George Walker Bush and the International Outreach

George Walker Bush’s foreign policy veered sharply from the caution, disengagement, and hesitancy of his predecessor to a forceful interventionism that surpassed other post-Cold War presidencies. Large-scale military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq were followed by ambitious nation-building and democracy-promotion exertions in both lands. Under American auspices, counterterrorism operations expanded into the Philippines, Somalia, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa. President Bush’s first term also witnessed the formation of a global anti-terrorism coalition, a close re-alignment with Pakistan, and diplomatic exertions to buttress democracy in the “color revolutions” of Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. In early 2005, the White House joined with Saudi Arabia and Europe (mostly France) in pushing Syrian military forces out of their three-decade occupation of Lebanon in the Cedar Revolution. George W. Bush’s policies, in turn, generated international opposition from friends and foes, strained America’s resources, and bred its own backlash at home.

The former Texas governor’s first nine months in White House recorded a moderate international policy. Ten weeks into his presidency, for example, Bush faced the so-called Hainan Incident. In that showdown with

So foul a sky clears not without a storm. William Shakespeare’s King John Trying to plan for the future without a sense of history is like trying to plant cut flowers. Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of the US Congress

© The Author(s) 2017

T.H. Henriksen, Cycles in US Foreign Policy since the Cold War, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-48640-6_6

China, the incoming government defused it in the best crisis-management tradition without escalation or triumphalism. A US reconnaissance aircraft flying 70 miles from Hainan Island was set upon by two J-8 fighter planes from the People’s Republic of China. One of the Chinese pilots collided into the US Navy EP-3 intelligence airplane on its routine signals- gathering mission. The PRC fighter jet broke in two, crashed into the sea below, killing the pilot. The damaged American propeller craft had to make a forced landing on Hainan Island. Chinese military officials placed the 24 Navy crew members under guard and interrogated them repeatedly and at all hours of the night. A brief diplomatic standoff ensued until Washington issued a letter of regret and sorrow (but not an apology) to the Beijing government. The White House made no concessions but finessed the diplomatic tempest. China released the crew on April 11, ten days after the mid-air crash. The disassembled EP-3 was returned on July 3. There was no cowboy internationalism on Bush’s part.

Three brief terrorist incidents during President Bush’s first June in office also indicated that the new commander-in-chief started walking in the same cautious footsteps of the previous White House occupant, despite his tough rhetoric on the campaign trail. As such, the trio of events elicited a Clintonesque reaction which struck observers as odd coming from the new president, who roundly derided the sitting government’s irresolution during his election campaign.1 These soon-forgotten episodes in mid-2001, additionally, drew a decidedly timorous response so out of step with that of the post-9/11 Bush administration. First, FBI agents investigating the skiff-bombing of the USS Cole fled Aden in haste when notified of intercepted cellphone threats. Second, on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, US warships berthed in Bahrain, the US Fifth Fleet’s headquarters, headed seaward after receiving terrorists’ alerts. Finally, US Marines taking part in training exercises with Jordanian troops hastily redeployed back on their ships and steamed clear of any land danger once they received a terrorist warning. None of these events made much political impact once the September11 attack took place two months later. In retrospect, however, they hardly signaled resoluteness on the part of America’s defense forces or the new commander-in-chief. The foreign policy pendulum seemed decidedly anchored in disengagement mode.

During his campaign, however, candidate Bush sounded strong internationalist policy themes. In this manner, he followed closely Republican Party pronouncements during the 1990s. The former Texas politician called for a return to basics in national security policy and for strengthening alliances with Western Europe and Japan, the latter of which he believed had been shunted aside for a China-first orientation by the Clinton White House. Likewise, he argued that Clinton had let the strong Persian Gulf coalition atrophy, despite ongoing saber-rattling from Saddam Hussein. At his party’s convention, he returned to the need for more defense money: “America’s armed forces need better equipment, better training, and better pay.”2 By personal temperament and political instincts, candidate Bush gave more than an inkling of his predisposition toward a terrifying menace.

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