George Bush & the World

Brent Scowcroft
Brent Scowcroft; drawing by David Levine


In a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies this April, Dr. Condoleezza Rice observed that “an earthquake of the magnitude of 9/11 can shift the tectonic plates of international politics.” She went on to say:

The international system has been in flux since the collapse of Soviet power. Now it is possible—indeed probable—that that transition is coming to an end. If that is right, then…this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity…a period akin to 1945 to 1947, when American leadership expanded the number of free and democratic states—Japan and Germany among the great powers—to create a new balance of power that favored freedom.

This is surely an idiosyncratic reading of a period that many associate with the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and with the founding of the United Nations and the launching of the Marshall Plan. What Rice was suggesting by pointing to the US occupation and transformation of two defeated countries she did not say. Since taking office no one in the Bush administration has ever publicly defined the goals of its foreign policy, even though its approach has been consistent throughout.

In the months before September 11 the Bush administration matched its surprisingly ideological domestic programs with what Democrats politely described as a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” Bush officials called a halt to negotiations with North Korea and withdrew from attempts to negotiate peace in the Middle East. They refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and blocked a series of international arms control treaties. Then, while promising to make cuts in US strategic nuclear weapons, they declined to make an agreement with Russia on mutual reductions.

The main feature of the administration’s foreign policy during those months was its decision to deploy national missile defenses. From early June until September 11 the President and his national security advisers spent much of their time lecturing skeptical European, Russian, and Chinese leaders about the threat of a ballistic missile attack from “rogue states” such as North Korea, Iran, or Iraq, and insisting that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had to be scrapped. Secretary of State Colin Powell was rarely heard from; and policy seemed to be coming from the Department of Defense.

In the weeks that followed September 11, as Colin Powell put together a series of coalitions to fight the Taliban and to hunt down al-Qaeda across the globe, many commentators on foreign policy said that the Bush administration had made what one Republican called “the philosophical adjustment” to deal with a task that clearly required international cooperation. Others were not so sure.

On October 16 Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to George Bush senior and a close friend of the former president, published an Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post warning that there were already voices declaring that the United States should just go ahead…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.