Challenging Rest of the World With a New Order

By ROGER COHEN, DAVID E. SANGER and STEVEN R. WEISMAN

New York Times

October 13, 2004

Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's former foreign minister, has two distinct images of George W. Bush: the charmer intent on reinventing Mexican-American ties and the chastiser impatient with Mexico as the promise of a new relationship soured.

The change came with the Sept. 11 attacks. "My sense is that Bush lost and never regained the gift he had shown for making you feel at ease," said Mr. Castañeda, who left office last year. "He became aloof, brusque, and on occasion abrasive."

The brusqueness had a clear message: the United States is at war, it needs everybody's support and that support is not negotiable. Mexico's hesitant stance at the United Nations on the war in Iraq became a source of tension. Yet Mr. Castañeda said, "I was never asked, 'What is it you need in order to be more cooperative with us? What can we do to help?' "

It is a characterization of Mr. Bush's foreign policy style often heard around the world: bullying, unreceptive, brazen. The result, critics of this administration contend, has been a disastrous loss of international support, damage to American credibility, the sullying of America's image and a devastating war that has already taken more than 1,000 American lives. In the first presidential debate, Senator John Kerry argued that only with a change of presidents could the damage be undone.

Mr. Bush had a sharp rebuttal, just as his advisers have long told a different story. In their narrative, Mr. Bush's presidency has been an era of historic change, of new alliances bravely embraced, critical relationships solidified, rapid adaptation to a mortal threat and, above all, a bold undertaking to advance freedom in the Middle East through Iraq.

That was the best way, they argue, to confront the terrorist threat to the United States. Along the way, they say, Mr. Bush has used the North Korea crisis to deepen an American relationship with China, steered Pakistan and India away from the brink of nuclear war, and nurtured a relationship with Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, even after scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

"The charge is, 'You guys are unilateralists and it's a strategy of pre-emption,' " Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview. "I just don't think it's true, but it gets repeated often enough that it starts to take on the aura of truth."

The Nov. 2 election will see if Mr. Bush's approach to foreign policy - replete with images of courage and endurance, of moral certitudes and of generational struggle to defeat a new enemy while transforming an entire region - has proved persuasive to most Americans. It has clearly divided America's friends.

Some are enthused. "Relations between Japan and America have never been better than with Bush," said Hatsuhisa Takashima, the foreign ministry spokesman in Tokyo, where spines have been stiffened by the North Korean threat and Mr. Bush's blunt approach to terrorism. "We have more than 500 troops in Iraq because we believe the American-British action prodded Libya to disarm, sent a strong message to North Korea and showed the price of noncompliance with United Nations resolutions. Failure in Iraq is unthinkable."

But as things stand, failure, with its potentially dire consequences for American world leadership, cannot be ruled out. Mr. Bush has proved to be a gambler in foreign affairs. Revolutions can bring big rewards. They can also deliver disaster.

New Attitude, New Allies

The story of the Bush foreign policy is one of startling change: from the promise of a "humble" approach in 2000 through the "dead or alive" search for the elusive Osama bin Laden to the articulation of a bold, pro-active doctrine summed up last month by Mr. Bush, when he told the United Nations:

"Our security is not merely founded in spheres of influence or some balance of power; the security of our world is found in advancing the rights of mankind."

In other words, less emphasis on containment - the policy of slow-squeeze that defeated communism - and more on the contagion of liberty installed, at least in Iraq, by force of arms. This is stirring stuff that resonates in Eastern Europe, where the wounds of oppression are still felt, as well as with Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister of Iraq, and many of his compatriots. But it is also the stuff of upheaval, and a policy on which the NATO alliance, long a cornerstone of American security, has been unable to agree.

"We have been worried by the absence of debate, the presentation of faits accomplis," said Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary-general and now the European Union's chief foreign affairs official.

In effect, a new spectrum of relations with Washington has emerged. At one end are estranged allies like France and Germany, angered by the war, convinced it is a losing struggle, alarmed by America's use of overwhelming power.

In the muddy middle are nations like Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, important allies whose leaders are sometimes supportive, but where many people believe Mr. Bush has ignited a war against Islam. Their reliability is uncertain.

It has not helped that the Mideast peace process has stalled and that Mr. Bush has appeared less engaged in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute than his recent predecessors.

At the other end are nations, including Poland, Italy, Britain and Japan, that have made the choice to fall in line with Mr. Bush after Sept. 11. Others, including Russia, China and Israel, have embraced the war on terror for reasons of their own.

These divisions get little airing when Mr. Bush campaigns for a second term. The rhetoric at his rallies is of an America unbowed and unrestrained. The day after the first presidential debate Mr. Bush said Mr. Kerry would subject decisions on national security to vetoes "by countries like France.'' The U.N. is often derided at Republican events.

This sort of talk may bring partisan crowds to their feet, but it makes the world uneasy.

"If you want to get a cheap cheer from certain quarters in America, it seems that all you have to do is bash the U.N., or the French or the very idea that allies are entitled to have their own opinions," Chris Patten, the commissioner for external relations for the European Union, said last month. "Multilateralists, we are told, want to outsource American foreign and security policy to a bunch of garlic-chewing, cheese-eating wimps."

And so the cheese-eaters ask: What would a second Bush administration look like?

Have Sept. 11 and the bitter diplomatic clashes of the past three years so changed Mr. Bush's mental map of American alliances that every nation will be measured chiefly by whether it embraces his strategy against terrorism, and sign on to the small, reluctant coalition in Iraq?

Some see small signs since the ouster of Saddam Hussein that this may not be the case. Even in western Europe, the caricature of Mr. Bush as a gunslinger has faded a bit, replaced by a more complex picture of a man who, as Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Washington put it, "is less outlandish in his practice than his rhetoric." After all, the ambassador noted, "We have some real live diplomacy with North Korea."

In an interview in late August, Mr. Bush waved off the accusation that he had damaged alliances.

"Wait a minute, a lot of people agreed with Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "There was a diplomatic process" at the U.N., he said, "that I think the world thought was the right thing to do."

But he was unapologetic about short-circuiting that process to invade Iraq. "It became clear to me that we were never going to get a second resolution out of the United Nations," he said. He realized, he added, that it was time "for an American president to set an agenda, make it clear, not change, not get blown around because of political winds."

That, he promised, is how he will operate if re-elected next month.

A World Alienated

While many nations have criticized Mr. Bush for walking away from certain international institutions and treaties, it is doubtful that any American president would have embraced an International Criminal Court that could put American peacekeepers on trial. Even Mr. Kerry says the Kyoto protocol on global warming that Mr. Bush rejected should be renegotiated. Certainly, any American president would have used force to respond to the attacks on New York and Washington.

But the complaint often heard around the world is that from the outset the Bush administration's dismissive attitude set a pattern of take-it-or-leave-it policies that needlessly alienated friends. The Iraq war accelerated that process. Then, the acknowledgment that there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and no proven links between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda cemented the view in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere that Mr. Bush governed from ideology first, facts second.

"The United States had to react strongly to Sept. 11, a fact often forgotten in Europe," said Alexandre Adler, a French foreign policy expert generally sympathetic to America. "But Bush has given the image of a warmonger without subtleties and the result is no president since Nixon, and perhaps not even then, has been so unpopular here."

There is little question that if Europe were voting on Nov. 2, Mr. Bush would lose by a landslide. But Europe, of course, is not the world, a point driven home by Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, who listed several ways she thought the president had improved relations with foreign leaders.

"The best relationship that any administration has had with Russia," she said in an interview. "The best relationship that any administration has had with China. An outstanding relationship with India at the same time that you have a very good relationship with Pakistan. The expansion of NATO into the Baltics without destroying the U.S. relationship with Russia."

China and India, of course, account for more than a third of humanity, a point Ms. Rice underscored as she urged the administration's critics to think hard about who is complaining about alienation and who is not.

But the complaints are often vociferous. "The Bush administration started with a belief that in the past 500 years or more, no greater gap had ever existed between the No. 1 and No. 2 power in the world," said Norman Ornstein, a foreign policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "Given this American domination, they believed, especially after 9/11, that it was enough to express the American national interest firmly and everyone would accommodate themselves."

They did not. While there was an outpouring of sympathy for the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, by the end of 2002 the sympathy had vanished. When Mr. Bush arrived this summer in Ireland, he was spirited off to a castle, miles from anyone. Protests marked Mr. Bush's most recent visit to Britain, home of his most steadfast ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair. Even Mr. Blair had to apologize for the intelligence about unconventional weapons in Iraq, something Mr. Bush has resisted.

Anti-Americanism has become a winning European platform. In the most recent Spanish and German elections, opposing Mr. Bush's policies proved central to both the upset victory of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the re-election of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, respectively.

But recently, Mr. Bush has been buoyed by the overwhelming re-election of a steadfast ally, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia. For the past few days, Mr. Bush has crisscrossed Minnesota, Iowa, and Colorado celebrating Afghanistan's first free election.

Still, anti-American hostility in the Islamic world is widespread. Last year, Mr. Powell asked Edward P. Djerejian, an experienced diplomat, to travel the world to examine the failures of American public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Mr. Djerejian returned shocked at the picture of America he saw on Arab television and the absence of any effective American rebuttal. "We did not have anywhere near enough people in place with the right language skills or the right sensitivities to respond," he said.

Mr. Djerejian still believes the outcome in Iraq could be positive, but he added that a chronically unstable Iraq would "set back the key goals we said we were trying to achieve on the Arab-Israeli front, on energy security and certainly on democratizing the region."

His investigation came before the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq emerged. "The photographs shattered our reputation as the world's most admired champion of freedom and justice," said Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution. "That is grave, because without the world's trust, America cannot flourish."

So three years after Sept. 11, Mr. Bush leads a United States whose image has been tarnished, while Europeans, Asians and Latin Americans still feel far less threatened by terrorism than Americans do.

The president speaks of the threat almost daily, but leaders elsewhere do not. In Europe, terrorism is not new and so seems less menacing; in Asia, the rapid growth of China and India continues to fuel an optimism that dispels, or at least diminishes, the dark clouds from the Middle East; in Latin America, trade and economic issues seem at least as important as Al Qaeda. The shared perception of a common threat that was the cornerstone of America's cold war alliances is gone.

"This America that speaks constantly of war and designates an enemy is not really accepted here," said Nicole Bacharan, a French analyst. "Europeans have a deep desire not to feel threatened. It is sad to observe this divorce in our world views."

In Spite of Rifts, Advances

Mr. Bush is aware of the divide, and in recent months has tried to bridge it. In Istanbul in June at a NATO summit meeting where Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and terrorism were on the agenda, he dispensed with his prepared speech in favor of a direct and emotional appeal.

An American diplomat in attendance said that Mr. Bush "spoke strongly, seemed a real leader'' and pressed his case that "whatever past differences, we all have a stake in the success of an independent Iraq."

But the next day, President Jacques Chirac of France shot back that NATO would never go into Iraq. "I don't believe it's NATO's job to intervene in Iraq," he said. Mr. Bush was angry, aides say, but pushed on. This summer NATO sent a 40-person team to Baghdad and recently, after long wrangling between the United States and France, agreed to increase the team to about 300 people to train Iraqi officers.

Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell say such missions prove that any tensions with France are overblown. "The relationship's fine," Ms. Rice said, citing the French role in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Relations with France are always "better in practice than they are in theory," she added.

Perhaps, but Mr. Chirac and Mr. Bush are no closer in world views than they ever were. The French president said recently that he sought a multilateral world in which the United Nations set the laws by which all nations abide - code words for limiting American power. Mr. Bush flatly rejects this view.

Ms. Rice insisted that Iraq had not thrust all other issues to the back burner.

"You have the most comprehensive policy toward Africa that any administration has had, including trade rights and AIDS and intervention with American forces to help solve the Liberia situation,'' she said. "You have China on the front lines against the North Korean nuclear program."

Her voice began to rise. "You want me to keep going?" she asked.

Certainly, Mr. Bush can cite the democratic opening in Afghanistan and Libya's move to abandon its nuclear weapons program as achievements. An Indian-Pakistani dialogue has begun, in part because of Mr. Powell's intervention last year.

At campaign stops, Mr. Bush often mentions the six-party talks with North Korea - involving China, Russia, South Korea and Japan - as an example of his diplomatic style.

"The difference between Iraq and North Korea, for example, is 11 years," Mr. Bush said in his interview. "Diplomacy failed for 11 years in Iraq. And this new diplomatic effort is barely a year old."

But the North Korean talks have also been an example of what happens when international diplomacy gets bogged down between hawks in the Pentagon and the vice president's office, and those in the State Department urging engagement. Not until it was clear that North Korea was probably manufacturing new weapons did Mr. Bush intervene.

"I give credit to Secretary Powell, who has been a lone voice of sanity on this issue, for creating the six-party talks, which now have the possibility of a potential solution," said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who was engaged in negotiating efforts as a member of the Clinton administration and is an active supporter of Mr. Kerry. "But we should have engaged bilaterally with North Korea sooner."

Elsewhere, the record seems mixed. In Africa, Mr. Bush followed Mr. Powell's lead to describe events in Sudan as "genocide." The United States is still working with African, Arab and European nations to make Sudan accept a large force of African peacekeeping troops to stabilize the western region of Darfur.

Pakistan's continued help against Al Qaeda appears solid, but Islamabad pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who had smuggled nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Mr. Bush uttered not a word of criticism, even after Pakistan refused to allow the United States to interrogate him.

A Question of Consultation

It often appears to his allies that Mr. Bush offers only a veneer of consultation. To deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush administration has embraced the "quartet" - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - to work on reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to a Palestinian state.

But Europeans, including Prime Minister Blair of Britain, remain frustrated by what they say has been Mr. Bush's failure to become actively engaged in pressing Israel to freeze the growth of settlements and to ease conditions for Palestinians living in the West Bank.

While some European states - though not France - have come around to the administration's view demanding that Yasir Arafat must step aside as the Palestinian leader, they say they are dismayed that Mr. Bush has listened to conservatives in the White House and the Pentagon on Israel policy rather than the State Department, which has always advocated more conciliatory steps.

"When Madeleine Albright spoke, you knew she spoke for the Clinton administration," said Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister. "Nowadays you never quite know."

As a result, European states no longer know how to structure their relationship with the United States. They wonder if there is enough stability in "coalitions of the willing" - Mr. Bush's favorite phrase to describe the nations that have joined the United States in Iraq.

Indeed, Iraq, many European officials say, was a costly distraction from fighting terrorism. They argue that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose images feed extremism across the Arab world, has been neglected. Iran, a more real and imminent threat than Iraq, and a source of further European-American division, was ignored for too long.

The resulting splits - those between Europe and America and those between the Arab world and America - are clear. What remains uncertain is whether Mr. Bush's policies will let terrorists exploit those divisions or whether his determination will crush them.