What would you say was the biggest success and the biggest failure of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in Asia?
Yates: Well, I think one of the big accomplishments that the Bush administration should be proud of is the building of the strategic relationship with India. Really, during the Cold War, US-Indian relations were somewhat difficult. With the putting of the Non-Aligned Movement at the forefront, and with the American struggle in trying to promote freedom and defeat communism – in the Cold War obviously these were not shared interests with India. Yet here is a population that is every bit as plentiful as China’s, with rich traditions every bit as old as China’s. So it seems like with every argument there is as to why you can’t ignore China, there’s one for why you can’t ignore India. And yet we do all the time in Washington.
I think that at the outset of the Bush administration there was a deliberate attempt to include India in discussions of Asia. I don’t know how you define India as outside of Asia, but people tend to think of Asia only as East Asia. In the wake of 9/11, when the American sensitivity to the threat of terrorism rose tremendously, and seeing events take place in India where there are acts of terrorism, there was, I think, a greater seriousness about common threats or common challenges that the US and India faced. The United States needed to navigate that part of the world with a degree of presidential involvement that was unprecedented, and I think really navigating that relationship with India is perhaps the biggest of the Asia accomplishments in the Bush administration.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The change began in the Clinton administration. If you recall at the end of Clinton’s time in office, he took a rather long trip there – one of the biggest differences between President Clinton and President Bush is that when Clinton took an Asia trip, he went for a long time. So that India trip for the Clintons was an important turning point. But if you remember there were sanctions in place after the nuclear test that left a rather frosty atmosphere between the Indians and the United States. That was one of the few ideas where you can go back to the campaign and see people propose ideas that they were serious about that came into the government, and the president and those he appointed carried it forward.
If you look at the biggest failures or disappointments, I think it would be the complete failure of two, two-term presidents to rein in the nuclear development of North Korea. It’s an enormously dangerous proliferation problem and it represents a total failure of global non-proliferation regimes – there’s nothing that the Nonproliferation Treaty-IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] crowds can do about this. And in the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, both teams tried all kinds of inducements, tried to achieve all kinds of deals, and now there’s a two-decade long record based not only false premises, but one that is more dangerous. There’s profound uncertainty there, and the risk as my old boss [Dick Cheney] used to say of the world’s most dangerous weapons falling into the world’s most dangerous hands has increased. To me that’s a great, great disappointment.
I confess that I think it’s a hard, hard problem and any administration will be vexed with it. The current administration I think is particularly vexed with it because they thought the problem was that George Bush was dumb or crazy. But it turns out Kim Jong-Il and his Hermit Kingdom are acting on their own, in dangerous ways, regardless of the quality of person in the White House.