The Bush administration's post-election foreign policy will look a lot like its did before Americans voted yesterday -- only more so.
The biggest issue remains what to do about the regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. The Bush team has invested so much time, effort and planning into their strategy of ridding Iraq of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs -- by use of U.S. military force if necessary -- they need not alter the current game plan.
Beginning today with the U.S. tabling its final draft of a Security Council resolution on Iraq, the Bush administration is entering the final phases of its diplomatic approach. Among other highlights, the latest resolution sponsored by the U.S. and the U.K. requires U.N. inspectors "to report immediately" any interference by Iraq with the work of inspectors. It also recalls that Iraq has been "repeatedly warned" it "will face serious consequences" if violations continue. That's diplomatic code which Washington deems sufficient to say 'we tried to work it out without use of military force.'
President George W. Bush, speaking to the United Nations on Sept. 12, challenged the organization to stand up to repeated Iraqi violations of previous Security Council resolutions over the past decade. It has taken eight weeks of diplomatic wrangling, far longer than the White House wanted, but the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ambassador John Negroponte have finally come to the end of their willingness to compromise with others on the Security Council -- especially their French and Russian colleagues who hold veto power in the council. A vote is expected Friday, says a senior State Department official.
If the diplomatic route works, Washington will claim the high ground. If it does not, and no senior Bush administration official thinks it will, then the military option will be used. And no leader in Paris or Moscow -- or Baghdad for that matter -- will see this week's election results as anything other than giving Mr. Bush a stronger hand if and when he decides to move militarily against Saddam Hussein.
The other major foreign policy issue before the administration is what to do about North Korea. Last month, the regime in Pyongyang admitted, much to Washington's surprise, that it was actively pursuing its nuclear weapons program. That's a violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework with the U.S., as well as other international agreements.
The Bush administration's preference had been to play hard ball with North Korea. And given an absence of other, higher priority problems, the hard liners in the White House and at the Pentagon would still prefer that course. But everyone recognizes the need to focus on Iraq and not be distracted by Pyongyang's recent admission. Thus, for now, Washington will emphasize diplomacy in its approach to Kim Jong Il's regime. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is headed to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing for consultations.
However, Mr. Bush's election victory -- he gets a Republican-controlled Congress -- assures him of more support if and when he decides to take a tougher line, such as employing the use of sanctions, or cutting off all aid to North Korea.
The only other foreign policy hot spot which always gets top billing in Washington is the Middle East, especially the Israel-Palestinian problem. U.S. action against Iraq, even if Washington has some international support, will cause the administration problems in the Arab world, but they can be managed.
As for the Israelis and Palestinians, both have immediate political crises to worry about with elections coming in the next few months. Yasser Arafat faces challenges from Palestinian reformers and Prime minister Ariel Sharon, a White House favorite, is expected to be challenged by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as by more moderate Labor party candidates.
Since the once-promising peace process has been in the deep-freeze for most of the Bush administration's time in office, there is no pressing need for Washington's attention, except as it impacts Washington's strategy toward Baghdad.
In short, President Bush's foreign policy goals can be pursued with as much, or as little flexibility, as he chooses. His political base has clearly been strengthened and foreign leaders, in their future dealings with this administration, will ignore that simple fact at their own peril.
Bu Charles M. Wolfson