- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, in the latest coordinated Democratic attack on the administration's foreign policy, yesterday accused President Bush of "abdicating" America's role as a global leader.

"Instead of asserting our leadership, we are abdicating it," Mr. Daschle said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. "The administration has demonstrated a willingness to walk away from agreements that were embraced by many of our closest friends and allies."

But the White House said Mr. Daschle's cry of isolationism rings of hypocrisy, noting that the Democratic leader has led an effort to restrict access of Mexican trucks to the United States.

"The Senate majority leader is welcome to express his views," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "But I think those views should be put in the overall context, and nowhere is there a better example of working with other countries than when it comes to trade."

His speech came one week after House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt criticized Mr. Bush for a "go-it-alone" foreign policy. Democrats acknowledge their effort is coordinated and that they view the administration's foreign policy as a weak spot to exploit.

Democrats also watched for eight years as Republicans spoke out against President Clinton's foreign policy in hot spots such as Bosnia and Somalia, and handed him an embarrassing defeat in 1999 by rejecting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

But Mr. Daschle's message has been thwarted by poor timing. He criticized Mr. Bush as being isolationist days before Mr. Bush reached a handshake agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on nuclear arms negotiations; Mr. Daschle later had to concede that Mr. Bush's last trip to Europe appeared "successful."

Yesterday, as Mr. Daschle was attacking the administration's support for a national missile defense, Russia gave the go-ahead for the United States to continue with its missile defense testing, saying it would not violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty provided that Moscow was notified of the Bush administration's testing plans.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that Mr. Daschle's criticism of Mr. Bush was "unfounded."

"I was disappointed in the partisan tenor of Senator Daschle's comments, " Mr. Hagel said, adding that Mr. Bush has "met with world leaders and laid out a clear vision of American foreign policy."

Despite weeks of steady criticism by Mr. Daschle and other Democrats, public opinion polls are showing that a majority of voters are comfortable with Mr. Bush's handling of foreign affairs.

Asked after his speech why the issue is not gaining traction with the public, Mr. Daschle replied, "By and large, people have focused a lot more on the crumbling economy. I don't know that the American people have been forced to focus on foreign affairs much in recent months. We're largely at peace."

A Senate Republican aide countered, "The number one issue in America is education. We hope Democrats continue to court European voters."

Another factor hampering the Democrats' message on foreign policy, polls show, is that the public does not identify Mr. Daschle, Mr. Gephardt or anyone else as the principal spokesman for the party.

Asked if he is the leader of the party, Mr. Daschle demurred, saying he is "one of many leaders," also citing Mr. Gephardt, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and "the vice president" before correcting himself to list former Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, devoted most of his criticism yesterday to Mr. Bush's plans to develop a national missile defense and to modify or abandon the ABM Treaty. Mr. Daschle proposed to scale back the administration's requested 57 percent increase in missile defense funds in fiscal 2002 to a 10 percent increase.

"We could pursue a broad array of missile defense technologies consistent with the ABM Treaty," Mr. Daschle said. "We would also free up about $2.5 billion" that he would instead spend on preparing for terrorist attacks, helping unemployed Russian nuclear scientists find jobs and other alternatives.

Mr. Daschle criticized Mr. Bush for reducing U.S. relations with Russia to the single issue of missile defense, and questioned the president's trust in Mr. Putin.

Mr. Hagel countered that Mr. Bush "has consulted our allies, and the Russians, far more actively and productively than President Clinton ever attempted."

"Senator Daschle spoke as though we have already rejected the ABM Treaty, " Mr. Hagel said. "We have not rejected it. We have not violated it. Senator Daschle fails to recognize that Russia lives in a dangerous neighborhood. It is in Russia's own self-interest to work beyond the ABM Treaty. That is why the two countries are now engaged in bilateral talks on defensive and offensive systems."

Mr. Bush got Mr. Putin to agree during a meeting in Europe last month to link progress on a U.S. missile-defense system to reductions in both nation's nuclear weapons stockpiles.

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