“I definitely learned a lot,” said Tess Senderowicz ’04. “Because here we are sheltered from the media unless we actually seek to be informed. It was nice to have people who were obviously learned and informed on the topic break it down for us.”
Professor of Political Science Pavel Machala, who took time from his sabbatical to speak in the forum, brought an air of humor to the panel, opening by saying, “We are supposed to talk about baby Bush’s foreign policy. Can baby Bush have a foreign policy?”
Though Bush’s administration will bring its own objectives to bear on foreign policy, Machala pointed out that its decisions will be predicated on the actions taken by the previous administration. “Bush’s foreign policy will be constrained by Clinton,” Machala said.
The Bush presidency is unique in American history because “he is our first post-Cold War president,” Machala said. “His administration will not be shaping foreign policy out of thin air, but out of inheritance.”
“I believe he is our first president who is absolutely innocent of knowledge,” added Machala. “I believe his administration’s foreign policy will be successful not despite his innocence, but because of it.”
Bush’s foreign policy will be successful because his advisors will be dictating it, Machala said. Cabinet-level “heavyweights,” including Vice President and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are “an awesome team of advisors,” Machala said.
Bush will face a few “headaches” during his term, according to Machala. The first is Bush himself.
“The problem with President Bush is that he doesn’t believe in the world of ideas . . . He is an empty vessel through which America is going to speak to the world,” Machala said.
One of Bush’s headaches will be “something that he can thank his father for: Saddam Hussein,” Machala said. “I don’t think he represents a threat, but he represents a challenge.”
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela “represents an awesome challenge,” Machala added. His significant oil reserves might be threatened by “the growing instability of Vietnam proportions in neighboring Colombia.”
Machala also said that Bush’s administration will be treating China differently than Clinton did. “The Bush administration described China as an opponent, not a strategic partner as the Clinton administration had done.”
The two most important foreign policy issues to pay attention to, according to Machala are the nuclear defense missile shield and a drive to end dependence on foreign oil.
Professor of History and American Studies Gordon Levin added a historical perspective to the forum. Levin said that the primary goal of American foreign policy has not changed since it was formed in 1941-the prevention of the domination of the Eurasian continent, or a significant part of it, by a power hostile to the United States. “The fundamental objectives in the United States in the post-Cold War world have not changed from those strategic decisions in ’41,” he said.
In addition to general comments on foreign policy, Levin spoke about one of his areas of expertise, Israel. He said that he worried that if Sharon is elected Prime Minister, as he has since been, it will have drastic, destabilizing consequences for the middle east. “I think only a miracle stands between us and the election of Sharon,” said Levin.
Visiting Professor in Political Science Elke Zuern, who had just returned from a month in South Africa, spoke about how Africans were reacting to Bush’s election. Zuern said that there are several important questions concerning Africa, “How much attention will Bush pay to the African continent and when the administration does pay attention, what kind of attention will it be, and in what kind of circumstance?”
Zuern did not think that Africa would be placed high on Bush’s foreign policy list. “Bush is a man who doesn’t care too much about Africa,” she said, “but who also doesn’t know too much about Africa.”
She also questioned how active the Bush administration would be in peacekeeping efforts. Bush supports “regional responses for regional problems,” Zuern said.
Professor of Political Science William Taubman, who was the last to speak, focused his remarks on Russia. Taubman noted that a short while ago Russia was an important enough foreign policy challenge to merit his speaking first. “Before I go into this, I want to remind you that Russia’s still there and they’ve got a lot of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Taubman posed the question, “Is [Russia] more dangerous when it is weak than when it is strong?”
Bill Clinton tried to gain Russia’s trust, participating in 23 summits with Russian leaders, said Taubman. “Russians are tired of Western advice,” Taubman said; “they are tired of America meddling in their affairs.”
“In some ways Russians are pleased with Bush,” said Taubman. They think Bush will take a less pro active interest in Russian problems than previous administrations.
The missile shield question looms over American-Russian relations. Bush has publicly supported it, even though it violates an international treaty.
“It went really great. I was so happy to see the Red Room filled beyond capacity,” said Adam Nagorski ’02, president of the Foreign Policy Forum, the group that hosted the discussion.
Nagorski added that the club hopes to host more events this semester.”We want to bring in speakers who are not just observers of politics, but insiders,” he said.