Commentary: What a Bush Foreign Policy Would Look Like

George W. Bush doesn't have anywhere near the foreign-policy pedigree his dad had. So if he takes the reins of government, he's not expected to be the driving force behind his Administration's national-security policy. Instead, the only MBA ever to be President is likely to act like a chief executive officer, presiding over a strong cadre of veterans from the first Bush Administration, such as General Colin L. Powell and former Pentagon official Paul D. Wolfowitz.

These experienced hands helped bring the Western alliance through the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But today's challenges--regional brushfires and weak or failing states--are far different from the geopolitical issues involving major military powers that they faced when last in office. And while all are internationalists, sharp divisions within the team remain over how assertive to be on issues such as human rights and when to deploy troops abroad. Bringing these approaches into the 21st century and reconciling internal conflicts will present Bush fils with a daunting task. ''Bush will have to create coherence because [the team] doesn't necessarily have it,'' says Chester A. Crocker, a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University.

The fissures could widen swiftly if Saddam Hussein moves to test the new President's resolve and tries to end the sanctions imposed on his regime. One faction, led by possible Defense Secretary or CIA chief Wolfowitz, is likely to advocate tough measures to destabilize the Iraqi strongman. Wolfowitz has backed setting up an enclave for Iraqi dissidents, possibly under the protective cover of U.S. troops. More broadly, he believes that internal matters in other countries such as human rights, free markets, and democracy should be of concern to Washington because they affect how a nation conducts its external relations. This ''values'' school would be assertive in sending troops abroad to promote democracy and free markets.

But Bush also has more pragmatic advisers, including the presumptive Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and Powell, the likely Secretary of State. In the past, they have insisted troops be deployed only when there are clear, achievable military goals and an obvious national interest. If the purpose is waiting until the feckless Iraqi opposition storms Baghdad, troop deployment might not meet their standard. They also may care less about the internal workings of countries and more about their external behavior. After all, they left Saddam in power a decade ago after they crushed his ability to invade neighbors.

Divisions could also surface over China. Wolfowitz and Richard L. Armitage, a senior diplomat in the first Bush Administration who may get a top Pentagon post, have backed an explicit statement that the U.S. would come to Taiwan's defense in a conflict with China. But Bush and Condoleeza Rice, his National Security Adviser-in-waiting, lean more toward the strategic ambiguity of the Clinton Administration. The Clintonites avoided an explicit pledge for fear it would spur Taiwan to provoke China.

DUSTUPS. Bush's management problems will go beyond these divisions. The foreign policy crises he is likely to face, such as regional or ethnic dustups, are the kinds of things he has said he wants to avoid. He will also have to comfort European allies concerned that he wants to pull out of peacekeeping efforts in hot spots such as the Balkans. Indeed, in future efforts, Bush would like the Euros to do the peacekeeping on the ground while the U.S. handles the combat--usually from 50,000 feet in the air. ''There is a seed there that worries Europeans,'' says Terence T. Taylor, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Rice has tried to calm fears by saying that Bush won't pull out troops from current efforts until civilian police can take over.

It would all be a tall order for George W. No doubt he would get plenty of friendly advice behind-the-scenes from George pere. And he would have help from the Bush I team that performed so admirably as the cold war ended. But the world they could confront now is far different from the glory days of the Persian Gulf War, and it will test all their vaunted skills.

By Stan Crock
Crock covers foreign policy from Washington.

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