- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

While the American body politic hangs in a state of suspended animation awaiting a resolution of the 2000 presidential election, the rest of the world is moving on. And in important respects, it is not moving in directions favorable to U.S. interests.

The trouble is that, in the absence of the mandate being clearly given to a new president-elect, U.S. foes, competitors and friends are taking advantage of a lame-duck incumbent who was, on a good day, regarded by many around the globe as irresolute and unreliable. Matters are only made worse by the prospect that he may eventually be succeeded by a man fully implicated in the hash the Clinton administration has made of security policy over the past eight years.

Consider a sampler of the international problems currently festering due, at least in part, to the discounting of American leadership and power:

• In the Netherlands, a "summit on global climate change" has gotten under way this week for the purpose of hammering out specific rules for compelling parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to meet required reductions in the production of greenhouse gases. There remain serious questions about the science of global warming. These include: Is the warming of the climate that can be discerned really the product of human activity, and therefore likely to be influenced by curbs on such activity? Or is it a function of solar activity or but a phase in our planet's natural cycle that will not be ameliorated even if the internal combustion engine were banned?

Meanwhile, European nations hoping to make their heavily socialized economies more competitive by hobbling the relatively booming U.S. GNP see a great opportunity in the Clinton administration's willingness to permit the United States to be further implicated in the Kyoto process. This is all the more outrageous insofar as President Clinton has not deigned even to submit the protocol to the Senate for its advice and consent to say nothing of securing its approval by that body.

• The effort to get to the bottom of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole is foundering in Yemen. According to Sunday's New York Times, the State Department is backing the U.S. ambassador there, who is resisting FBI efforts to follow the investigation wherever it may lead including possibly to people in high places in the Yemeni government. Similar fears of offending Middle Eastern potentates and impeding the Clinton-Gore administration's efforts to normalize relations with state sponsors of terrorism throughout the region effectively aborted the inquiry into the Khobar Towers bombing when it led unmistakably to Iran.

• Russian trawlers are collecting intelligence in U.S. waters against our ballistic missile and attack submarines intelligence that may compromise the safety and security of these vitally important naval assets and their crews. Under Mr. Clinton, the U.S. government has chosen largely to ignore this activity, to the point of making a non-person of a courageous Navy officer, Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, whose eyesight was permanently damaged in April 1997 by a laser attack from one of these trawlers as he and a Canadian colleague were monitoring its hostile activities.

• OPEC oil ministers have announced, naturally after the U.S. election, that they have no intention of further increasing their oil production. In fact, the cartel intends to consider further production cuts at its next meeting in 2001. These actions could have profound effects on not only the U.S. economy and Americans' quality of life, but also on the global economic situation as well. In addition, the head of one of OPEC's most important member nations Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has begun to use his country's oil bounty to extend the influence of his increasingly despotic regime elsewhere in Latin America. Worse yet, he is doing so for the purpose of promoting an explicitly anti-U.S. agenda, together with such ideological soul mates as Fidel Castro and the Marxist narco-guerrillas trying to topple the democratic government of Colombia.

• China is one of the United States' potential adversaries that has recognized this nation's extraordinary vulnerability to the disruption of its civil and military space assets. Although Beijing regularly denounces U.S. anti-missile programs and other defense systems that use or could be based in outer space, China is aggressively pursuing with Russian help its own anti-satellite, jamming and electro-magnetic pulse weapon systems that could, if used against us, have a devastating effect on both U.S. national security and economic well-being.

In these and too many other areas to list in this limited space, the perception has taken hold that the United States is, at best, not paying attention and, at worst, a paper tiger. While there is, of course, a government in place in Washington, its past record has contributed to this perception and its present status only serves to compound it.

It remains to be seen to what extent a new president will be able to ameliorate these and similar looming challenges. What is safe to say is that the longer the national nightmare of an endless election persists encouraging fair-weather friends and foes alike to believe they can act against U.S. interests with impunity the more difficult it will be for even a competent, visionary and principled American leader to mitigate the damage inflicted by such actions.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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