The year 2007 brought significant course changes in Bush administration foreign policy, from North Korea to Iraq and Iran, and from Middle East peace diplomacy to climate change. Whether time remains during President George W. Bush’s tenure to lock in equally significant accomplishments remains uncertain.
Walter Russell Mead, CFR senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, says 2007 brought important corrections in U.S. policy but adds that “the administration has lacked proper follow through.” The most significant change, he suggests, was the shift in military strategy in Iraq known as the “surge,” which was engineered not by the administration but by the commander of military forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. More U.S. troops, plus a policy of wooing pro-Saddam Sunnis back to the political process, so far has paid off. “With the return of the moderate Sunnis into the political arena,” Mead says, “it may be possible to see the gradual emergence of an Iraqi political center which is open to sectarian compromise.”
As the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign unfolds, President Bush will seek to build on the gains accrued in the second half of 2007, when U.S. military tactics brought new stability to Baghdad. Will reform of Iraq’s political institutions follow? Al-Ahram, a state-run Egyptian newspaper, says the prospects for sectarian reconciliation seems distant and thus predicts progress will be fleeting. Even U.S. leaders admit there is much work to be done. As U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recently told the BBC, “You're certainly not going to hear from me that al-Qaeda is defeated and that victory is at hand.”
Beyond Iraq, trouble spots abound. In spite of a recent reevaluation by U.S. intelligence agencies that suggests Iran has suspended its quest for a nuclear weapon, Tehran and Washington remain at loggerheads over Iran’s insistence on uranium enrichment activities. Even if, as CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh suggests, the threat of military force has abated, the specter of a Middle East dominated by a revolutionary, nuclear-armed Shiite regime will not go away. And as this Backgrounder notes, intelligence on Iran’s capabilities and true intentions remains fuzzy.
As it happens, the recent trend toward policy adjustments—or retrenchments, as critics cast them—may not be over. The status quo seems unlikely to hold in Pakistan, where an assassination removed the country’s leading political moderate, Benazir Bhutto, and a sharp erosion of President Pervez Musharraf’s political standing has raised questions about Washington’s ability to rely on his help in the war on terror. Daniel Markey, CFR’s South Asia expert, outlines choices facing Washington in this new Policy Options Paper.
North Korea, whose pledge to disable its nuclear infrastructure was heralded in the fall by the Bush administration, missed a New Year's deadline for revealing full details of its arsenal. On climate change, an administration which once courted favor from those who regarded the idea with skepticism relented in the face of almost unanimous world pressure at December’s UN climate summit in Bali, though most analysts, including CFR Fellow Michael A. Levi, believe Bush will continue to resist a Kyoto-like multinational approach as long as he remains president.
Even in Europe, where tensions born in the run-up to the Iraq war have subsided significantly over the past year, new problems loom. Russia’s military and economic muscle flexing has emboldened some countries to strike a defiant pose. Russia’s sale of a top-shelf anti-aircraft system to Iran (Guardian) is one case in point; Moscow’s backing of Serbia’s claim to Kosovo, which had expected to win independence in 2007, is another. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority intends to declare its independence with or without western backing in the near future, setting the stage for what Richard C. Holbrooke calls “a huge diplomatic train wreck.” With Russia’s backing, Serbia shows no inclination to compromise (B92). "Kosovo is our Jerusalem," Serbia's foreign minister said last week.
In Jerusalem, too, the year dawns gloomily. The new U.S.-brokered process launched in Annapolis has impressed few, and neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian Authority's leadership appear to be in a position to make deals on issues infringing on their national identities. Bush has promised the United States will be an active mediator, even to the extent of judging the two parties on their compliance with agreements. He is due in the region in January and talks continue (JPost). Still, a comprehensive Mideast peace may prove beyond a lame duck administration, says Mead. Then again, he adds: “Why not be hopeful? It doesn’t cost anything to be.”