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Commentary

Bush Foreign Policy Makes Clinton Look Good


     
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While in office, Bill Clinton’s foreign policy appeared haphazard, excessively idealistic, and without strategic vision, but with the passage of time and the election of George W. Bush, it is beginning to look better and better. True, Bill Clinton involved the United States in random “humanitarian” military interventions that weren’t warranted by threats to American vital interests--excursions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and deeper involvement in Somalia. Although some of those foreign adventures resulted in peacekeeping quagmires with no end in sight (Bosnia and Kosovo) and others in ineffectual outcomes (Haiti), sometimes with the loss of some U.S. service personnel (Somalia), at least they were not dangerous to the United States. They involved kicking around small, poor countries that had little capacity to fight back. Unfortunately, George W. Bush’s foreign policy is much more risky because he has chosen to challenge international actors that have the capacity to fight back in ways that could endanger the U.S. homeland.

In his campaign and when he first took office, Bush gave some cause for hope. He spoke of a more “humble” role for the United States in the world, including a promise that the United States would withdraw its military from the Balkans. But even before the September 11 attacks, those policy predilections began to wane. For example, the promise to withdraw from the Balkans quickly disappeared from the agenda.

Then President Bush’s foreign policy began to get dangerous. Responding to pressure from his party’s right wing, he made an historically ambiguous U.S. policy to defend Taiwan less cloudy. Recklessly, he promised that the United States would do “whatever it took” to defend Taiwan. Although it’s always nice to support democracy, the security of the small island of Taiwan will never be vital to U.S. security. Yes, China is an autocratic state with a poor human rights record, but it also has long-range nuclear missiles that can strike the United States. Although the United States has nuclear superiority over China, Beijing regards Taiwan as part of China and is somewhat irrational about the issue. One Chinese military official cut to the core of the issue when asked if the United States was willing to trade Taipei for Los Angeles. The answer should be a resounding “no!” It‘s okay for President Bush to sell arms to Taiwan, but he should back off from saying that the United States will defend Taiwan. Potentially engulfing the United States in any kind of war with a nuclear-armed great power to preserve democracy in a small, faraway island is not smart policy. Endangering the American homeland to defend peripheral areas stands national security policy on its head.

The same can be said of President Bush’s ever expanding war on terror. Bush needs to be given credit for eliminating the main sanctuary for the insidious al Qaeda terror group by knocking out the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But after September 11, all pretense of a more humble American foreign policy ended. Instead of focusing like a laser beam on the vital task of fighting the “enemy at the gates”--by taking down the remainder of the al Qaeda network worldwide--Bush has become distracted and appears to be ready to launch a wider war on “evil.” He has commissioned covert actions against terrorist groups that do not normally focus their attacks on the United States-most likely including Hezbollah and Hamas. Such a policy simply stirs the hornets’ nest of radical Islamic hatred of the United States and may increase the likelihood of other catastrophic terrorist attacks against U.S. targets at home and overseas.

In addition, instead of pressuring Israel to make peace, as Bill Clinton did, Bush has embraced Israel closer than most U.S. presidents at a time when Israel has warrior Ariel Sharon as its prime minister. Instead of taking a more prudent, even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bush has sought to undermine Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Continued close U.S. support for Sharon may also lead to stepped up terrorist attacks by radical Middle Eastern groups.

Finally, Bush has expanded the war on terrorism into the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the “axis of evil.” Using such rhetoric, Bush and his administration seem ever more willing to be distracted from the war against al Qaeda by invading Iraq. There are many good reasons why such an invasion is ill-advised, but the potent one is the potential use of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical and maybe even nuclear weapons) in response. Unlike the Persian Gulf War, this invasion would aim at removing Saddam Hussein from power (and probably killing him). This time, backed into a corner, Saddam would have no incentive to refrain from using such weapons. He could threaten to use them or actually use them in the following ways: employ them against U.S. troops, install them on SCUD missiles and launch them at Israel, or attack the American homeland with weapons that had been smuggled into U.S. cities by Iraqi intelligence agents. If ragtag al Qaeda terrorists can operate on U.S. soil for many years without detection, professional Iraqi agents could too--and may be doing so even now. Is it really necessary to risk significant casualties when Iraq, a relatively poor nation, has been effectively contained for more than a decade?

Once again, President Bush’s national security policy doesn’t appear to be providing much security. Although Bill Clinton had no strategic vision, at least he didn‘t conduct a risky “cowboy” foreign policy that fundamentally endangered the nation.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.


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RECARVING RUSHMORE (UPDATED EDITION): Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty
Taking a distinctly new approach, Ivan Eland profiles each U.S. president from Washington to Obama on the merits of his policies and whether those strategies contributed to peace, prosperity, and liberty. This ranking system is based on how effective each president was in fulfilling his oath to uphold the Constitution.






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