U.S. President George W. Bush has won a second chance to tackle the major foreign-policy challenges that characterized his first four years in office. They include rebuilding strained U.S.-European relations, the crises over Iraq and Iran, and growing U.S. concerns about Syria. Bush was much-criticized by challenger John Kerry for having a "go-it-alone" foreign policy. Many Europeans are now asking whether Bush will seek more multilateral strategies in a second term.
Prague, 4 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Newspaper editorials and even some top European officials had expressed hope that a change in leadership in Washington would ease trans-Atlantic tensions generated by U.S. President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq without a specific UN mandate.
Now that Bush has won a second term, many analysts say those tensions could continue to define Washington's relations with much of Europe over the next four years.
Steven Everts of the Center for European Reform in London said the reason is that the U.S. campaign was in many ways an American referendum on Bush's approach to foreign policy. He said Bush now feels vindicated and Europeans disappointed.
"I think we are looking at an international landscape that will be dominated by a 'Bush administration 2' that will feel largely vindicated. And the Bush administration I think will not approach it with, 'OK, we have got to reach out now to the Europeans who opposed or had great reservations about many aspects of U.S. foreign policy over the past four years.' Rather, they will say that Bush has a very strong mandate now to proceed roughly on the path that he has followed in the last four years," Everts said.
Everts said France and Germany -- Bush's sharpest EU critics -- are likely to respond by continuing to call for Washington to work with other nations and the UN in shaping a new Iraq. But he said the two EU states are likely to feel more reluctant than ever to contribute their own troops for any broader multinational security force.
Many analysts predict that this reluctance will leave Washington shouldering most of the burden of Iraq's security, along with its closest European ally, Britain. The burden could grow heavier as some smaller European states that are now in the multinational force say they will phase out their participation shortly after Iraq's first round of elections in January.
Yesterday, the Netherlands said it is sending its last contingent of 1,350 troops to Iraq this week but will completely withdraw its forces from the country by the end of March. Hungary announced it also will withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq in March. Both governments are reported to be responding to domestic public pressure.
The growing security burden on Washington could make building Iraq's own security forces an even more urgent challenge for Bush in his second term than it has been during the past months.
Neil Partrick of the Economist Intelligence Unit in London says Washington's success in building Iraqi forces -- and progress toward creating a popular-based government in Baghdad -- will determine whether the United States can begin withdrawing large numbers of its own troops by the end of 2005. That date is in accordance with the June UN resolution welcoming Iraq's return to sovereignty.
"One key event would, of course, be how the election early next year [in Iraq] plays out. But certainly from President Bush, we have seen fairly clear indications of the desire to reduce [U.S.] troops on the other side of that election, and [we have heard] the indication that the formal time span that there would need to be a strong troop commitment only really runs to the end of 2005," Partrick said.
But if Washington may have to continue facing the Iraq crisis mainly with the help of Britain and smaller allies, there are other issues that could spark new trans-Atlantic cooperation in crisis solving. One is the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
In recent months, Washington and the three major European powers -- Britain, France, and Germany -- have taken an increasingly unified position that Iran must not become a nuclear power. The Europeans have spoken of trying to strike a grand bargain with Tehran whereby it would give up activities that could lead to developing nuclear weapons in exchange for technical assistance and trade incentives. Washington says it is watching the initiative with interest but has stopped short of publicly backing it.
Analyst Everts said a key test for the second Bush administration will be whether it decides to fully join Europe in seeking a grand bargain with Tehran despite wide current trans-Atlantic differences over the terms to be offered. "On Iran, it is true that both Europeans and Americans are roughly agreed on the objective, which is a non-nuclear Iran. And it is also true that there has been a sort of hardening of the European position. But the vast majority of Europeans believe that we have got to try first whether we can find some kind of grand bargain with Iran whereby they would effectively give up their nuclear option in return for very significant political and economic incentives -- including American recognition of Iran and full integration [of Iran] into the global economy," Everts said.
The Bush administration has given no sign over the past four years that it would change a long-standing U.S. policy of maintaining U.S. sanctions against Tehran and seeking to isolate the Islamic Republic internationally. Washington has said that if Iran does not fully and quickly cooperate with international nuclear arms inspectors, the issue should be referred to the UN Security Council for possible discussion of punitive actions.
As Iraq and Iran pose major foreign-policy challenges for Bush's second term, one more crisis may be looming in the region -- that is, growing U.S. concern over Syria.
Rime Allaf of the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London says the White House wants Damascus to close its border to militants funelling arms and fighters to Iraq, to cut off support for Palestinian militant groups targeting Israel, and to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon.
"On all these fronts, on the front of the Palestinians, on the front of the Iraqis, and on the front of the Lebanese, I think all indications are that the Bush administration -- having already had a law passed in its favor, having several more sanctions it can impose on Syria -- will only have now many more choices [to make]. And I do believe that we are going to see more focus on Syria, especially if things don't go well in Iraq," Allaf said.
The United States in May banned all U.S. exports to Syria except food and medicine and forbid flights between Syria and the United States in response to allegations that Syria was supporting terrorism and undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq.
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