- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

as Russian President and preparing to bargain with slick Bill Clinton on June 4, hold your wallets. The Coalition to Protect Americans Now is right to fear Mr. Clinton's obsession with weapons agreements and that Mr. Putin could exploit this liberal mania. But the greater danger is that America's whole future foreign policy will be built upon this fuzzy wishful thinking and tie the hands of any future president.

While they may be split on the merits of a missile defense, most of the foreign policy elite fervently believe Russia is the major threat. That is why President Clinton is so anxious for a weapons agreement with Russia. "National greatness" conservatism is even more frantic. As Robert Kagan put it: "Even the optimists don't deny that the election of Vladimir Putin could be an ominous development." His other danger areas are Iraq, the Balkans, China-Taiwan, weapons proliferation in India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, and instability in Haiti and Colombia. The answer to all of these for both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kagan is for the United States to talk and act tough with these adversaries, especially decrying their lack of democracy and their denial of human rights.

Mr. Kagan favors the Clinton administration's "indefinite" deployment in Bosnia and Kosovo. That is why he supported John McCain and recently warned Gov. George W. Bush he would be smart "if he stopped talking about pulling U.S. troops out of the Balkans and elsewhere," and why he complained that the Republican Congress has been "singing that [same] neo-isolationist tone for years." Although Mr. Kagan says President Clinton has not been aggressive enough, he accepts his priorities, correctly sees that these differ from the GOP's, and demands a national debate. One is to be welcomed since traditional conservative principles suggest these are the wrong priorities and that pursuing them endangers true American interests.

The Republicans were right to oppose getting mired in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Mr. Bush is correct that we should get out. From George Washington on, getting entangled in Europe's local squabbles has not been in America's interest. There were no U.S. interests in Haiti either, and Colombia and Iraq were secondary at best. Traditional conservatism has one touchstone: defending America's just interests. The Clinton-national greatness priorities are set ideologically the Woodrow Wilson dream that the world must be made safe for democracy by an active policeman role played by the United States. In fact, it was not brutality in Russia but misguided Wilsonianism that led to Mr. Putin. Within 11 days of expanding NATO to Russia's borders, America led its troops into its first war against a nation that did not threaten it or its allies indeed, against a traditional Russian ally, Serbia. Kosovo humiliated Russia and created a consensus for a strong leader like Mr. Putin to do what was necessary to restore Russia's standing in the world.

The real threats to American interests are not how well democracy spreads around the world but Islamic fundamentalism and, potentially, China. In fact, realistic analysis suggests the more democracy there is in an Islamic nation, the more it opposes the U.S. and its allies like Israel. Likewise, it is not nuclear "proliferation" that is the problem but possession by unstable regimes like North Korea or fundamentalist ones like Iran and Afghanistan, or even, someday, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

How can this possible threat be contained without Russia and India? It is insane to tongue-lash these essentially inward-looking nations, which do have some interest in protecting their borders from madmen.

This is not anti-Islam. The Islamic Supreme Council of America organized a recent conference where the prime concern of the attending Muslims from around the world was the danger from Islamic fundamentalism.

While it can be avoided, China does has the potential to threaten world peace. But the present U.S. alliance system relying upon Japan and Taiwan is inadequate. Neither, nor the two together, are strong enough to balance an aggressive China, even allied with U.S. forces. In a Sino-American war, the two are likely to stay neutral if China allows them to. Only Russia and India are located strategically and are big enough to balance China. What was the reaction of national greatness' John McCain when President Clinton recently wooed India? He said the trip was too "extensive," an excuse for "photo ops." Mr. Clinton was right to go and should do more.

None of this means giving Russia all it wants. It is in our interest (and, incidently, theirs) to confront them on missile defense. Both need a way to protect against missiles from rouge nations. Russian agreement is possible if friendship with them becomes a top priority. In fact, we need them for both of our true major concerns. Europe is too supine to be reliable. Who thinks it would fight with us for Taiwan? Under the right conditions, Russia might.

Gov. Bush and the GOP are on the right course pushing American interests and should relish the debate.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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