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Warren Christopher Gives Mixed Marks for Bush Foreign Policy   Todd Cheney, UCLA Photography

Warren Christopher Gives Mixed Marks for Bush Foreign Policy

On January 23 former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher delivered the 22nd Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture for the Conditions of Peace. Sponsored annually by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations, this year’s lecture focused on a one-year assessment of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

By Jean Roth

The question remains ... whether President Bush will continue to pursue a multilateral policy, or whether he sees the international coalition simply as a response to terrorism.

Christopher started his assessment in a critical vein, noting that in the first two-thirds of 2001, the direction of the Bush administration veered sharply from that of President Clinton's multi-lateralism and activism. Bush foreign policy, Christopher said, was characterized by a withdrawal from several international arms-related agreements, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, from a role in Israel-Arab peace efforts, and from the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Far from acting as world partner, Christopher said, "the United States seemed determined to bend the world to its will – and it was not offering much in return."

But Christopher gave high marks to the president for foreign policy changes implemented after the September 11 terrorist attacks. As the president recognized the need for a new diplomacy based on coalition building, old allies and in some cases, adversaries, joined the coalition despite the irony of the US' having rejected key international treaties in previous months. US-China relations in particular, so recently strained, saw a distinct improvement, as did US-Russian relations, troubled by such issues as NATO expansion, and the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

The man who logged more miles during his tenure than any other US secretary of state in pursuit of brokering peace was less positive about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Christopher pointed out that after months of a "hands-off" policy, the post-9/11 Bush administration started to view the conflict as one of the puzzle pieces in the war against terrorism. However, Christopher said, the lateness of this attitude change seems to have exacted too high a price, as the escalation of violence in the region has reached a point where a solution may only be found in a change in Israeli and/or Palestinian leadership.

The question remains, Christopher said, whether President Bush will continue to pursue a multilateral policy, or whether he sees the international coalition simply as a response to terrorism, reversible when no longer expedient. "As yet," he said, "there is little evidence of any lasting change in the president's thinking beyond the war on terrorism."

Christopher warned that as the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda shifts to a war on global terrorism, the US will have to continue to keep the multinational coalition intact, or else risk a weakening of the effort.

He also stressed the importance of other types of multilateral cooperation for international coalitions. Beyond the war against terrorism, he said, the Bush administration needs to revisit its stance on taking an active role in nation building in developing or troubled countries, contributing more generously to the worldwide fight against AIDS, assisting nations in financial crisis, and cooperating on environmental challenges. "Terrorism will yield only to the aggressive coordination of intelligence among all civilized nations," Christopher said. "The nations of the world need each other, and the United States is not exempt from that reality."

UCLA International Institute