National Security Network

Geopolitics and Diplomacy - A National Security Legacy of Failure

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Report 9 January 2009

President Bush President Bush's Legacy diplomacy geopolitics

“If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us; if we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.” – George W. Bush, October 12, 2000

In 2000, then-Governor Bush ran for president on a foreign policy agenda that pledged to refocus on the great power relationships and traditional geopolitical challenges. Over the last eight years, however, America’s image and its geopolitical influence have declined together. Relations with Europe, Russia, and Latin America remain strained. Where the President has sought to forge new strategic relationships, few have emerged with fewer concrete results.  

Instead of pursuing his initial more realist vision, following the attacks of September 11th President Bush sought to advance a “freedom agenda” of transforming the world by promoting democracy and capitalism. The invasion of Iraq was supposed to be the central element of this new vision.  Instead, it destroyed the massive international support for the U.S. that had developed following 9/11, damaged America’s image in the world, and tainted the very ideals he claimed to be advancing.  Moreover, the decline in America’s international standing was exacerbated by the Bush administration’s exceptionally poor use of diplomacy to advance U.S. national interests.  As former Republican Secretary of State James Baker said, it is important “to understand the need to use all of the elements of national power. And that means diplomacy and the political elements and the economic elements.” Unfortunately, the Bush administration has consistently failed to achieve tangible “deliverables” in international summits and negotiations.  

Relationships with Great Powers Have Stagnated or Declined

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” – George W. Bush, June 16, 2001

“Now, you're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe.” –Donald Rumsfeld, January 22, 2003

The Bush administration has had a woeful approach toward Russia.  Seven years after he looked into Vladimir Putin’s soul, President Bush’s Russia policy is in tatters. From its outset, the Bush administration adopted a personality driven approach toward relations with Russia that sought to ensure the warm relationship between Bush and Putin above all else.  This strategy has backfired greatly as Putin used the support to oppose and block U.S. interests – by suppressing civil society and democratic institutions in Russia, intimidating Western-leaning neighbors, and expanding economic and energy ties with Iran. Last summer’s crisis in Georgia exposed the U.S. failure to build influence over Russia – and was partially precipitated by Bush’s careless security assurances. President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Les Gelb observed that “Bush thinks when he calls Putin, they are soul mates, and when he expresses a desire for Putin to do something, he will do it. [Putin] had other reasons for going into Georgia than the personal relations with the president of the United States.” [President Bush, 6/16/01. Freedom House, 7/27/06. NTI, February 2003. Reuters, 8/26/08. Washington Post, 8/27/08]

The Bush administration has greatly damaged the U.S.-European relationship. 
President Bush has mismanaged our relations with some of our closest European allies.  Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous reference to France and Germany as “old Europe” in the lead up to the Iraq war was emblematic of the Bush administration’s dismissive approach.  From the unilateral decision to invade Iraq, to the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees, to its lack of concern for climate change, the Bush administration has driven numerous wedges between the U.S. and Europe, leaving the relationship in disarray.  The poor state of the relationship has negatively affected America’s ability to advance Bush administration priorities such as a securing a new global trade agreement, countering Iranian nuclear development, and expanding NATO. The Administration’s abrasive and dismissive treatment of our allies has hastened the collapse of support for NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. This past year the Bush administration was unable to obtain additional troop commitments from Europe. “Referring to American pressure on Germany, Peter Schmidt, a security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said, ‘Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany.’ He added: ‘The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the President tells us, “Look I’ll never get that through Congress.” Something similar is happening here.” [Donald Rumsfeld, 1/23/03. NY Times, 11/16/03. Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008. Washington Post, 7/2/05. NY Times, 2/07/08]

After eight years, the Bush administration has little to show for its approach toward China. 
Not only has the Bush administration failed to forge a new strategic understanding with China, but it has also failed to make progress in advancing basic U.S. interests. On key issues, including China’s currency and trade imbalance, its human rights record, its stance on food and product safety, its support for dictators in Zimbabwe and Sudan, the Bush administration has little or nothing to show after seven years in office.  On energy and the environment, China has overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest polluter further worsening the climate crisis, but the Bush administration instead of leading on this issue has obstructed international action.  [The Guardian, 6/13/8. NY Times, 10/30/07. NSN China Policy Paper]

Bush’s travels to international summits and meetings achieved few deliverables and little but photo-ops. Prior to President Bush’s 2005 tour of Asia, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley “predicted to reporters in the back of the plane that the four-nation trip would yield no ‘headline breakthroughs.’ He turned out to be right.” The Washington Post confirms that “On a wide variety of issues, from trade to security to human rights, Bush won no concrete agreements from any of his summit partners.” The trip “designed as a grand tour of Asia to highlight President Bush's international stature” turned out to be an “odyssey of frustration,” largely due to “growing criticism of the war in Iraq.” [BBC, 11/15/05. Washington Post, 11/20/05. US News and World Report, 11/20/05. Ted Koppel, 11/14/08]

Little Advancement in Relationship with Rising Powers and Developing World

“I will look South, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment of my presidency.” – George W. Bush, August 25, 2000

Despite promising to focus on Latin America, President Bush has left U.S. policy toward the region adrift.  During the 2000 Presidential campaign, George W. Bush vowed to focus on Latin America. President Bush did not match his campaign promise with action.  Instead, U.S. policy toward Latin America has been plagued by neglect. At the 2005 Summit of Americas, Latin America heads of state met him with complaints about “his administration’s neglect of and indifference to the region for five years.” Anti-Americanism in the region has festered, and the U.S. has lost trade ground to China and Europe.  Sebastian Edwards, a UCLA professor and former Latin America economist at the World Bank summed up the Bush record: “The Bush administration has virtually no legacy in Latin America.”  Riordan Roett, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies shared Edwards’ assessment, saying “Certainly, there is no consistent pattern of interest or concern in the administration for Latin America.”  [NPR, 11/5/05. NY Times, 11/2/05. LA Times, 11/13/08. McClatchy, 3/1/08]

While the Bush administration has made progress on health and development issues in Africa, it lacks a broader comprehensive strategy for the continent.
Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University in New York explained that “He’s [President Bush] accomplished one thing, which is the scaling up access to AIDS treatment” and that has “made a big difference... Everything else about Africa, we've done nothing.” Joel Barkan, a scholar at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington argues that despite this progress the Bush administration has shown both an “inability to move on any international solution on Darfur and a slackening of support for democratization on Africa.” [Bloomberg, 2/15/08]

Despite overtures, the Bush White House has not succeeded in forging a new relationship with Brazil, the world’s 9th largest economy, and its relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy, has not led to broad or reliable regional gains.
  Some notable successes have marked the Bush administration’s policy toward Brazil, including a 2007 agreement on ethanol and alternative fuel production.  However, Bush’s efforts to translate these victories into a broader strengthening of the U.S. – Brazil relationship have fallen short.  For instance, in 2003, Brazil, one of the world’s leaders in steel production, along with several other countries, successfully forced a repeal of a Bush administration steel tariff, an embarrassing reversal for the White House.  Brazil spurned the U.S. again in 2007, when Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, “flatly rejected President Bush's proposals for parallel global negotiations to combat climate change, insisting that countries come to agreement at the United Nations, and not under US leadership.” Additionally, Realist scholar Stephen Walt faults the Administration’s engagement with India as “paying too high a price” with little or no pay off on Iraq, Iran, trade, and other issues of key importance to the U.S. [Fox News, 3/09/07. Washington Post, 12/01/03. The Guardian, 6/04/07. Foreign Policy, 1/8/09]

Bush Record On Trade and Democratization - the Crucial Elements of His "Fredom Agenda" - Was Disastrous

“So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” President George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005

Bush administration policies have tainted America’s democracy promotion agenda.  The Bush administration, by giving only insubstantial and inconsistent support for democracy promotion, has done great damage to one of America’s best exports. From Iraq to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, the Bush administration gave democracy promotion a bad name by placing emphasis solely on elections, while ignoring liberal institutions, individual rights, rule of law, and the role of civil society that are necessary to build long-lasting democracy. However, Bush has kept silent on the various illiberal policies of nations like Russia and Pakistan when their leaders offered lip service to some of Bush’s favored policies and has even refused to increase the budget for democracy promotion programs over Congress’ insistence. [Washington Post, 8/20/08. Washington Post, 8/27/08]

Doha round of the WTO collapsed because of a lack of diplomacy.  The current Doha Development Round of the WTO negotiations was intended to tear down trade barriers – a fundamental objective of the Bush administration.  However, the negotiations broke down this summer after the United States and India could not reach a compromise on agricultural import rules, resulting in the failure of an agreement that the Bush administration wanted.  At the summit, “Trade ministers failed in a marathon nine-day session to agree to trade-offs that would make a Doha deal palatable to leading economies, with India and the United States unable to resolve their differences over barriers to farm markets.” As C. Fred Bergsten, Director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, states in Foreign Affairs, “The failure of Doha has terminated the Bush administration's key multilateral trade initiative.” [WSJ, 2/2/07. Reuters, 7/30/08. Foreign Affairs, 8/27/08]

Bush sought to expand trade through bi-lateral free trade agreements, but expert economists say these have little value. 
“Although the amount of activity involved in pursuing FTAs was certainly impressive, economists had serious doubts about their value. ‘Nearly all scholars of international economics today are fiercely skeptical, even hostile, to such agreements,’ the Columbia University economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya argue in the Financial Times.” [WSJ, 7/30/08]

United Nations and International Institutions Have Been Undercut

“John Bolton is personally committed to the future success of the United Nations and he will be a strong voice for reform.” – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, March 7, 2005

Bush administration claimed it was in favor of UN reform, but U.S. became the principal obstacle as Ambassador John Bolton torpedoed the reform process. The Bush administration was publicly very supportive of the UN efforts to implement reform. But through his appointment of John Bolton – a man who could not be confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate and who once said “If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference” – the President ensured that little progress on reform would occur. The Washington Post reported that “Some U.N. officials privately blamed Bolton for sabotaging the organization's reform initiative by stirring differences between poor and rich countries.” South Africa's ambassador, Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, chairman of a coalition of developing nations, told the Washington Post that it appeared that “Ambassador Bolton wants to prove nothing works at the United Nations.” The Guardian noted that “the [UN] secretariat hold him responsible for the fissure. Bolton's idea is to go in and say this is what we want, and when people don't immediately agree, he says the UN is unreformable.” [Department of State, 3/21/05. NY Times, 3/8/05. Guardian, 7/28/06. Washington Post, 12/5/06]

President Bush refused to engage on U.N. conventions that have been universally accepted.  There are a number of important U.N conventions that the Bush administration has either chosen not to sign, or in the case of the Law of the Seas Treaty. Such conventions include: the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As Spencer Boyer of the Center for American Progress noted, “None of these agreements are perfect, yet each agreement was painfully negotiated for years, has been ratified by the vast majority of U.N. member states, and is on balance in the American interest. It is worth noting that the United States is the only industrialized country not to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, while Somalia is the only other member of the United Nations who has refused to ratify the Children’s Rights Convention.”  [Center for American Progress, 2007]

America's Image Around the Globe Has Deteriorated

“Our coalition is strong. It'll remain strong, so long as I'm the president.” –
President George W. Bush, September 30, 2004

Global respect for the United States is evaporating, even among our closest allies. Only 30 percent of Germans now have a positive view of the United States, down from 78 percent before Bush took office in January 2001. In Turkey, a Muslim democracy and NATO ally, only 9 percent now have a favorable view, down from 52 percent in late 2001. Most alarming is that just 51 percent of Britons – our partner in Iraq and our most reliable ally - now hold favorable views of the United States, down from 75 percent before the Iraq invasion. [IHT, 6/27/07. Pew Global Attitudes Project, 6/27/07. NY Times, 2/07/08]

In Iraq, the Bush administration’s “coalition of the willing” has crumbled.  Now, “Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States is finding it harder than ever to garner international support for military operations in the country, as even staunch allies such as Britain have pulled out much of their forces.” The Washington Post reported that “The Coalition of the Willing appears to be going out of business” and “a senior administration official… said the number of coalition members will shrink to a ‘handful" in the next few months.” CBS reports that “the alliance is crumbling.” [Reuters, 9/9/08. Global Security, 3/20/08. Washington Post, 9/10/08. CBS, 10/9/08]