Another new feature on the Foreign Policy website is a group blog of Republican worthies called “shadow government” a collection of Republican heavyweights who’ll be critiquing the new administration. Except for now the new administration’s not in office yet. So they’ve been doing some looking back on the Bush years. And I think this from Peter Feaver is pretty strained:
Well-calibrated “great power” strategies. The “realist” tradition of foreign policy has traditionally emphasized evaluating great powers based on how they manage their relations with other great powers. More recently, those who call themselves realists have focused their attention narrowly on what used to be called the periphery, such as conflicts in the Middle East. But if you use a traditional realist yardstick, then the Bush Administration has done pretty well.
The Bush years boasted the best-ever relations with the following major centers of power: Japan, India, and China — and managed to advance all three relationships at the same time, even though each of those states views the other as a major threat. The Bush team developed a workable plan for integrating the rising BRIC powers into the world system; the collapse of the Doha round was a big blow to this effort, but the blame for that failure spreads far beyond the Bush Administration. Bush had as cooperative a working relationship with our closest allies — Britain, Australia, Canada, and Mexico — as any previous administration. Relations with other key NATO allies were stormy in the first term, but relations with France and Germany improved markedly with the change of leadership there. And relations with the new NATO allies were extraordinarily fruitful.
Rather than a detailed rebuttal here, let’s observe that Feaver’s counting India and China (the “I” and “C” in BRIC) twice — a good indication that he’s reaching. And it’s true that relations with France and Germany improved from their “worst in the modern era” baseline after the election of center-right governments, but by the same token the periods when Australia and Canada have had center-left governments have been full of tensions. What’s more, the new NATO allies aren’t major powers any more than Australia, Canada, and Mexico are.
You’re left here with two claims. One that the US relationship with the UK and Japan is so strong that even George W. Bush couldn’t break those bonds. The other thing, the claim that I think Feaver should have advanced in the first place, is that to an underappreciated extent the Bush administration has had a successful approach to Asia.
The rise in Chinese power and prestige is a situation that’s fraught with peril, and under Bush’s stewardship no real peril has materialized. And he’s managed to bring us closer to India in a useful way without provoking problems with China, and do this while maintaining healthy relationships with Japan and basically all the other countries in the region. It winds up being difficult for Bush to claim credit for this, because basically it’s a story of things not happening. But oftentimes the most important things presidents can do are make sure that there’s no story. The absence of giant blow-ups between the United States and our main NATO allies ought to count as a real accomplishment of the Clinton years. Similarly, simply maintaining an atmosphere of cooperation and respect between the United States and rising Asian powers is important. The past few years have seen a lot of proposals floating around that would, among other things, have the effect of making a big US-China Cold War-style standoff much more likely. That would be a bad thing.