Now, Bush Is Questioned on Foreign Policy, Too

January 19, 1992|By KAREN HOSLER | KAREN HOSLER,Karen Holser covers the White House for The Baltimore Sun.

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- After President Bush kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait last winter, he was rewarded with 90 percent approval ratings and an icon from a group of Maronite Christians that seemed the ultimate comment on his stature as a world leader: St. George the dragon slayer.

A year later, Mr. Bush returned from his "trade and jobs" mission to the Far East last weekend to find himself derided as a none-too-successful international car salesman and a diplomat who couldn't keep down his dinner. His poll ratings, already dragged down 40 points by the sputtering economy, slid further.

Clearly, the euphoria over President's Bush performance on the world stage has worn off.

Foreign policy analysts and most of Mr. Bush's challengers for the Oval Office call him a Cold War president who is only belatedly coming to understand that the "new world order" may be more about economic competition than superpower military strength.

"Bush is obviously more comfortable dealing with Cold War issues, but in the post-Cold War period economic strength is going to be more important than in the past," said Michael Mandelbaum, director of American foreign policy at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University. "That's not George Bush's strength."

He and other critics contend the last-minute redesign of Mr. Bush's East Asia trip demonstrated the president is out of his depth in dealing with complicated economic issues, which cannot be solved with impromptu shuttle diplomacy and jingoism.

"The president doesn't have the interest or feel or self-assurance" for global economics that he does for other aspects of foreign policy, said Harold Brown, chairman of the Foreign Policy Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, who served as defense secretary under President Carter. "It's more difficult."

Mr. Bush's record on foreign affairs has also been tarnished by lack of a long-term strategy, poor follow-through, too much reliance on personal relationships and some of the same money troubles that hurt his domestic record.

The president "is not a conceptual thinker," said John Steinbrunner, director of foreign policy at The Brookings Institution. "He is much more concerned with immediate political goals."

On the Japan trip, Mr. Steinbrunner said he believed Mr. Bush was "flying by the seat of his pants."

The White House vigorously disputes such complaints.

"It's strange to hear because it's the opposite of the complaints we got during the president's first year in office when we took six months for that overall policy review," observed Roman Popadiuk, deputy press secretary. "Then, the president was called 'too conceptual.' "

The increasing importance of the relationship between economics and national security was recognized early in that planning, Mr. Popadiuk said.

"The president has always exhibited a sense of history in dealing with issues," said Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser. "His background allows him to project into the future with foresight and accuracy."

President Bush is rated very highly by most analysts and politicians in both parties for his ability to react well in emergency situations.

He is cool, confident, and knowledgeable enough about the politics and peculiarities of so many countries he could serve as his own desk officer. His long experience as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, CIA director, special envoy to China and vice president have yielded extensive contacts. He is the first president to make the telephone a primary tool of diplomacy.

"His performance on foreign policy on the big issues has been really quite good," said Alexander L. George, professor emeritus of international relations at Stanford University. He called the president's global lobbying campaign to win United Nations Security Council approval for the use of force against Iraq a "brilliant" success.

Mr. Bush's recent achievement in getting the Israelis, the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states together to talk peace has also been widely praised.

But critics say the president falls short on the more mundane aspects of foreign policy, such as the development and pursuit of long-term objectives that cannot be accomplished as swiftly as the military offensives and diplomatic deals at which Mr. Bush has been more successful.

"The president's penchant for decisive action is not matched by an ability to follow up victories to secure his gains," Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wisc., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a recent speech. "It's not foreign policy the president seems to be preoccupied with, it's foreign adventure."

To buttress their complaints about Mr. Bush's performance, foreign policy analysts note:

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