- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle broke longstanding political protocol when he sharply criticized the administration's foreign policy while President Bush was in Europe at the G-8 summit of major industrial powers.
In a rare breach of political tradition that says the opposition party does not attack a president on foreign policy grounds when he is abroad representing America, Mr. Daschle accused Mr. Bush of pursuing "unilateralist," isolationist policies. America was losing the respect of world leaders, he suggested.
Mr. Daschle pulled back slightly from his criticism after Mr. Bush worked out an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin talks on offensive and defensive missile systems. But the damage had been done. Mr. Daschle had signaled that politics would not stop at the water's edge.
His attack enraged Mr. Bush and his top advisers who decided that they had to respond in kind as soon as the president returned home. Mr. Daschle was taking the gloves off and no matter what Mr. Bush has said about changing the tone in Washington, he could not be seen turning the other cheek to this latest slap from the Democratic leader.
The result, coming out of a White House strategy meeting that focused on "how do we respond to the Democrats' isolationist charges?" was a new strategy that accuses the Democrats of not only being isolationist but anti-Hispanic.
The White House pointed to the Democrats' proposal to block Mexican trucks from U.S. roads which has passed the House and was now pending in the Senate. The free flow of trade to and from Mexico was spelled out in the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. But the Democrats were singling out only Mexico in its safety provisions bill which would effectively prevent Mexican trucks from coming over the border for three years or more.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer launched the new offensive earlier this week, declaring that the president "thinks that the action taken by the United States Senate is unilateralist." The trucking blockade, plus the Democrats' hostility to free trade with our Hispanic neighbors to the south and elsewhere in the world, exposed "troubling signs of isolationism on the Hill," he said.
Actually, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick was the first administration official to raise the isolationist charge against the Democrats in a speech last Thursday extolling NAFTA's success. Mr. Zoellick said the free trade movement and NAFTA in particular were being threatened by the Democrats' "economic isolationists and false purveyors of fright and retreat." But the speech did not get the news media play that the White House had hoped.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott took the White House attack line even further, criticizing Democrats for "an anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude."
Beyond the issue of Mexican trucks crossing the border (they are already required to meet U.S. safety standards), there was the much larger issue of giving the president fast-track trade authority to negotiate new trade agreements. Such agreements will be critical to America's economic competitiveness around the world. But Mr. Daschle has no intention of taking up fast-track anytime soon and may block consideration altogether this year even though Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (who helped Mr. Bush pass his tax cut bill) has a trade bill ready for consideration.
With the U.S. economy barely growing by a near-recessionary 0.7 percent GDP rate in the second quarter, it is critical that we begin opening up new trade markets around the world for our manufactured and agricultural goods. But that is not going to happen so long as Mr. Daschle and the Democrats persist in their opposition to a fast-track bill and their drift toward isolationism.
Want more examples? Critical international issues are being debated at the United Nations, the world body that just threw the U.S. off the human rights panel. That would not have happened if we had our ambassador in place there, but six months after Mr. Bush took office, the post remains vacant.
Why? Senate Democrats are holding up consideration of Mr. Bush's nominee, John D. Negroponte, and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is the chief culprit.
The reason: Mr. Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s and a strong supporter of the Reagan administration's successful efforts to defeat the communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Investigators working for Mr. Dodd, who opposed giving aid to the anti-communist Contras, have been combing through files to dig up dirt on Mr. Negroponte but have found nothing.
Meantime, the administration is left without an ambassador to press its case at the U.N., thanks to Daschle & Co.
Thus, the White House has hit back with a brilliant counteroffensive. It is not Mr. Bush and the Republicans but the Daschle Democrats who are the isolationists who want to keep the U.S. out of the global economy and who singled out hard-working Mexican truck-drivers to be punished.
That's the message that is now being heard in the Hispanic community where polls show Mr. Bush is becoming increasingly popular as the country moves ever closer to the 2002 midterm election cycle.

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