A crucial question for the Bush team is whether to launch an attack on Iraq without the support of major Arab countries--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria--and Turkey. The State Department expects that neither Russia nor China will veto a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq is found to be in serious breach of U.N. demands. Optimists think that France, in that case, will join Britain and the United States in a war.

North Korea's threat.

Last summer U.S. intelligence learned that North Korea was in violation of a 1994 agreement to stop building atomic and nuclear weapons in return for receiving economic aid from the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Washington stopped its shipments of oil to the Pyongyang regime and threatened economic sanctions. Last month North Korea's government threatened war if the United States pressed for sanctions at the United Nations. Last week the administration shifted its stance and agreed to multilateral talks with Pyongyang but refused to end the oil freeze until North Korea stops its production of nuclear weapons. Washington clearly does not want to risk war in Korea at a time it is massing forces for an assault on Iraq.

The longer term impact of Bush's shift in policy toward Israel will be damaging if he continues to give full support to Sharon's current policy toward the Palestinians. Bush was criticized at home and abroad last spring for "abdicating" America's role in arranging peace to Palestine.

This was unlike the applause that greeted Jimmy Carter in 1978 after he negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, for which he recently received the Nobel peace prize. Bill Clinton won recognition for negotiating between Israelis and Palestinians, even though his efforts failed. Failure to stop the current violence in Gaza and the West Bank is proving detrimental to President Bush's efforts to deal with Iraq, and North Korea. It also affects his relations with the European allies.

The price of preemptive war against Iraq, if it is launched unilaterally by the United States and Britain, may be to push America into isolationism. This would not be of its own choosing but instead would be forced on Washington by other major countries refusing to cooperate with it on a range of international issues.

For all its enormous economic and military power, America cannot long stand in isolation from the world. If allies are deemed important to this country's long-term security, we must be willing to accommodate their national interests as well as pursue our own.

File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST

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