- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

With President Bush, the world of bipolarity came to an end. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore represent the first American administration in the age of multipolarity, and it was incumbent upon them to design an American foreign policy in a post-Cold War era.

Mr. Clinton prefers an ad-hoc foreign policy, devoid of strategic vision. His foreign policy is a combination of contradictory and incomplete strategic and tactical aspirations. He emphasizes a "humanitarian" foreign policy that at times contradicts America's national interest and confuses friends and foes. Political capital has been spent at the peripheries: Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti. He has obsessively pursued an unrealistic non-proliferation policy. Al Gore is a legatee of the Clinton-Gore policy.

What about George W. Bush? Having no experience or profound knowledge of international politics and foreign policy, he is dependent upon excellent, experienced advisers who played important roles in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

I will single out George W. Bush's principal foreign policy adviser, Condeleezza Rice, who, in her article in the Jan.-Feb. 2000 Foreign Affairs, outlined the principals of the Bush foreign policy. Miss Rice calls for "a disciplined and consistent foreign policy that separates the important from the trivial."

Miss Rice suggests the Bush administration will not follow Mr. Clinton's neo-Wilsonian concept of the national interest, and will not replace it with "humanitarian" interests as she defines it, the interest of the "international community." "Humanitarian intervention cannot be ruled out a priori," she writes. "But a decision to intervene in the absence of strategic concerns should be understood for what it is."

A Republican administration will consider the primacy of national over other interests. Not that prosperity, democracy and human values are of no significance. But these issues will be subordinate if and when they clash with national interests. Miss Rice is setting Republican foreign policy priorities: ensuring America's military ability to project power; promoting economic growth and political openness by extending free trade; renewing strong and intimate relationships with allies who share American values; focusing U.S. energy on comprehensive relationships with big powers, particularly Russia and China; and finally, dealing decisively with the threat of rogue regimes. With the exception of strengthening American military power, there is no strategic difference between these goals and those championed by Clinton-Gore.

Tactically, maybe the Bush administration will do better than Mr. Clinton's. The difference between the two is tactical.

Dealing with the powerful would be the goal of both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush. Miss Rice speaks of U.S. interest in shaping European defense identity "welcoming a greater European military capability as long as it is within the context of NATO." This is already being fulfilled by the Clinton-Gore administration. When it comes to China, Miss Rice believes in the need to "strengthen the hands of those who seek economic integration." Yet, at the same time, she defends the one-China policy. She speaks of China as a future power in Asia that could, "alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the 'strategic partner the Clinton administration once called it.' " The difference between "strategic partner" and "strategic competitor" is rhetorical.

Miss Rice considers the longstanding U.S. commitment to the one-China policy "wise," and says that U.S. policy toward China "requires nuance and balance." How will the Bush administration reconcile House Republican support for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, and at the same time conduct a nuanced and balanced policy with China? What will the Bush administration do in times of serious crisis in the Taiwan Straits? Presidents are judged by results, not rhetoric. Will the Bush administration challenge China if it renews its charges against independent Taiwan? There is no guarantee Taiwan and the People's Republic of China will not come to a serious confrontation that will behoove American intervention.

Rhetorically, there appears to be a gap between "strategic partnership" and "strategic competitor," but in the event of a confrontation there will be very little difference between the response of a Gore administration and a Bush administration. The United States cannot escape its responsibility to a democratic Taiwan. When it comes to Russia, it is certainly important to concentrate on a "security agenda." Miss Rice speaks of a need to modify the ABM Treaty, which she correctly identifies as a "relic." It is almost 30 years old and represents a "profoundly adversarial relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union," which no longer exists. Miss Rice also is correctly concerned with rogue nuclear threats from the "Iraqs and North Koreas." However, the issue of amending or revoking the ABM Treaty should not be tied to nuclear threats from the rogue states, but to threats from the great powers.

If Miss Rice's Foreign Affairs article represents the foreign policy of George W. Bush, then the differences between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush are tactical, and only rhetorically significant. The policy of the candidates toward the major rivals of the U.S., China and Russia, is hardly strategic. Miss Rice recognizes that "Russia is a great power." So does Vice President Gore. Only a confrontation between Taiwan and the PRC will demonstrate the difference between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, if there is any. Now that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is guaranteed to become a nuclear power, will Mr. Bush adopt "a disciplined and consistent foreign policy" when it comes to Iraq?

It may be that a post-Cold War, multipolar international system abhors consistency. It is true that the Clinton-Gore administration did not apply itself successfully to the management of American foreign policy. But can a disciplined Bush administration adapt itself to the multipolar international system?

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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