By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2001; Page A04
During his campaign for president, George W. Bush repeatedly pledged
reemphasize the United States' relations with its allies, reversing what he
said had been the Democrats' neglect of these traditional ties.
But in less than three months in office, Bush has antagonized many of
America's closest friends in Europe and Asia. The United States jarred the
Europeans over its plan to build a national missile shield, embarrassed the
South Koreans by abruptly rejecting missile talks with North Korea and
provoked outrage worldwide by summarily rejecting the Kyoto agreement
on global warming.
A top British official summed up the sentiments of many allied leaders,
complaining that the United States was sitting in "glorious isolation."
Last week, as the resulting chill began to bite, Bush administration
officials sought to salve the sensitivities of European and Asian allies by
advancing efforts to address a few of their environmental concerns. Flanked
by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, Bush announced Thursday that the
United States would sign a treaty aimed at reducing chemical pollution.
Administration officials said separately they would, after all, not entirely
abandon international efforts to fight global warming.
The administration's unsteady approach reflects a lack of consensus
Bush team over how best to manage relations with the allies. In particular,
it has highlighted the fault lines between the State Department and other
agencies, namely the Pentagon and the White House.
These differences arise in part from what analysts identify as a divergence
in the worldviews of key policymakers. Powell's State Department sees the
United States moving forward in tandem with other countries to address
foreign problems. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President
Cheney strike a more uncompromising pose, preferring to act unilaterally and
pursue an agenda more conservative than that of most allies.
Indeed, each major step that has offended the allies originated outside
Department, with Powell at times left to assuage hurt feelings. The impetus for
reversing the earlier U.S. position on the Kyoto pact, for instance, came in large
part from the White House, reflecting the concerns of the energy task force headed
by Cheney and the president's chief economic adviser, Lawrence B. Lindsey.
It was also the White House that blindsided South Korean President Kim
Bush told him during a Washington visit that the United States would not pursue talks
with North Korea to restrict its missile development, one day after Powell had
indicated those negotiations would continue.
And Powell had the task of reassuring the allies after Rumsfeld, making
first overseas trip by a Bush Cabinet member, bluntly told them during a
February defense meeting in Munich that the United States was determined to
build a national missile shield regardless of European misgivings.
Foreign policy analysts said the differences in approach, in particular
degree of willingness to consult with other governments, arise partly from
institutional interests. The task of State's diplomatic corps, after all, is
to foster diplomatic relations.
Even more so, they reflect the personalities of Powell and other national
security officials that are also evident in their management styles,
analysts and officials said. Powell has developed an open approach, setting
out from his first week on the job to energize the State Department's ranks.
Rumsfeld, by contrast, has cloistered himself with his advisers.
Powell has pursued several initiatives that have won favor, especially
European allies. His strategy to lift many economic sanctions on Iraq while
focusing restrictions on military imports has brought the administration closer
into step with European leaders. And he has sought to reassure nervous NATO
allies that the United States does not plan a hasty exit from the Balkans despite
the earlier call of the Bush campaign for withdrawing U.S. peacekeepers.
State Department officials say the United States continues to have broad
cooperation with its allies and is involved in "intensive and detailed work"
with friendly governments on a range of issues. "I don't expect we are going
to agree on everything all the time," said State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher. "Some of these policies are under review, and people are
telling us what they think and what we ought to do."
During the campaign, Bush said it was "incredibly important" to build
alliances in Europe and East Asia. In his marquee address on foreign policy,
candidate Bush said, "To be relied on when they're needed, our allies must
be respected when they are not. We have partners, not satellites. . . . This
requires both more American consultation and American leadership."
But foreign policy analysts said the administration has provoked unneeded
anxiety among these partners. "Coming out of the box, they created problems
where they didn't need to," said James M. Lindsay, a former National Security
Council member now at the Brookings Institution. "It is one of the big disjunctures
between what they promised to do and what they are in fact delivering."
Strained relations with the allies, in turn, could jeopardize the administration's
foreign priorities, ranging from trade ties and efforts to stem the spread of advanced
weapons to crafting a global consensus on containing Iraq.
"The Bush administration has not been warmly received by European allies.
There is a pretty strong sense of disquiet so far," said Robert Kagan, a
former senior State Department official living in Brussels.
A European diplomat in Washington warned there is "a widening of the
Atlantic." He cited the administration's opposition to a range of
multilateral initiatives favored by the Europeans, including a Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons, the establishment of an international
criminal court and the preservation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
which could ban the kind of missile defenses Bush wants.
But the "watershed," said another European diplomat, was the Kyoto decision.
"As far as European opinion goes, [it was] disastrous. I think they
understand this now," he said. But even after the administration's
environmental announcements Thursday, he said, Bush "will carry this as an
albatross for some time. It reinforces European fears of unilateralism."
The first inkling some European diplomats had that Bush planned to abandon
the Kyoto accord came in mid-March newspaper accounts of a letter sent from
the White House to four senators saying the administration would not seek
reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions of the nation's power plants. The
next clue was a late-March television interview in which Cheney called the
treaty "seriously flawed."
So when national security adviser Condoleezza Rice showed up the next
for a scheduled lunch with ambassadors from European Union countries at the
Swedish envoy's Tenleytown residence and abruptly told them the Kyoto treaty
was "dead on arrival," they were already armed with objections. They told
her the 1997 treaty was vitally important to both people and governments
across Europe. They made clear the administration should have at least given
them advance notice before deciding to walk away from it.
The administration said the treaty was too expensive and unwise at a
energy shortages. The agreement would require the United States to reduce
its emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide
produced by burning fossil fuels.
At issue are not only environmental concerns, but also the value of
American promises to confer with the allies on matters of shared concern.
Only weeks before the Kyoto decision, U.S. officials had vowed to consult
with NATO leaders about the development of any missile shield.
In Asia, the most jarring move has been Bush's abrupt suspension of
talks with North Korea, reversing Powell's position and undercutting Kim's
"sunshine" policy to promote peace on the Korean peninsula. "You take the
architect of the North-South reconciliation and you publicly humiliate him,"
said Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. Some Korean media called the American about-face an
insult to their nation.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations
Committee, deemed the Bush-Kim meeting "a fiasco." During a speech at
Georgetown University, Biden said, "It is dumbfounding to me how we could
send our strategic ally -- a Nobel Peace Prize winner -- home to South Korea
more confused about our intentions than when he arrived."
Even American relations with Japan have been roiled, though in part
events outside the administration's control. A series of sex crimes by U.S.
servicemen in Okinawa had already caused hard feelings even before a
Japanese fishing boat was inadvertently sunk by an American submarine in
Hawaii in February. Officials from the two governments, meanwhile, have
pointed fingers at each other over who is to blame for undermining the
anemic global economy.