Bush Nominations Contradict 'Charm Offensive'

Much has been made of the Bush administration's charm offensive toward allies as a way to try to heal lingering anger and distrust over the war in Iraq.

In the first months of this year, the president's message has been that past disputes should not define the future relationship between the United States and longtime friends. That the war created bad feelings, but that it's time to move forward on a long list of shared goals and values.

This overture seemed to have been embraced by such harsh Iraq war critics as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The American president was in Europe last month smiling and posing for pictures with Chirac and Schroeder. It should be noted that they too were smiling, and echoing Mr. Bush's words on the need to get beyond Iraq-related animosity.

New Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has been globetrotting as well. She too has been making nice, and she seems to have been making friends in the process. Fascination with her position and her personality (and even her prospective political ambitions) has been prominent in the European news media.

But even while the president seems to want to renew old friendships overseas, he's clearly not inclined to seek the approval of those same old friends when filling important positions back home.

Instead, we have seen a series of presidential appointments in key positions affecting international relations that seem to strike an entirely different tone, one reminiscent of those days in Mr. Bush's first term when the alliance with Europe was most strained.

First there was the naming of John Bolton to be the ambassador to the United Nations. True enough, Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, has deep foreign policy experience. But throughout his career, he has also been a frequent critic of the United Nations. He is known to speak his mind with a bluntness not common in diplomatic circles.

In a 1994 speech, Bolton said this about the body he now hopes to join: "There is no such thing as the United Nations… There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interest and we can get others to go along."

The second somewhat curious nomination is that of longtime Bush adviser Karen Hughes. A person with no significant diplomatic experience, Hughes has been given a top State Department job in charge of improving the image of the United States overseas, most importantly in the Muslim world.

Finally, there's this week's naming of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. The person in that job has traditionally been selected by the U.S. president and approved by the bank's governing board. It's a key job requiring strong relationships with officials from Europe and other foreign capitals — places where the Iraq war was highly unpopular and where Wolfowitz's role in it was highly visible.

Wolfowitz is not just a supporter of that war. In his post at the Pentagon he was an early advocate of regime change and an architect of the plan to invade and topple Saddam Hussein. It is not an understatement to call him a lighting rod around the world. Newspapers across Europe are ablaze with criticism of the Wolfowitz nomination. The centrist-to-conservative Financial Times is running an online poll asking the question "Is Wolfowitz the right man for the job?" As of Thursday, 85 percent said "No."

So what does it all say? Is the White House sticking its thumb in the eye of Europeans and other allies, even as it professes its desire to kiss and make up? Or is the president simply putting people he knows and trusts in positions he feels are important? The president has long been known for his loyalty to those he trusts, and those he feels have shown loyalty to him.

It is also possible that the president simply doesn't care about world opinion when he makes appointments, even in positions that relate to diplomacy. It has long been the style of this President Bush (as opposed to his father) to represent his point of view and follow through. And if feelings get bruised, so be it. We can always kiss and make up later. Looking back on the people he appointed to handle foreign policy and national security in his first term, the president clearly believes his choices were the right ones.

We've just seen a series of new selections that demonstrate that point.

'Watching Washington'

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.