Is the Bush foreign policy one of isolationism or imperialism? One thing is certain, he is certainly changing the world, weilding power and influence more than any president in modern times. He also seems to not only defy his critics and sometimes his political base, but also the very definitions we traditionally use to label presidential foreign policy.
The invaluable Victor Davis Hanson takes a look at how President Bush may not only be changing the world, he may also be creating a new "ism" to define his approach:
For all the national angst over Afghanistan and Iraq, historians will come to appreciate that sometime after 2001 the United States embarked on a radicallyHe concludes:
different, much riskier, and ultimately more humane foreign policy - one of both
pulling in our horns while at the same time promoting risky democratic reform in
Such a complex and hard-to-define change explains why conservative realists are chagrined by its Wilsonian traits, even as leftist isolationists are equally furious that it is imperial. Mainstream out-of-power Democrats don't like what we are doing because of George Bush, while traditional Republicans stay the course mostly because it is now the party line.
But examine the policies of the last four years in some detail and the current charges about empire, hegemony, imperialism, and all the other common invective increasingly make little sense.
In some sense, the United States is reverting to its isolationist past by wanting to downsize in South Korea and Europe, convinced that our presence is only resented -and that if Germany cannot be trusted after 60 years, or if after 50 South Korea cannot take care of itself, then there is not much more we can do anyway.I implore you to read the whole thing, you will not be disappointed.
In other aspects, we are readjusting, taking the pulse of Japan and India and offering them closer ties if they wish - to allay their worries about radical Islam and Chinese expansionism, but in a way far more subtle than John Foster Dulles's globe-trotting.
By the same token, the United States intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan in the long-term hope that its terrorists and oil-dollar weapons would no longer be threats, and that by constitutional reform there, we could eventually lessen our military presence in the region.
Thus the odd spectacle of Iraqi and Afghan reformers worried that we will not stay long enough, even as the Pentagon is worried that we have stayed too long. The Saudis, Palestinians, and Egyptians are angry that we are too disengaged from them and too intimate with Iraqi, Afghan, and Lebanese reformers. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood types and other Islamists say we are too cozy to autocrats even as they mobilize to subvert the elections we alone are promoting - while the fearful autocrats damn us as too naive and too readily caving in to radicals masquerading as democrats.
I don't know what we should call all of this. But so far, no foreign-policy expert has come up with a non-partisan and intellectually honest diagnosis.
Perhaps it is a Zen-like mood we are in, of gradually allowing others to come to the fore, albeit with a warning "Go ahead, make my day, and see if you can do any better on your own."
With the smoke of gunfire yet in the air, the marshal is backing slowly out of the crowded and creepy saloon, but staring down outlaws and with six-guns still drawn.