Bush outlines foreign policy positions

GOP front-runner warns against `drift,' chides Clinton administration

November 20, 1999|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Seeking to beef up his foreign policy credentials, Texas Gov. George W. Bush portrayed himself yesterday as a committed internationalist whose administration would ration the use of U.S. military power abroad.

In his first foreign policy address, the Republican front-runner sketched out a mainstream vision of the U.S. role in international affairs. He cautioned against the "drift" of an ad hoc foreign policy that moves "from crisis to crisis, like a cork in a current."

"America must be involved in the world," Bush said, in a counter to isolationist sentiment in his own party.

The use of military force as a response to every overseas crisis, he said, is not "a substitute for strategy. American internationalism should not mean action without vision, activity without priority and missions without end, an approach that squanders American will and drains American energy."

Bush's remarks, before an invited audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., were carried live on national television, an indication of their importance at this stage of the presidential contest.

Bush leads in national polls over his Republican rivals and potential Democratic opponents, but highly publicized missteps have raised questions about his grasp of international affairs.

Reaction to the speech was muted. Vice President Al Gore's campaign referred reporters to a statement by Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew that Bush's address was "heavy on platitudes" and "light on specifics."

In his speech, the 53-year-old governor said that if elected, he would promote democracy and global stability by pursuing free trade, renewing efforts to check the spread of weapons of mass destruction, strengthening alliances and forging a new strategic relationship with Russia.

His proposals did not depart significantly from policies followed by his father when he was president, from 1989 to 1993, or from the path pursued since then by President Clinton.

Several of the initiatives that Bush proposed have been set in motion by the Clinton administration.

Bush called for increased U.S. aid to help Russia dismantle its aging stockpile of nuclear weapons and said the next president must press for an accurate inventory of Russian nuclear material. Clinton persuaded Congress this week to fund such a project.

Another Bush proposal -- to allow Russia to cooperate with the United States and its allies on missile defense systems -- is the subject of recently reopened negotiations by the State Department.

Bush took rhetorical pokes at the current administration without referring to Clinton by name.

"China is a competitor, not a strategic partner," the Texas governor said, drawing a distinction with the president's description of the U.S. relationship with Beijing.

Bush described China as "an espionage threat to our country" and termed the government in Beijing "an enemy of religious freedom and a sponsor of forced abortion policies without reason and without mercy."

Bush also said, however, that he welcomes "a free and prosperous China" and would like to work with Beijing to curb weapons proliferation and bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

He endorsed the Clinton administration's decision to support China's entry into the World Trade Organization while cautioning that Beijing's "poor record in honoring agreements" means it must be watched closely to make sure it adheres to WTO rules.

Bush also highlighted his opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, recently rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate. He promised to continue the moratorium on testing begun by his father but dismissed the treaty as an "unwise" attempt to "wish away" the spread of nuclear weapons.

The speech, one in a series designed to spell out the governor's positions on issues from education to economics, was scheduled long ago, but drew added attention after Bush flunked a recent quiz on foreign leaders administered by a Boston television reporter.

Most of the major elements of the speech had dribbled out in interviews. They included a warning from Bush that Russia risked a loss of international aid if it did not stop killing women and children in the rebellious republic of Chechnya.

That harsh language -- and the larger goal of demonstrating the candidate's mastery of the subject -- might have been undercut when Bush, in a telephone interview with an Associated Press reporter Tuesday, had to turn to his chief foreign policy adviser, Condoleeza Rice, for confirmation that the attacks on women and children were continuing.

Bush has acknowledged his need to educate himself on the fine points of international policy, and his advisers have stressed that other governors who have run for president, including Reagan and Clinton, had no foreign policy experience.

"There's nuance in foreign policy," Bush told voters in Iowa this week. "I'm beginning to learn that."

His tutors are eight foreign policy advisers from the Reagan and Bush administrations who have been meeting with the candidate off and on for months. They include Rice, a Soviet specialist at the Bush White House who is now at Stanford University, and Paul Wolfowitz, another Bush administration veteran who is dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington. Inside the campaign, the advisers are known as "the Vulcans," after the Roman god of metalworking.

Bush has sought a similar image of strength in his latest campaign commercial, in which he promises "a foreign policy with a touch of iron."

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