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Essays for the Presidency

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Yves Herman / Reuters U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell adjusts his earphone at a news conference after a meeting with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, November 18, 2003.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Essays for the Presidency
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A Strategy of Partnerships

BROAD AND DEEP

When most people think about U.S. foreign policy these days, they think first and sometimes only about aspects of the war on terrorism: the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, the troubles of the Middle East, and the terror cells lurking in Southeast Asia, Europe, and even the United States. This preoccupation is natural. International terrorism literally hit home on September 11, 2001, and, for understandable reasons, an outraged American public wants those responsible brought to justice. The American people also want to understand why the attacks happened—and demand a foreign policy that makes sure such events will never happen again.

It is also natural that the war on terrorism has become the United States' number one foreign policy priority. It will remain so for as long as necessary, because terrorism—potentially linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—now represents the greatest threat to American lives. Defeating terrorism is a priority that drives not only military action to subdue individual terrorists and deter their state supporters but also multilateral cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence sharing. It encompasses efforts both to stigmatize terrorism as a political instrument and to reduce the underlying sources of terrorist motivation and recruitment.

But the breadth of U.S. strategy transcends the war on terrorism. Indeed, a strategy limited to dealing with immediate threats would in the end fail to defeat them—just as bailing water out of a boat would not fix a leak. The sharp focus on the front lines of the war against terrorism, however, has made it harder than usual for people to grasp what American strategy is really all about. We all know the old aphorism that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. These days, it seems that an administration can develop a sound foreign policy strategy, but it can't get people to acknowledge or understand it.

PRESIDENT BUSH'S VISION

It is an unfailingly effective applause line for

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