Early in the administration of President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell set out to overcome shortages in foreign policy resources. He gained significant increases in funding for programs and in the number of foreign affairs personnel. He also improved the State Department’s management. Secretary Powell and all concerned in pursuing U.S. foreign policy were to be sorely challenged in a world of numerous potential flashpoints, complex multilateral issues, and proliferation of non-state actors.
The United States reluctantly resumed the role of broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and put forth a “road map” for negotiations that unfortunately did not lead to a settlement. The Middle East, along with South Asia, became the main regional focus of the administration’s foreign policy. A perceived bias in favor of Israel further inflamed deep animosity held toward the United States by Islamic extremists.
The most notorious extremist, Osama bin Laden, and his Al Qaeda network changed history and fundamentally altered U.S. policy with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response, the Bush Administration declared war on terrorism and undertook a policy of retaliation and pre-emption that began with the invasion of Afghanistan after its Taliban leaders declined to hand over bin Laden and close terrorist training camps.
While the Bush Administration’s motives for overthrowing the Taliban regime were widely understood, its approach to Iraq was less appreciated, especially abroad. The UN Security Council warned Iraq that it faced serious consequences if it continued to flout UN resolutions ordering destruction of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, but the UN did not follow up with immediate action in the face of continued Iraqi intransigence.
“We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace—a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”
President George W. Bush
Expressing continuing concern, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom assembled a “coalition of the willing” of 49 states, including Australia, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands. However, the reluctance of certain other states to participate (especially allies Germany and France), their preference for resuming UN arms inspections in Iraq, and widespread criticism of U.S. actions produced strains in relations with the United States.
The United States and the United Kingdom led the coalition in invading Iraq in March 2003 and swiftly overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime. Pacifying the country and restoring its infrastructure proved more difficult, however, as home-grown and foreign militants retaliated against coalition forces as well as civilians.