BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 14, 2000 ISSUE
NEWS: ANALYSIS & COMMENTARY

Commentary: Bush's Foreign Policy: Like Father, Like Son?


As President, George H.W. Bush was an internationalist and pragmatist on matters of foreign policy. He sent troops to Iraq to protect oil, but not to oust a repressive regime. His basic motivation: strategic concerns, not democratic values. Since his son has enlisted many of his dad's foreign policy advisers, including Richard B. Cheney, Colin L. Powell, and Condoleezza Rice--and will no doubt get an earful from his dad--it's a good bet a Bush II Administration would take a similar pragmatic approach.

But not a sure one. There could be sharper splits in George W.'s foreign policy than the cohesiveness at the party's convention would suggest. The reason? George the younger has given key roles to some former Reaganites who put more weight on exporting American values. Most influential is Paul D. Wolfowitz, dean of Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, who gives George W. ''the vision thing.'' He toiled in the State Dept. for Reagan, in the Pentagon for Bush, and was a leading advocate for moving against Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.

COIN TOSS. With two camps on board, George W. could face fierce internal battles on a host of likely hot topics, from the use of military force in regional conflicts to how hard to press nations such as China and Russia on human rights and other internal matters. The outcome is a coin toss for several reasons. Sure, the two sides have united for the campaign to get Bush elected. But the policy battles ''are yet to be fought out,'' says Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And while the younger Bush may be expected to lean toward a pragmatic focus on U.S. national interests, his foreign policy experience is too skimpy to make predictions. The governor ''is not filled out with a jillion facts like his father had,'' notes Brent Scowcroft, Bush senior's national security adviser.

Of course, Bush and his advisers downplay the divisions. In a November speech, the governor denied there's a clash between American ideals and interests. Rice, the campaign's top foreign policy adviser, has insisted that the distinction ''just doesn't work in practice.''

That's partly because the policy prescriptions from the pragmatists and the moralists can overlap. Both back free trade. And even the moralists say trade is a more effective tool than unilateral trade sanctions for changing repressive regimes. Nor does either faction support Haiti-like humanitarian military missions.

But there are already signs of brewing tensions. Wolfowitz recently took a shot at pragmatists, writing, ''Nothing could be less realistic than the version of the 'realist' view of foreign policy that dismisses human rights as an important tool of American foreign policy.''

And there's more. To help oust Saddam Hussein, Wolfowitz has backed using U.S. ground troops to create a staging ground in southern Iraq for that country's dissidents. In contrast, Cheney, Powell, and Rice have preferred more limited goals for deploying troops, which could garner support from a coalition of countries.

CHINA SYNDROME. Perhaps the greatest potential for conflict in a Bush Administration would be Sino-U.S. relations. Last August, for example, Wolfowitz and consultant Richard L. Armitage, another Bush adviser, signed a statement drafted by conservative foreign-policy experts calling on the U.S. to ''declare unambiguously that it will come to Taiwan's defense'' in a conflict with Beijing. According to a source close to the Bush camp, Rice helped draft a disclaimer by Bush, who would only say that the U.S. would help Taiwan defend itself.

Rice does expect George W. to embrace Wolfowitz's far less Beijing-centric Asia policy, shifting instead to one that would focus more on regional democratic allies. That could spark fights over the role Japan should play in such a policy, how much support democratic Taiwan should get, and what weight to put on trade links with China. ''There will be a vigorous debate,'' says one expert.

That can be healthy. Unless, of course, it evolves into the kind of Reagan-era infighting between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that often paralyzed that Administration.

By Stan Crock
Crock covers national security in Washington.

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