George W. Bush has launched a revolution in American foreign policy. In less than three years in office, he has discarded or redefined many of the key principles governing how America engages the world. He has relied on the unilateral exercise of American power rather than on international law and institutions to get his way. He has championed a proactive doctrine of preemption and abandoned the tested strategies of deterrence and containment. He has preferred regime change to direct negotiations with countries and leaders that he loathes. And he has promoted forceful interdiction and missile defenses to counter weapons proliferation, all the while downplaying America's traditional support for nonproliferation treaties and regimes.
George W. Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq was based on three fundamental assumptions: Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to the United States; turning Iraq into a stable and viable self-governing state would be far easier than previous nation-building efforts; and, once weapons were found and postwar normality returned, even those countries opposed to the war would want to contribute to Iraq's reconstruction.
The Bush administration hailed as a victory North Korea's announcement in late July that it would participate in six-party talks on its nuclear program. The White House had insisted for months that Pyongyang's illicit activities were a regional issue best resolved in a multilateral setting. But unless the administration enters the new talks willing to negotiate, its victory on how many countries get to sit at the table will prove fleeting.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the United Nations Security Council provided a powerful indictment of Iraq. By refusing to come clean on its weapons of mass destruction and by actively deceiving UN weapons inspectors, Baghdad clearly is in material breach of UN Resolution 1441.
But while Powell made the case that war can be justified, he did not make the case that war would be wise. Though making the case for war was not Powell's charge per se, it is the issue that the White House will have to confront in the coming weeks.
Powell's lawyerly brief made three crucial points:
Does George W. Bush actually believe his own foreign-policy pronouncements? A year ago he made North Korea a charter member of the "axis of evil" and vowed not to "permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." The National Security Strategy he issued last September warned that the United States would strike preemptively to make good on that pledge. Bush told Bob Woodward that he "loathed" Kim Jong Il, North Korea's "dear leader." On Jan. 3, Bush added that he had "no heart for somebody who starves his folks."