As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves today for a fence-mending swing through Europe, many Europeans have seized on her experience working for President Bush’s father as a reason to hope that she will revive a pragmatic, nonideological, less unilateral foreign policy. They forget what the diplomacy of the first Bush administration was really like. In dealing with the biggest European security issue raised by the end of the cold war – German unification – the United States opposed the major European powers (other than Germany, of course), ignored their views, got its way, and gave them almost nothing in return. In “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed,” her much-praised history of this period, Dr. Rice made clear that American policy was not based on consensus-building and respectful give-and-take. Her experience, she said, taught her the importance of pursuing “optimal goals even if they seem at the time politically infeasible.” She considered single-mindedness as the key to diplomatic success: a government that “knows what it wants” can usually get it.
Is this just memoir braggadocio? Not at all. When the Berlin Wall fell, European leaders hated the idea of German unity. FranÃƒ§ois Mitterrand told President Bush it would lead to war. Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a peculiar scheme to keep a united Germany in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. But the bloody historical experiences behind such views didn’t sway Mr. Bush. If others didn’t trust the Germans, that was their problem, not his. Washington favored unification and wanted to achieve it as quickly as possible. In particular, American officials hoped for the rapid dismantlement of the East German state – a prospect our allies viewed with horror. Robert Zoellick, then the State Department official responsible for German policy and now Dr. Rice’s deputy-to-be, recalled that once the United States decided to accelerate the process, it encouraged the East German public to demand immediate unification and to vote out leaders who favored gradualism.
In the end, President Bush and his advisers made no real adjustments to conciliate worried allies. The memoirs of Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Mitterrand are shot through with frustration over how Washington kept them divided.
What explains this high-handedness? The Bush administration believed what most recent administrations have believed: our allies were shortsighted and confused, and not tough-minded enough to achieve lasting success on a large scale. This was Ronald Reagan’s view when he scrapped dÃƒ©tente. It was Bill Clinton’s view when he abandoned the policy of “containing” genocide in the Balkans. And it was Madeleine Albright’s view when she explained what she meant in calling the United States an “indispensable” nation: “We see further than other countries into the future.”
Certainly true. The reason is one of perspective, not brilliance. The United States, alone among the world’s states, has truly global interests. We focus on the big picture, not because we’re particularly magnanimous or farsighted but because our sphere of interest demands it. The UK, perhaps because it is the most recent country to be a truly global power, is the only one that comes closest to our outlook. Germany, France, Russia, China, and others are major countries whose counsel should be taken. But their interests and vision is simply much more localized than ours.