- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Stung by charges of arrogance because he did not participate in the first Republican debate in New Hampshire, GOP front-runner George W. Bush will be on the stage tomorrow in New Hampshire with other Republican candidates. It’s about time. No one should have the high-handedness to assume that the presidential nomination for the Republican Party is a rite of coronation rather than a political contest. The front-loading of the primary season now means that by February-March it is all over, which has brought the campaign into full swing throughout the fall. Whether you like it or not, it’s now a fact.

That has also put pressure on the front-runner to flesh out specifics of important policy positions in the last few months. Yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa, he advocated lower tax rates, taking a crack at his domestic agenda. It is significant and encouraging to note, however, that Mr. Bush’s first two major addresses were devoted to issues of defense and foreign policy. What’s more, fault lines are beginning to take form between the two parties here. A debate on these issues is welcome, given that the last decade of the 20th century has been wasted in regards to defining the role of the sole remaining superpower.

Vice President Al Gore may try to wash his hands of the Clinton record, but Democratic candidate Bill Bradley has been less reticent. Running to the left of the Clinton administration, Mr. Bradley told students at Tufts University in Boston Monday, that the United States is spread too thin in its current humanitarian commitments throughout the globe, and that in his view, “the key is to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier” efforts that should be undertaken by multilateral bodies. In other words, Mr. Bradley is philosophically in tune with the “assertive multilateralism” of the early days of the Clinton administration, though his enthusiasm for international interventions seems distinctly more restrained. In any event, in Mr. Bradley’s worldview the United Nations becomes a key player in American foreign policy. We have been down that road once; it doesn’t work.

Now, Mr. Bush has been criticized for not having much experience on the world stage, a charge that was made with justification of Gov. Bill Clinton as well. In lieu of that experience, the Bush candidacy has brought together some of the best foreign policy minds this country has. Crystallizing around the candidate is something that looks like an American foreign policy for the 21st century. The team includes George P. Shultz, President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state; Paul D. Wolfowitz, a senior defense official under Mr. Bush’s father; Robert Zoellick, an undersecretary of state for the elder Mr. Bush; Dov Zakheim of the Reagan Defense Department, and of course Condoleeza Rice, senior National Security staffer under George Bush, who occupies a central position in pulling the team together.

Not that they always agree. It appears that over the question of Kosovo, Mr. Bush reluctantly endorsed Bill Clinton’s policy, relying on the arguments of Mr. Wolfowitz, who saw the crisis as a threat to stability in Europe, as opposed to Mr. Zakheim who was against intervention. The downside of this committee approach is that Mr. Bush was noticeably late and hesitant in producing an opinion on Kosovo, the most pressing foreign policy issue last spring, as compared to the bold stance taken by Sen. John McCain, who didn’t need to ask anybody.

Mr. Bush, however, seems to have a talent for the broad view, which will certainly distinguish him from the current administration, one of whose chief policy planners recently described the world as too complicated for the “black and white” formula of the Cold War, preferring ad hoc solutions in a world of “shades of gray.” In this Mr. Bush looks more like Ronald Reagan, who had basically one idea defeating communism and what a good idea it was.

A Bush foreign policy, the candidate said in his speech at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif., will not be one that drifts “from crisis to crisis,” without a clear sense of American interests (this may be easier said than done). It will emphasize relations with major allies and powers, such as Russia, China, even India. China in particular was singled out for a new approach, one based not on the country as a “strategic partner” but a “strategic competitor.” Most important, perhaps, Mr. Bush was clear about the role of the United Nations; major democracies should not need the approval of this body to take international action when they see the need for it. Instead, the United States should rely on its traditional allies in Europe and in Asia, as far as multilateral action is concerned.

In his rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and in placing a national missile defense above preservation of the antiquated Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he signaled a dedication to sovereign American interests, which comes as a relief. Whether Mr. Bush can put his special brand of “American internationalism” into practice we will see. The policy has to start with the speeches, however, and Mr. Bush has set off in the right direction.

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