Why the US doesn't speak to the world with one voice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am

How many times have differing statements on the same foreign policy issue come out of Washington? The closer war with Iraq gets and the deeper the crisis with North Korea, the more confusing the official line.

The reason is that President George W. Bush's Republican Party has developed an ideological crack and now comprises two camps - known by observers as the realists and the neo-conservatives.

Their tug of war has led to gaffes, contradictions and embarrassments for Mr Bush. The feeling is that this is an administration with little understanding of foreign policy and the art of diplomacy.

The reality is that Mr Bush has one of his nation's most experienced governments, with many senior advisers of 20 years or more standing who have served three presidents.

Typical of the disarray was a series of statements on Iraq last September. Secretary of State Colin Powell said America's first step should be sending United Nations weapons inspectors back to Baghdad. Vice-President Dick Cheney said sending inspectors back to a country that had thwarted them for years was futile.

No wonder there is so much rhetoric coming from Washington - each side has to have its say and then Mr Bush has to offer his opinion.

Iraq will change that, some American political experts believe. Military conflict to overthrow President Saddam Hussein is certain and the post-Iraq policy adopted by Mr Bush will reveal which camp is dominant. US foreign policy analyst John Hulsman, of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation in Washington, said there are three views of the outside world within the US.

The Democrats aim to revive Wilsonism, named after Woodrow Wilson, the president of the US from 1913 to 1921. Wilson championed progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order.

Old-style realism and neo-conservatism are the views tugging for supremacy among the Republicans. Under realism, the job of the US is to prevent the appearance of a hegemonic rival in Europe or Asia; but at the same time, it has to work with the rest of the world.

'The US is the chairman of the board of all power indices, be they political, economic or military,' Dr Hulsman said. 'But there are other members of the board in every single case as well. The key is somehow managing between those important facts.'

The neo-conservatives view the US as the world's dominant power and want to see it expand and dominate. They speak of an American empire.

Economist Ahmad Faruqui, with the American Institute of International Studies, said their godfather was Norman Podhoretz, a writer and literary critic who has called for regime change en masse in the Middle East.

Mr Podhoretz's 'axis of evil' nations go beyond Iraq, Iran and North Korea - cited by Mr Bush in his State of the Union address last year - and include Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

'He wants the US to unilaterally overthrow these regimes in the Arab world and replace them with democracies cast in the Jeffersonian mold,' Mr Faruqui said in a recent paper. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, drafted the Declaration of Independence.

The post-Iraq scenario will force the hand of the Republican camps - and one will be forced to admit defeat.

'What you do next is totally different depending on your point of view,' Dr Hulsman said. 'If you go on, you have to militarily engage Libya, Syria, North Korea and so on - the neo-conservative view. If you're a realist and say one size doesn't fit all in the world, you have to make choices or it leads to over-stretch - which is how the Roman Empire fell. The national interest should determine your policy.'

The winner? The realists, without doubt, said Dr Hulsman. 'Realism will win for a variety of reasons - one of them being that the neo-conservatives only have to be wrong once.'

It is difficult to see suspected neo-conservatives like Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney as losers.

The war will not be an easy one.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's Foreign Editor