Charlie Kupchan: Mixed Signals on the Direction of Foreign Policy


Although Bolton’s recess appointment is the talk of the town, let’s not overlook another choice appointment. Last Thursday, Bush nominated Roland Arnall to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. The same day, Ameriquest Capital Corp., of which Arnall is the chairman and sole owner, announced that it had set aside $325 million for potential settlements with 30 states whose regulatory agencies or attorneys general are investigating its lending practices.
Ameriquest, a mortgage company which lends primarily to homeowners with bad credit, has been accused of predatory lending practices. According to the Washington Post, the company “is facing complaints of wrongdoing from coast to coast, with thousands of customers seeking restitution.” Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, CA, complained that Arnall’s “companies have engaged in unfair and deceptive practices too many times to count.” “These executives should be headed to the pen, not some diplomat’s mansion.”
No one will be surprised to know that Arnall and his wife are top Republican donors.
Enough of Bush’s ambassadors. Of more importance is the overall direction of Bush’s foreign policy during his second term. And as several of the thoughtful reactions to my posting on Sunday noted, it is no easy task to discern whether we are witnessing a significant course correction or primarily rhetorical fixes that will not affect the general direction of policy.
As I wrote on Sunday, the team of Rice, Zoellick, and Burns do have the capacity to push the administration away from the excesses of the first term. They are in; Wolfowitz and Feith are out. As a result, I think it is fair to surmise that the center of political gravity in the upper echelons of the administration has shifted tentatively from the far right back toward a more realistic center. I do not, however, sense a major ideological shift as much as a course correction driven by pragmatism. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are not having epiphanies. Instead, Iraq has made clear to Bush and his team that America cannot run the world on its own and that it needs help on virtually every front. Stay tuned. There will be plenty of ideological and political jockeying in the weeks and ahead, and it is too soon to predict who will have the upper hand.
We also need to keep our eyes on Congress. Pragmatic internationalists are in short supply in the House and Senate. Most are older members, some of whom will soon step down from office. The younger senators and congressmen replacing them lack the internationalist inclinations of the World War II generation. The waning of bipartisan spirit also works against the restoration of the steady coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans that provided a political foundation for a centrist and pragmatic U.S. foreign policy through much of the Cold War and the 1990s.
Getting Congress to help restore balance and pragmatism to US foreign policy will require lots of leadership and public education – both of which are in short supply.
Charlie Kupchan