A second chance abroad
IF IN his second term President Bush wants to revive alliances that he allowed to deteriorate, he would be wise to adopt the approach of his predecessors. America badly needs to return to the spirit of internationalism embraced by both Bush's father and Bill Clinton, a tradition of statecraft rooted in close consultation and cooperation with allies.
America has rarely been so unpopular in the world, so mistrusted, so resented. Even when discounting for deliberate misrepresentations of US policies and intentions, it is hard to deny that Bush must now cope with a damaging perception of American arrogance that he and his advisers have exacerbated.
For reasons of style as well as substance, Bush has alienated both the leaders and general populations of America's traditional allies in Europe. Indignation at American behavior during the past four years is even more intense beyond the 25 nations of the European Union. In the Middle East, North Africa, the Gulf region, and in countries from southwest to northeast Asia, Bush's America is perceived as a musclebound superpower that has lost the habit of listening to friends and partners.
Norway's Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik greeted news of Bush's reelection this week by saying, "I hope he will try to build bridges and do more to cooperate via international organizations." He was expressing a sentiment shared by many countries.
For the sake of national security, Bush needs to correct the unilateralist impulses he indulged in his first term. There is a lot to correct. Bush squandered some of America's precious soft power when he and his advisers showed disdain for international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change. With Russia's signing of the protocol, it may now enter into force. And with European acceptance of the American preference for emissions trading, there is room for a compromise that would allow the United States to join an international accord that is in everybody's interest.
Apart from his stance toward particular treaties and international organizations, Bush would also do well to cultivate the kind of consultative relations with allies that his father and Clinton practiced. In a recent interview in Cambridge, France's ambassador to the United States, Jean David Levitte, approvingly described Clinton's daily phone conversations with French President Jacques Chirac during the Bosnia crisis. "Style may change substance," he said, intimating that Chirac and other European leaders might be more helpful in Iraq and elsewhere if they are consulted as allies and peers.
To overcome the legacy of Abu Ghraib, America will need all the help it can get. Bush ought to recognize this guiding principle of his predecessors' foreign policy, and make it his own.