- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Four years ago, the moderator of tonight's debate between the presidential candidates, PBS' Jim Lehrer, found himself in the unhappy position of purveying questions for the 1996 contenders from an audience preoccupied with domestic affairs. At one point, he pleaded for a question about foreign policy; all that was forthcoming was a bank-shot about the trade deficit with Japan.

Tonight promises to be different. For one thing, Mr. Lehrer is asking the questions and there are few in the business more skilled at the task. And second, the evidence that foreign policy is going to become a principal preoccupation for the next occupant of the White House makes vetting Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush on the emerging crises in the Middle East, the Balkans, East Asia and our own hemisphere arguably the most important purpose to which tonight's debate and those to come will be put.

Consider a few of the questions that demand answers from the men who would be president:

• Do you believe Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is a reliable partner for peace with Israel given: his continuing incitement of violence notably, the current mayhem in Israel and the disputed territories; his repeated calls for jihad against the Jewish State; and his encouragement through various means (including school textbooks) of his people's expectations that the ultimate objective of liberating all of "Palestine" (that is, including Israel proper) will be met?

This is a particularly important question for the vice president since as Robert Pollock pointed out last week in the Wall Street Journal, as a United States senator in 1986 Al Gore joined nearly half the Senate in writing then-Attorney General Edwin Meese demanding that Yasser Arafat be indicted for the murders of U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and Charge d'Affaires G. Curtis Moore in Khartoum, Sudan. A follow up to the vice president might be: Since there is no statute of limitations on murder, do you still believe Mr. Arafat should be prosecuted for this crime?

• How would you propose to deal with the unraveling of hemispheric security as the cancer of Marxist, narco-guerrillas in Colombia begins to metastasize and spread to neighboring countries? In an article on Sunday, The Washington Post reported that, "As the Colombian government, backed by a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package, prepares an offensive against the traffickers and their allies, Colombia's civil war is seeping into neighboring countries, and things here have suddenly taken a violent turn." The most vulnerable of these neighbors, Ecuador, is literally being overrun with Colombian rebels in its border towns, but Brazil, Venezuela and Panama also are witnessing dramatic increases in incursions across their porous borders by the rebels and their allies.

Doesn't this situation demonstrate the folly of having U.S. forces removed from their forward-deployed positions adjacent to the Panama Canal and will you take steps to reverse that action?

• What message would you convey to the People's Republic of China, which may have been emboldened by the Congress' recent approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations, to dissuade Beijing from further threatening democratic Taiwan? This question is especially important as the Communist Chinese may be particularly tempted to engage in aggression if they believe a lame-duck president well-established as a "friend of China" would be unwilling to act during the interlude between the election and Inauguration Day.

• In recent days, there has been much discussion about energy with each of you mapping out sharply contrasting positions concerning drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and opening up part of the Alaska National Wildlife Arctic Reserve to drilling for oil and gas. The renewed focus thus placed on the importance of domestic sources of energy to our economic and national security, calls attention to a new threat to those interests:

According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Daniel Fine, the mere threat of a ballistic missile attack against the energy sources of Alaska would, over just 10 days, so dramatically affect trading in crude oil and other commodities that it would cause a net loss to the U.S. economy of between $4 billion and $6 billion. How would you prevent this outcome given that North Korea is acquiring missiles of sufficient range to make such a threat credible, yet the United States still has no anti-missile defenses deployed to prevent even one such weapon from reaching our shores?

• A new congressional analysis of U.S. relations with Russia over the past eight years concludes that: "To find a foreign policy failure of comparable scope and significance, it would be necessary to imagine that after eight years of American effort and billions of dollars of Marshall Plan aid, public opinion in Western Europe had become soundly anti-American and Western governments were vigorously collaborating in a "strategic partnership" against the United States.

To what extent has U.S. policy toward Russia contributed to the latter's failure to achieve a transformation to a functioning, viable free market democracy and given rise, instead, to a newly assertive potential adversary actively colluding with Communist China via arms deals, geopolitical activities and diplomatic initiatives inimical to U.S. interests? And what would you do differently in the future?

This election is about hiring somebody capable not only of leading the nation on education reform, tax relief, saving Social Security, providing prescription drugs to the elderly, etc. It is a moment when we will be entrusting someone with responsibility for safeguarding our vital interests and perhaps even our lives in the face of an increasingly dangerous international environment. While the full import of that danger may not become clear until after November, we had better know before then what Messrs. Bush and Gore intend to do about it.

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

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