- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

As the presidential election moves closer, a question which we foreign policy types like to discuss amongst ourselves is: What would be the difference between a U.S. foreign policy run by a President George W. Bush or one guided by the vision of a President Albert Gore Jr. (no matter how much one shudders to write those last three words, the possibility has to be contemplated).
Now, nobody else may care much about the answer, since the world has fallen off the map in this election. (It's an impression reinforced, by the way, in the 2000 Summer Olympics, which, if you believe the NBC coverage, starred American athletes competing against an odd assemblage of incidental and annoying foreigners.) But some of us quaintly do care about facts like who is the former foreign minister of Belarus, who leads the opposition in Serbia and even the name of the president of Chechnya. And some of us care very much indeed about the foreign policy of this country in the 21st century. Actually, everybody should.
Some believe that there simply is not much of a difference between Messrs. Bush and Gore. Certainly no Democrat would publicly admit to this view, and would find the idea hideously insulting. But there is a school of thought among foreign policy hawks (oftentimes conveniently and eloquently embodied in the person of Robert Kagan of the Weekly Standard, The Washington Post and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace), which holds that in many respects the Bush foreign policy can hardly be distinguished from that of Mr. Gore or even President Clinton. In a Sept. 24 column in The Post, Mr. Kagan bristled about their respective views on Iraq and China, in which he believes the Bush foreign policy team to be practically indistinguishable from the Clinton-Gore team.
Even Mr. Kagan conceded, however, that there is one point of difference, and here he prefers the Gore approach. "That is at least one difference between Bush and Gore. Gore still defends the idea of American involvement in the world's trouble spots, though sometimes he seems a bit preoccupied with deploying American power against microbes and automobile exhaust." Actually, whether we want to take arms against a sea of troubles in East Timor and Sierre Leone and whether to array our legions to stop the spread of smog and the scourge of AIDS are rather fundamental questions for Americans to consider in the election.
Last week, during a visit to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, I had a chance to sit down with Bush foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice, during a rare quiet moment in her campaign schedule. As Miss Rice is the person most often mentioned for the post of national security adviser to Mr. Bush, should he win the election, she ought to provide some solid indicators of what we can expect.
Neat, precise and succinct, Miss Rice could hardly be more of a contrast with the man most likely to guide a Gore presidency on foreign policy, Leon Fuerth, the primary candidate for the post of Democratic national security adviser. The rumpled Mr. Fuerth, who has advised Mr. Gore on foreign policy and arms control going back to his time in the Senate, has only recently emerged from what appears to be carefully cultivated anonymity (a rare quality in Washington, one would have to admit). Two weeks back, he popped up to give a major speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
Asked about Mr. Bush's set of priorities, Miss Rice told me, "First of all, he will have priorities." The first task will be to rebuild the U.S. military, and to set about building a system of national ballistic missile defense. Next will come getting fast-track trade negotiating authority through Congress and restoring the relationships with American allies in Europe and in Asia. The focus on Latin America will be restored. As for Russia and China, Miss Rice spoke of a sense of realism. "The problem with our Russia policy was that we thought we could do too much," she says. "The Clinton administration has declared everybody our strategic partners. That's not really necessary." And perhaps most profoundly, "In all the concern about the rest of the world, it is important not to lose sight of American interests."
Contrast this with Mr. Fuerth's statement that today, as the world's sole remaining superpower, a U.S. foreign policy can afford to do things that "idealists and moralists" could only dream of in the past. Among American national security concerns, he listed the environment in the Third World, protection of the rain forest, lifting the living standard of the 1.5 billion people worldwide who live on less than $1 a day, fighting AIDS and protecting the world's fisheries. And that is just a partial list. The Gore foreign policy concept is called "forward engagement" which according to Mr. Fuerth means "looking down the road and anticipating problems."
" 'Forward engagement' isn't that what we used to call diplomacy?" said Miss Rice. "You don't need a fancy label for that." But you need fancy labels when your content is lacking. That's the big difference.
E-mail: helle.bering@washtimes.com

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