I’m of two minds after reading Timothy Garton Ash’s brutal takedown of the Bush administration’s Europe and Russia policies (via FPA’s Diplomacy blog). Ash compares President Bush’s divisive insistence on missile defense and opportunistic “Coalitions of the Willing” with George (H.W.) Bush’s skillful navigation of the post-Cold War challenges of integrating “New Europe” into “Old Europe” without alienating Russia. And on the one hand, the Bush administration’s policies seem to reflect an obvious hostility to both the Bush 41 approach and objectives.
But on the other, if you take a look at the U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration signed by Presidents Bush and Putin over the weekend, things don’t look that bad. Now I think that grows as much out of Bush’s failures than out of any design. (In other words, things might have looked better.) Still, when you take away the “agree to disagree” clause over missile defense, the only thorny issue that remains is a divergent view of the INF treaty, which reflects more Russia’s proximity to its INF-armed neighbors than a bi-lateral difference in principle.
As for Europe’s East-West divisions, they reflect the reality of European integration. Sure, the Bush administration has done its best to exploit them for its own purposes — the Iraq War, Russia policy and missile defense — but it didn’t create them. As long as Europe doesn’t take responsibility for that dynamlic, it will remain vulnerable to it.
The big hole in the Bush foreign policy record is the Middle East. His Asia policy, after some initial missteps, has been pretty solid, as has his Africa policy. Unfortunately, it’s a big enough hole to swallow everything else. But the counterintuitive thought for the day is that, despite being poorly conceived, worse in its implementation and disastrous in its impact on America’s global influence, the Bush foreign policy hasn’t been that bad.