- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Yesterday, in Michigan, President Clinton passed the torch to Vice President Al Gore, or so he said. Leave alone, for the moment, the fact that said item practically had to be pried from his fingers; if anyone ever resisted walking softly into that good night, it is Mr. Clinton whose very being depends on the limelight of public attention. Still, like one Olympic runner to another, Mr. Clinton passed the torch of American leadership to Mr. Gore.Which makes you wonder … do we live in a republic or a monarchy? How in the world can Mr. Clinton think that the American presidency is his to pass on? The American people will have a thing or two to say about this on Nov. 7. It could well be that Mr. Clinton will have to pass on control of the White House to Texas Gov. George W. Bush come January next year.As the world remains rapt by the spectacle of American politics, undoubtedly unique as it is, Americans seem to have forgotten the world. With the lone exception of the gripping drama of the Russian submarine trapped at the bottom of the Barents Sea with 100 crewmen abroad, practically no international news reaches the American television viewer at this time. Unless the Clinton administration decided to send cruise missiles against some small, unsuspecting African nation in October to make up for flagging poll numbers, that will be par for the course throughout the fall. Needless to say, the absence of overriding international issues in the presidential race does not mean that they will be of no importance to Americans. They most certainly will. Ever hoping to set himself apart from the voluble and irrepressible Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore has produced a set of foreign policy guidelines of his own. They are worth pouring over for a moment, even if there are no Playboy Bunnies involved.The best place to look for the Gore foreign policy agenda is a speech he gave, to little national attention as it happened, on April 30, at the International Press Institute (IPI) in New York. Many of the same ideas are to be found in the Democratic Party platform, of course, where the authors have somehow managed to make them even more turgid.At the core of Mr. Gore's foreign policy agenda is something called "forward engagement" which seems linguistically redundant. Is there such as thing as "backward engagement"? Presumably this plays on the military concept of "forward deployment" as well as the Clinton-era favorite "democratic enlargement." In any event, "engagement" can mean just about anything you make of it. "Forward engagement" is an altogether more woolly concept, and nowhere more so than when applied by Mr. Gore to the Global Age. As he told the U.N. Security Council in an earlier speech in January, "We need a new security agenda for the Global Age based on forward engagement." Well.

Mr. Gore pays lip service to a strong national defense as his first point of order. "America must always maintain a strong national defense, and unrivaled national security." If that is the case, this will mean a departure from the Clinton-Gore years of disastrously falling defense budgets and overextended military commitments. The emphasis, however, is on not just new generations of weapons, but "a new generation of thinking."

In Mr. Gore's world-view, a great many different things become part of the American national security landscape. It involves engaging in regional conflicts selectively not in and of itself a problematic concept if the selection is done properly. But it also involves Clinton classics such as democracy-building, as on Haiti, and economic growth initiatives in the Caribbean.

Forward engagement can also mean "promoting prosperity throughout the world." It means promoting the rule of law, fiscal discipline, sound economy, promoting "health security" especially for women and children in the developing world promoting the Internet and bridging the "digital divide" between rich and poor countries.

In a nod to labor unions livid at Mr. Gore's support for free trade agreements, we also need forward engagement in sweatshops, environmental protection and ratification of the Kyoto Agreement. Mr. Gore interestingly is committed to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which received fierce opposition from the textile unions here, so maybe he will do a little better than Mr. Clinton on that score.

The forward engagement of Russia and China is the piece de resistance of Mr. Gore's speech. Given where we find Russia headed today towards increasing authoritarianism under Russian President Vladimir Putin you would think Mr. Gore had the decency to downplay his own role in the disaster that was U.S. Russia policy in the 1990s. But no … instead, "we have worked hard these past seven years to help Russia make a transition to a market-based democracy."

Now, not all Mr. Gore's ideas should be dismissed out of hand, but the problem is as it was during the Clinton-Gore administration that there appears to be no differentiation, no understanding of priorities. As sympathetic and concerned as one might be, the health of women in the developing world has no place in American national security policy.

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