Walter Russell Mead Discusses U.S. Foreign Policy

July 8, 2002

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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President Bush entered the Oval Office in January last year with a briefcase full of campaign IOUs centering on domestic issues and little interest in international affairs. The attacks of September 11th changed that, forcing the president and his administration to focus their attention overseas and to reconsider Mr. Bush’s strong objections to American involvement in the affairs of other countries. Two weeks ago, the president specified one change he wanted to see.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts.

NAYLOR: Walter Russell Mead is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed The World. He joins us from our New York bureau.

Good morning, Walter.

Mr. WALTER RUSSELL MEAD (Council on Foreign Relations): Good morning.

NAYLOR: Now, Walter, world leaders usually don’t call for the replacement of another leader, and granted Yasser Arafat isn’t technically a national leader since there is not yet a Palestinian state, but what is President Bush saying about his view of the world beyond dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian situation?

Mr. MEAD: Well, I think it would be hard to generalize too much, because I think this is very much bound up with the president’s feeling that Yasser Arafat is either unable or unwilling to deliver a Palestinian consensus for peace on anything like the terms that are available. I think we should keep the focus fairly narrow. This is a specific response to a specific individual, but I think beyond this, we’re getting a real sense that, for example, if the United States does end up forcibly removing Saddam Hussein from office and working to set up a new regime in Iraq, this rhetoric that’s being used with Arafat will certainly have to shape US policy toward a postwar Iraq. The Bush administration is getting itself in a situation where it’s going to be hard for it to settle for anything less than a liberal democratic government in postwar Iraq.

NAYLOR: This past week, the International Criminal Court went into effect aimed at prosecuting war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The Bush administration has denounced the court. Here’s what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): We believe it’s useful and helpful to our country and to our friends and allies to be engaged in the world. The existence of this International Criminal Court, which came into effect yesterday, July 1st, is a threat to civilian, military individuals from the United States of American, regardless of whether they’re doing peacekeeping or war fighting.

NAYLOR: The United States has strongly supported the prosecution of men such as Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. Is Rumsfeld here saying that one set of rules exists for the rest of the world and there’s another set of rules for the United States?

Mr. MEAD: No, I don’t think so. I think what he’s saying is that the practice for the last 50 of instituting special courts to try particular allegations is better than trying to institutionalize it.

NAYLOR: Well, has the administration’s opposition undermined the effectiveness of the court?

Mr. MEAD: I think that the impact is less on the court in a sense than—now what you have is generally the countries in the world that do tend to be pretty strong against war crimes and against genocide and crimes against humanity. The Canadas, the United States, Sweden, Britain—I could name many other states—we’re all throwing rocks at each other and arguing about the International Criminal Court rather than trying to build a better world. It has unnecessarily divided the friends of world order, and hopefully what can happen now is that the United States government and the new court can figure out ways maybe to change or amend the court’s charter or to institute some kind of UN Security Counsel oversight of the court so that the United States would be able to join.

NAYLOR: Well, let’s turn to an area where there is perhaps a little more agreement between the US and its allies. The G8 economic meetings came and went with little attention last month, I guess partly because they were held in the Canadian Rockies and far from any kinds of anti-globalization or other protesters. Maybe the most interesting G8 meeting will be the next one, which will be held in Russian later this year, Russia, a new member of what is now the G8. How’s Russia doing in integrating with the world economy?

Mr. MEAD: Well, Russia seems to be making progress, although with the Russian economy, you always have to remember when the price of oil is strong, the Russian economy looks better than it is, and if the price of oil drops, the Russian economy looks worse than it is. But it does seem that under Putin Russia is beginning to normalize its institutions, its legal system, and you’re getting less of the wild and crazy cowboy capitalism of those early years. It turns out that the devaluation of the ruble in the ‘97-‘98 financial crisis was a blessing in disguise. It made imports more expensive for Russians, so it enabled a lot of Russian industry to compete and win markets back from Western products. So the Russian economy is showing some signs of revival and that’s a positive thing.

NAYLOR: Latin America has been largely off the front pages in recent weeks, except for Brazil’s victory in the World Cup. And while they may be doing the samba in Rio over their fifth World Cup victory, there’s not much else to celebrate there, is there?

Mr. MEAD: No, and I think Latin America is part of the world where Washington needs to be paying a lot of attention. Argentina’s situation is really disastrous. You have a country that has plunged into poverty, almost a quarter of the work force is unemployed. What they’re going through in many ways is comparable to our Great Depression here. It’s that bad. In Brazil, the real economy is not in that kind of crisis yet, but the crash of the Brazilian real, the currency, it’s now down to almost three to a dollar, which is unprecedented for this new currency. We really do have a problem building there. If you pull on to that that Peru is shaky, the awful mess in Columbia, the very wrenching social and political problems in Venezuela, it’s not a pretty sight.

NAYLOR: Walter Russell Mead is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed The World. Walter, thanks very much.

Mr. MEAD: Thank you.

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