07 Apr Foreign Policy Schizophrenia
Peggy’s post and Julian’s comment to her post set out some good arguments as to why John Bolton is or is not the right person to send to the UN. (Democracy Arsenal, by the way, has the top ten reasons why John Bolton should not be confirmed. Also note this post.) Regardless, I think there is little doubt that Bolton will be easily confirmed. That being said, I do wonder whether his confirmation, particularly in light of the rest of the second term foreign policy team, will continue the foreign policy schizophrenia that has dogged the Bush Presidency.
I know, many people would say that the Bush foreign policy has been quite coherent: pursuit of terrorists, pursuit of rogue states, skepticism (or outright hostility) towards international organizations and multilateralism, etc. But I think this misses some of the most important divergences within the Bush team as well as policy flips in recent years. The contentious issues have not always been what goals to pursue, but how to pursue them. (Though defining foreign pilicy goals has been contentious as well.)
At times there seems to be a real tug-of-war between moderate views (treat with comity ICJ judgments on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; let’s get the Law of the Sea Treaty ratified) and knee-jerk anti-internationalism (get out of the Consular Relations Optional Protocol! Beware the Law of the Sea Treaty!). This is also borne out in the mix of senior advisors (most obviously the clashes between Powell and Rumsfeld in the last term but now in the mix of foreign policy moderates on one hand, and folks like John Bolton and Douglas Feith, on the other).
Much has been made of President Bush liking to have a wide variety of views among his advisors and then choosing what he thinks is best; I’m all for such a leadership technique. The problem is that recent foreign policy hasn’t had this type of feel: rather its more like a lot of bureaucratic in-fighting with one faction winning out one day, another the next. The result is policy schizophrenia: write a presidential memo supporting the application of ICJ opinions one week, take away its jurisdiction on consular relations issues the next. Say the Law of the Sea Treaty is important, then sit and let it languish. Say the Geneva Conventions don’t apply in the War on Terror, then say we’ll apply most of them anyway, then repudiate your counsel’s legal memo on the issue.
In such an environment, who you have as your public face is very important because, quite frankly, allies need to be reassured that we aren’t about to do some crazy about face. I doubt John Bolton is that guy. I did not find the National Review Online piece that Julian linked to reassuring in the least; it made Bolton sound like someone who would support the UN only as long as the UN did exactly what the U.S. told it to do. That’s not going to win friends and influence allies and it’s not going to lead to productive UN reform. Sure, some have said it took Nixon to go to China and so it will take John Bolton to go to the UN. The difference, though, is that Nixon actually gave a damn about relations with China.