January 13, 2005

January 13, 2005 | Commentary on

Bush's Second Mandate

In a little over a week, President Bush will stand on the steps of the Capitol and raise his hand to take the oath of office for the second time. It is time to consider what the next four years will hold. Foreign leaders and diplomats, journalists and commentators are very much interested in the shape of the Bush foreign policy for the coming term.

Now, when the president took the oath of office on that snowy January day back in 2001, no one expected that his first term would be overwhelmingly dominated by the war against global terrorism. Mr. Bush's agenda was largely domestic; nation building, peacekeeping and Middle East democracy were so far down the to-do list that they may not even have been on it.

Even with a second-term presidency and a certain international course already staked out, there is that continuing problem with events, which can cause the best-laid plans of men to go awry. The difficult job of dealing with uncertainty and being prepared for the unexpected is in many ways what foreign policy has to be about in the 21st century.

The world we live in today is a complicated one. It is clearly unipolar in terms of America's military predominance, but that has not prevented other players on the international scene from making moves to create counter-wailing forces. The European Union, an economic rival, is undergoing a process of expansion and political transformation. Russia and China are moving in the direction of an alliance.

What should remain constant in this shifting landscape, however, are the principles that have served the United States well over the years. Mandate for Leadership, published this week by the Heritage Foundation serves as a guide to the second Bush term and articulates the principles for a conservative foreign policy that reinforces American values, economic and political freedom, national interest, security and sovereignty.

In practical terms, that means a strong focus on homeland security, including intelligence reform. In this area, foreign and domestic policy merge, and military pre-emptive action may at times be necessary for protecting the homeland against terrorist attack. While that right is beyond doubt, it does require a high degree of confidence in our intelligence services. We are still a long way from evaluating the consequences of the 2004 intelligence reform bill.

Meeting defense requirements post-September 11 will also mean a continued commitment to the transformation of the U.S. military. A far more flexible force structure is needed, and our overseas bases need to be reevaluated in light of new threats. We have discovered in Iraq that we need boots on the ground, and post-conflict reconstruction has to be a part of our strategy.

The United States continues to need strong alliances throughout the world. In the Asia Pacific region that means strong cooperation with Japan, South Korea and Australia. And NATO, the most important and powerful of our defense alliances, must not be allowed to crumble. It can too easily be undermined by internal fighting among members and by independent European defense aspirations. But at 26 members, unanimity within NATO becomes almost impossible to enforce. Rather, coalitions of the willing will be the way of the future. The Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative is an example of an innovative and successful coalition of the willing to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In relation to other international institutions, the principle of U.S. sovereignty must not be compromised. National sovereignty remains the fundamental guarantor of a society of laws with protections for the civil and human rights of citizens. That means that the United Nations and other international institutions can be components of U.S. foreign policy, but only that. The United Nations is so far from being a democratic institution that no amount of reform will give it supreme political legitimacy.

Finally, to act effectively on these principles, we need a renewed focus on presenting them persuasively to foreign leaders and foreign publics. In hindsight, it was surely a mistake to cash in the peace dividend after the Cold War by eliminating the U.S. Information Agency. At the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon, a renewed commitment will be necessary to get out America's message.

The American people endorsed Mr. Bush's foreign policy in the 2004 election and gave him a mandate for leadership. The next four years will show us what kind of world leader he has become.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: helle.dale@heritage.org .

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times