On Top Of the World


The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration

By: Steven Hurst

Author Bio: Steven Hurst is a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research specializes in U.S. foreign policy, but has recently shifted specifically from covering U.S. foreign policy to the Middle East. Currently, he is working on a study focused on the Iranian nuclear programme.

Globalization and Negotiation in Post-Cold War Era

By: Bryan Ly

Soon after President George H. W. Bush took office, the Cold War and communist threat began to break down. Steven Hurst, in The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration, asks, “did George Bush and his administration successfully adjust U.S. (United States) foreign policy and equip the United States to pursue its interests in the new post-Cold War era?”1 With the defining feature of U.S. foreign policy crumbling, Bush was given the responsibility of creating a new direction of foreign policy. Additionally, the ending of the Cold War provided the U.S. with another chance to create world order, a chance that the administrations following both World Wars were given. Hurst also addresses how Bush as a person affected his performance as a President, with his flexibility in ideologies and pragmatic nature that would both harm and help him in his endeavors. He addresses the question of Bush’s effectiveness in his foreign policy negotiations, while also including his lack of focus on the domestic scene as a result. The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration looks back on the 1988 presidency and evaluates the context, results, and public perception of Bush’s policies, while delving into the reason of why Bush failed to secure a second term.

In the year 1989, the Bush administration began their term by reviewing the current foreign policy of the U.S. before beginning their own initiatives. However, compromise with the Iran-Contra issue in Nicaragua began almost immediately. Although Bush supported Reagan’s policy to arm the Contras, instead, the administration decided to negotiate with Congress on how to address the issue because “the votes for military aid the Contras were simply not there.”2 From the cooperation, the Bipartisan Accord was signed, which resolved the divisive conflict that plagued to U.S. during the past administration. Regarding the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic), Bush believed that Mikhail Gorbachev was sincere in wanting to reform his country. Negotiations on arms reduction were leaning towards the USSR, since the reductions focused on areas that NATO was superior in. In response, Bush accepted many of Gorbachev’s requests for arms reductions and in return, requested some of his own. Not only did Bush’s actions regain some political initiative from Gorbachev, but it also began a pattern of testing Gorbachev’s sincerity in cooperating. The shift in Soviet policy opened up opportunities for negotiations in the Middle East through the declining support from the Soviets to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Although nothing concrete immediately followed, the U.S. managed to emphasize their intention of being a peace broker in the Middle East conflict. China was also becoming an issue for Bush. Confident in his previous experience as a U.S. representative in China, Bush made an early visit to the Chinese Communist Party, but ignored the growing U.S. trade deficit to China and China’s record of violating human rights. Despite Bush’s intentions to maintain good relations with China, a massacre at Tiananmen Square and the resulting crash in public opinion of China caused Bush to condemn the events. Further efforts to maintain a good relation with China lead only to China blaming the U.S. for various issues and overall. Although he failed in China, Bush continued to succeed with the USSR with Chief of Staff James Baker cooperating with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Efforts to promote U.S.-Soviet relations culminated at the Malta conference where Bush declared, “we stand at the threshold of a brand new era in U.S.-Soviet relations.”3 It was then that Bush believed the Cold War was over and the turning point between the U.S.-Soviet relation transforming from conflictual to cooperative.

After the end of the Cold War in 1989, the following year was dominated with the problems that arose as a result. In the Soviet Union’s Baltic Republics, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all began vying for independence. In December 1989, the Lithuanian communist party had already broken off from Moscow and demanded independence. Bush was torn on this issue among Congress, the media was pushing to recognize Lithuania as independent and his desire to not jeopardize U.S.-Soviet relations. In response, Baker contacted Shevardnadze for permission to negotiate with Lithuania and managed to postpone their declaration of independence and ease tensions on both Bush and Gorbachev as a result. As the administration was seeking a solution to the Baltic crises, focus turned to the subject of German reunification. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl made a call for the right of self determination and reunification. However, many European nations were opposed to German reunification; the USSR in particular saw a split Germany as their reward for the sacrifices in World War II. Unlike Europe, the U.S. saw no threat in a reunified Germany. To convince the USSR to allow both German reunification and admittance into NATO, Bush pushed forward the London Declaration on a Transformed Atlantic Alliance, a complete overhaul of NATO, to which Shevardnadze replied, “without the decisions passed by the NATO council in London, membership of Germany in NATO would have been unacceptable to us.”4 Contrasting with Europe, processes in the Middle East were not proceeding as smoothly. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir searched for ways to reject peace plans and decided to use unreasonable requests for U.S. aid as their justification. The end of the Cold War also brought to question the future of U.S. foreign policy regarding Africa. Hurst quotes, “the implosion of the Soviet Union set America free to pursue its own interests in Africa—and it found it did not have any.”5 As a result, U.S. foreign aid to Africa had little justification and support, and Congress eventually notified the administration that foreign aid was becoming redundant. The result of aid cuts in Liberia specifically was the rapid economic collapse of Liberia in 1989. Although the U.S. briefly tried to fight the insurgency that arose from the economic collapse, lack of importance to the U.S. and public opposition for support lead to abandonment of such efforts and U.S. personnel were airlifted out of the country.

The Persian Gulf crisis is the most widely covered topic regarding Bush’s foreign policy. On the topic of Iraq and Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration decided to encourage what they believed to be steps towards moderation. However, 1990 came with an increase in Hussein’s belligerence, presenting speeches attacking the U.S., Israel, and Kuwait. At the 1990 Baghdad summit, Hussein accused Gulf states of deliberately lowering the price of oil by overproducing, and eventually moved military forces to the Kuwait border that eventually lead to occupation. Thanks to efforts on both sides to improve U.S.-Soviet relations, the U.S. easily gained Soviet support and issued a joint statement condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. By gaining Soviet support, the U.S. legitimized their actions and no longer had to act unilaterally. Although it was agreed upon that something had to be done, there was still a debate on whether to use military force to push Iraq out of Kuwait. Before it was decided on to use military force, sanctions were placed on Iraq to force them to withdraw from Kuwait. When the use of military force was authorized, taking multilateral action was vital to U.S. efforts as it allowed the burden of liberating Kuwait to be shared. A poll in the U.S. reported that a majority of citizens believed “U.S. allies should pay ‘at least part’ of U.S. costs.”6 To achieve that goal, financial pledges of support were garnered from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Japan. Bush brought up the problem of U.S. hostages in Iraq, the violation of human rights occurring in Iraq, and the threat of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program to gain support at home. The actual effect of the focus switch to gain support is unclear, as it also caused an increase of scepticism in the public. The human rights issue and Iraqi nuclear weapons threat were prevalent before Bush needed to gain support, and the sudden focus on previously neglected issues cast doubt on Bush’s efforts. Regardless of how the public received the Bush administration’s attempt to gain support, they maintained that military force was needed and that authorization could actually prevent the need to use force. It was believed that under the threat of military intervention, Hussein would prioritize his own survival over his hold on Kuwait and withdraw his own forces. Bush wanted authorization of military force since given time, Hussein would grow to become a bigger threat than he was at the time. Finally, on January of 1991, Congress narrowly passed a vote to authorize to use of force and in roughly a month, Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait. After the war, Saddam Hussein remained in power. Not only would following Hussein into Iraq to remove him from power stretch beyond U.S. goals regarding the use of force, but his fall from power would create a power vacuum that the U.S. would prefer to avoid. The decision to end the war when it did was also influenced by the Vietnam War, where U.S. unilateralism resulted in disastrous failure.

The end of the Cold War also allowed the U.S. to try to create a New World Order. Bush’s vision for his New World Order boiled down to order, peace, democracy, and free trade. In a speech, Bush shared his vision of “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”7 All of Bush’s goals for his New World Order revolved around multilateralism, implying collective security and a commitment to national self-determination and human rights. The implementation of a New World Order was also in response to the dying support for the U.S. to police the world. However, the 1990s brought threats the the order Bush valued in his New World Order. In the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was facing serious domestic problems. While the Senate refused to sign trade agreements with Gorbachev until the issue with Lithuania was resolved, Gorbachev was desperately looking for tangible progress to appease his critics. The Chairman of Russian Parliament, Boris Yeltsin, was gaining popular approval quickly, while Gorbachev’s approval dropped to single digits. Despite the shift in popularity and Gorbachev’s precarious political position, Bush held off on expanding connections with Yeltsin. When Yeltsin assured Bush that he supported Gorbachev, Bush experienced brief relief, quickly broken when Soviet hardliners staged a coup in 1991. Although the coup crumbled, Gorbachev’s position had been dramatically weakened, and the breakup of the Soviet Union seemed imminent. Despite Gorbachev’s efforts to create a new Union Treaty, the result was an eventual disbanding of the Union. Fortunately for the U.S., they had avoided a violent breakup of the Soviet Union, but still feared the dangers of the USSR’s nuclear arms being distributed among the many new nations. To circumvent the danger, Baker visited all Soviet republics in possession of nuclear weapons and eliciting pledges. Due to the efforts of the Bush administration, the collapse of the Soviet Union was ensured to be peaceful.

In The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration, Hurst’s thesis favors Bush and concludes, “while far from perfect, the Bush administration’s record in shaping the basis of a stable, peaceful post-Cold War was remarkably good and that it achieved most of the objectives it set itself in that regard.”8 The thesis itself is fairly simple and is only evaluating a general question on the Bush administration. Hurst’s statement also includes specifics, such as many of Bush’s failures and struggles being attributed to the turbulent circumstances of foreign policies and expresses intent to cover the contexts of the period, while also conceding that Bush made mistakes when he did.

Steven Hurst himself has a wealth of experience regarding history. After writing The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration, he continued on to cover other topics on foreign policy in books such as The United States and Iraq since 1979: Hegemony, Oil, and War and The Carter Administration and Vietnam. Hurst works as a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University and that “[his] research specialism is the foreign policy of the United States since 1945 and [he teaches] undergraduate units on both U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics.”9 From his qualifications, Hurst demonstrates expertise on the subject on Bush’s foreign policy while his teaching position parallels itself with the informative style of The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration and its efforts to remain objective.

The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration was written in response to the negative public opinion of George H. W. Bush. Published in 1999, less than a decade after Bush’s failed campaign for a second term, public opinion of the man remained less than stellar, with the debate on post-Cold War foreign policy being “strongly critical of the Bush administration and of the policies it adopted.”10 Hurst explicitly states in his introduction that he intends to defend Bush and his administration against such criticisms and his conclusion that the Bush administration effectively managed the transition into a post-Cold War era.

Opinions on The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration have been leaning positive. In American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts, Michael Cox, a professor in international relations refers to Hurst’s publication, calling it “the best discussion on the Bush foreign policy.219”11 Cox also praises The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration as a balanced and fair assessment of the period and a model of its kind.

The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration is written with the intent to inform and while it does push for a positive view on George H. W. Bush’s term, it does so with little to no bias. When Bush appears to fail, Hurst openly criticizes his decisions, concluding that in the breakdown of friendly relations with China, “Bush’s brusque rejection of congressional involvement in China policy was also flawed.”12 As he evaluates Bush’s administration, Hurst is quick to offer concessions or refute possible counterarguments that negatively view Bush, combating any unchecked biases found in the text. The publication is also makes an effort to provide context for situations and the motivations behind certain decisions, providing some of Hurst’s own analysis on the situation.

The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration places itself in a pivotal period of change: the end of the Cold War. However, due to the subject of the book, the social changes of the period are largely ignored in favor of the political and economic changes. The book mentions that with the onset of globalization, “the U.S. could not seek to be the world’s policeman”13 as it addresses the rising need for the U.S. to embrace multilateralism and avoid acts of unilateralism, such as during the Vietnam War. Economically, the rising “interdependence rendered the U.S. economy more vulnerable to the effects of economic developments beyond its borders.”14 One such example of U.S. vulnerability was its trade relation with Japan, with products such as automobiles causing difficult competition with U.S. automobile companies such as Ford. The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration never mentions the impact of digital technology in particular, but it can be found in the trade issues with Japan, where digital products imported into the U.S. caused economic issues and the actions to fix such issues damaged the political situation with Japan.

Hurst continually returns to the question: “to what extent did [the Bush administration] succeed in laying the foundations for a peaceful, stable post-Cold War international order.”15 The Bush administration, Hurst concludes, was fairly successful in its endeavors. He countered the mounting criticisms against Bush by providing a fair evaluation of the results and contexts of Bush’s actions during the period.

[1] Hurst, Steven. The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration: In Search of a New World Order. Cromwell Press Ltd. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. 1999. 1.
[2] Hurst, 1999. 21.
[3] Hurst, 1999. 48.
[4] Hurst, 1999. 71.
[5] Hurst, 1999. 76.
[6] Hurst, 1999. 100.
[7] Hurst, 1999. 129.
[8] Hurst, 1999. 17.
[9] “Profile, Manchester Metropolitan University.” Profile · Staff Profiles · Department of History, Politics & Philosophy ·. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2017. .
[10] Hurst, 1999. 10.
[11] Cox, Michael, G. John. Ikenberry, and Takashi Inoguchi. American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print. 219.
[12] Hurst, 1999. 43.
[13] Hurst, 1999. 133.
[14] Hurst, 1999. 171.
[15] Hurst, 1999. 232.