MARCH 2001 


The world eagerly awaits US President George W. Bush’s policy directions

The international scene recently witnessed political changes and upheavals in a number of countries, which could affect their future and that of the world. Foremost among them was the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

His predecessor President Bill Clinton transformed the image of the US through remarkable statesmanship. He provided a global perspective to US foreign policy encompassing regions such as Asia and the Pacific where previously, the US’ role had been that of a looming superpower.

There have been no firm indications about foreign policy by the new administration since Bush’s inaugural address focussed on domestic affairs. His only indication on the issue of foreign policy was what he signalled a long and clear message to the world: “This will be a nation that will act in a humble fashion with one thing in mind – peace and freedom.”

He appointed a cabinet of veteran Republicans and officials, which includes Donald Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary, Colin Powell as Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice as National Security Adviser. Rice is an acknowledged authority on foreign affairs, being an expert on Russian matters. She’s likely to play a key role in this field given Powell’s purely military background.

The expectation is that US foreign policy will be realistic in the sense of being focussed strictly on US interests instead of Clinton’s global perspective.

Bush faces an active foreign policy agenda this year, which will include a conference on the Americas, an economic summit in Genoa and an Asian economic summit in Shanghai. This is apart from challenges in the Middle East, South Asia and of course, China.

Of cardinal importance will be the US’ role in Europe in the setting of the European Union and the future of NATO. Under Rumsfeld, who is a leading exponent of missile defences, the indications are that US foreign policy will be assertive.

The Philippines has undergone a political change with the overthrow of President Joseph Estrada and his replacement by Vice President Gloria Arroyo. This is the culmination of a period of unrest over Estrada’s record of corruption, bribery and violation of the constitution for which he was recently impeached. The charges included having a secret bank account with around UK£ 44 million, appropriating tax rebates and engaging in illegal gambling.

But the trial collapsed with the senate rejecting the prosecution’s charges and this occasioned a popular uprising, which virtually forced his resignation. What precipitated this decision was the defection of his supporters in the cabinet, armed forces and police.

This change has been welcomed by key nations such as China, Malaysia, the US and Thailand while UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has described it as a victory for democracy.

In the Congo, there is the possibility of a political crisis with the assassination of President Laurent Kabila who succeeded Mobutu Sese Seko and tried to emulate the latter as a dictator.

His son Joseph Kabila has been appointed as successor and faces a daunting task given the chaotic war-torn situation in the Congo, where a third of the country is occupied by insurgents supported by Uganda and Rwanda. There are also rebel militia groups pursuing their own agendas.

The background to this conflict is the rivalry between foreign powers and business groups to gain control of the reserves of cobalt, copper, emeralds and diamonds, which have made the Congo a land of immense mineral wealth. They could possibly exploit the situation to gain control of the centres of this wealth such as the diamond town of Mbuji-Mayi or the strategic city of Mbandaka.

Whether the relatively youthful and politically inexperienced Joseph Kabila can cope with these pressures and challenges is the million dollar question. Kabila has to deal with his foreign supporters on the one hand while on the other, he must deal with the insurgents and their foreign patrons in the background who are trying to gain control of mineral resources.

One possibility is for the new president to stage a national rally of the Congolese people, which would contain and marginalise these foreign encroachments. But this is a tall order given his dependence on foreign patrons to combat external enemies.

But one hopeful sign is that the Kabila government has been recognised by the UN as well as the Organisation of African Unity and it’s reported that Southern African leaders have proposed a full summit to be held in Mozambique. Some others have proposed a meeting of all the parties involved in the conflict in the Congo.

BY  The late Deshamanya  Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis