George Bush has four more years to leave his mark on U.S. foreign policy in an age when the country is painfully aware of its vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Despite what many political observers believed would sink his chances for reelection--the inconclusive war in Iraq, that issue turned out not to be the overriding one for many voters.
However, Bush paid a heavy price in Europe for his decision to invade Iraq. The fractured NATO alliance is the most obvious example. France, Germany, Belgium, and Spain decided to oppose U.S. plans to give NATO a significant future role in Iraq, similar to the one that it assumed in Afghanistan last year.
Looking ahead to what U.S. policymakers will face in a second Bush administration, what are the crucial international security issues, the vital ones, that the president must address in order to prevent them from deteriorating into war? Four issues requiring immediate attention are: the potential fall of Saudi Arabia's monarchy; continuation of warfare between Israelis and Palestinians; nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states and Al Qaeda terrorists; Taiwan's push for independence.
* Saudi Arabia's vulnerability. Osama bin Laden set as his goal more than ten years ago the overthrow of the Saudi royal house and establishment in its place of a Taliban-style Islamic state in the Arabian Peninsula. Were that to happen, the politics of the entire Persian Gulf region would be sharply altered and many smaller Persian Gulf states would begin to feel Al Qaeda's pressure on them. After the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the hope in Washington is that this major oil producing country will no longer be hostile to the United States. Invading Iraq and establishing a friendly democratic regime there would be an insurance policy if Al Qaeda and Iran's anti-American regime link up to oust a Saudi monarchy that is not popular with an emerging younger generation of Saudis demanding reform. The Bush administration's task is to encourage Saudi Arabia's monarchy to institute reforms quickly enough to avoid a revolution. A similar situation occurred in Iran in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown.
* Israeli-Palestinian war. Yasser Arafat's death opens the likelihood that renewed peace talks between Israel and a new Palestinian leadership will be started quickly to find a peace plan that is acceptable to both sides. This cannot happen, however, without the active participation of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations--the so-called Group of Four that drew up a "road map to peace' several years ago. With Arafat gone, the time may be right for Bush to send Colin Powell back to the Middle East with the president's full backing.
It will take time and tough negotiations to persuade Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian leadership to compromise on the issues of West Bank settlements, the future of Jerusalem, and security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians. Tony Blair, who held extensive talks with George Bush last week, reportedly pressed him to get the Group of Four back into the picture and exert real pressure on the parties to compromise. Failure to show progress on this issue will further erode Blair's standing in Britain and Europe and possibly affect his support for Bush's policy on Iraq.
* Nuclear weapons and rogue regimes. When President Bush warned in 2002 about the danger of the "axis of evil" states acquiring and using nuclear weapons, he specified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as enemy states. The invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein eliminated one of the governments that Bush had cited in his 2002 State of the Union Address. But Iran and North Korea remain as enemies. Unlike in Iraq, however, George Bush chose last year to pursue the diplomatic route instead of military threats. On North Korea, he enlisted the help of China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea in the effort to persuade Pyongyang to give up its quest for nuclear weapons in exchange for large economic aid and recognition by the international community. On Iran, the president similarly approved a multilateral diplomatic approach led by Britain, France, and Germany to persuade its Islamic leaders that they have much to gain from the West by giving up plans to enrich uranium and to build nuclear weapons. No breakthroughs have occurred in negotiations with either state.
* Taiwan and China. Last March Taiwan elected a new government that harbors dreams of making the island nation into a sovereign, independent state. For thirty years U.S. policy has been that there is only one China and that its capital is in Beijing, Seven American presidents have urged the two sides to settle the question of integration through negotiations and have cautioned Taiwanese leaders to avoid provocations of China. For its part China says that it will use force against Taiwan if it moves toward independence from China. So far, Beijing is relying on George Bush's pledge that the United States will restrain Taiwan's president from pushing the issue of a referendum. If Taiwan's leaders ignore Bush's warnings, however, Washington will be confronted with the reality that China uses force against Taiwan and the latter pleads for American support.
These potential crises will be on the president's desk when he is inaugurated for a second term in January. How he handles them will determine whether the next four years will produce more, not less, U.S. involvement in military confrontations abroad.
File last modified on Sunday, 21-NOV-2004 09:00 PM EST