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WASHINGTON LETTER Nov-5-2004 (870 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxn

World alerts Bush: Foreign policy challenges go beyond Iraq

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While U.S. voters went to the polls Nov. 2 to elect a president, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was in a French hospital bed, his delicate health symbolizing the fragile nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

In Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, meanwhile, Sudanese government troops were violating international law by forcibly removing from makeshift camps thousands of black Sudanese left homeless by the conflict. The removal was another indication of government complicity with Arab militias accused of genocide against black Africans.

Before U.S. President George W. Bush could sleep on his victory in winning a second term, the rest of the world was serving notice that his foreign policy challenges go beyond the Iraqi conflict and the war against terrorism.

"The plate is full. Just read the newspapers," said Walter Mead, a specialist on the history of U.S. foreign policy at the independent Council on Foreign Relations.

Mead and other foreign policy experts said that the Iraqi situation and the war on terrorism so dominated foreign policy discussions during the campaign that there was not enough time to adequately debate other important matters.

Gerard Powers, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, cited the need for the United States to do more to prevent existing nuclear weapons and technology from getting into the wrong hands.

This includes keeping the pledge to help finance the decommissioning of Russia's nuclear weapons, said Powers.

Bush also needs to make good on his promises to provide adequate funding to fight the worldwide HIV/AIDS pandemic and to give special foreign aid priority to the poorest nations, he said.

Other non-Iraqi issues Bush faces include:

-- Curbing nuclear proliferation, especially the ambitions of Iran and North Korea to become nuclear powers.

-- Improving relations with European allies.

-- Addressing border issues with Mexico and dealing with the continuing clandestine immigration from Latin America.

-- Promoting religious freedom.

How well Bush handles these may well depend on his ability to parry pressures from different -- and often opposite -- directions.

Foreign policy experts said that the Iraqi conflict and the war on terrorism will continue dominating U.S. foreign policy, but they predict that Bush cannot escape other issues.

"Bush won't have the luxury of picking and choosing. Things will be thrust upon him," said Timothy Shah, a specialist in religion and international affairs at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Some of the strongest pressure will come from evangelical Christian groups who strongly support Bush and have a foreign policy agenda.

Evangelicals are united with Bush, who sympathizes with their faith convictions, in the war on terrorism, Shah said.

"They are more likely to favor pre-emptive actions. They like Bush's moral certitude, his military stance, his confronting of radical Islam," he said.

Evangelical issues include support for Israel against the Palestinians, criticism of the Sudanese Islamic government and promoting religious freedom abroad, said Shah.

Carrying out this agenda will not be easy as Bush faces counterpressures, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is international pressure for Bush to be more evenhanded and less pro-Israel to show that concern for Palestinians is part of U.S. policy, Shah said.

Prior to being re-elected, Bush had little chance to counterbalance his strong support for Israel because he needed the pro-Israeli votes, Shah said.

"Now he has a little more wiggle room, but he still can't be seen as twisting the arm of the Israelis," he said.

Any Bush pressure on the Israelis would have to be done behind closed doors, said Shah.

Promoting religious liberty also has its drawbacks. Many of the countries listed as violators of religious freedom -- such as Saudi Arabia, China, India and Vietnam -- are countries with whom the Bush administration has good relations or with whom Bush is trying to improve relations.

"This prevents tough measures, but there will be pressure on Bush to deliver" regarding the possible imposition of sanctions on such countries, said Shah.

"A lot of evangelical groups have been very concerned about atrocities in Sudan by the Islamic government," said Shah.

Initially, these concerns involved efforts by the Arab-ruled government to put down a rebellion in the South by black Christians. Now it extends to the Darfur region, where persecution is more ethnic than religious as the blacks being attacked by Arab militias are also Muslim.

Shah and Mead are skeptical that the United Nations will step in to resolve the conflict, leaving the United States with the prospect of unilateral action if it wants to prevent further bloodshed.

"The international community hopes the problem goes away," said Mead. "Arab countries side with Sudan and Europe doesn't want bad relations with Arabs."

African countries, which are leading the efforts to negotiate a solution through the African Union, do not want interference from countries outside the continent because they fear that this opens the door to future intervention against them as many other African countries also have poor human rights records, said Mead.

"It's a messy, difficult problem. People don't get excited about humanitarian involvement. It's difficult to build up a consensus," said Mead.


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