Edwards Sets Self Apart on Foreign Policy
Terrorism Was Top Focus Before Sept. 11 Attacks
By Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 9, 2004; Page A01
In his Senate years and primary campaign, vice presidential candidate John Edwards has emerged as a politician willing to push beyond conventional foreign policy ideas and introduce imaginative proposals that often do not meet with swift approval.
In one typical case, Edwards in January called for the United States to draw up a "freedom list" that would identify dissidents jailed for political or religious expression in an attempt through "name and shame" to persuade other countries to free political prisoners. He also proposed linking U.S. aid to progress on human rights and democracy -- a practice that, if implemented, would almost certainly disqualify many key U.S. allies, such as Egypt and Pakistan.
In the summer of 2001, when much of the Republican and Democratic policy community was obsessed with missile defense, Edwards urged more attention to terrorism. The North Carolina senator had such limited luck pitching an OpEd article on terrorism to major newspapers that the piece, warning of poor cooperation among federal and local law enforcement, ended up in the weekly Littleton Observer, circulation 2,230 -- four weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Edwards's approach and style are in contrast to those of running mate John F. Kerry, who after years steeped in foreign policy has recently become more of a pragmatist whose positions shy away from bold ideas -- in some cases differing from Bush administration policy only by degrees.
Republicans are hoping to make Edwards's foreign policy positions, which have received little scrutiny until now, a key issue in the fall campaign. They charge that his credentials are relatively thin, with accomplishments limited to his position on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and proposed legislation on counterterrorism.
Even some Democrats concede that he did not flesh out his own broad national security platform until the primaries -- and even then sometimes tried to dodge foreign policy questions or interviews or provide general answers in early debates.
For all the energy and voter appeal he may have added to the campaign, Republicans say Edwards will be particularly vulnerable when he goes head to head with Vice President Cheney, a former defense secretary and White House chief of staff. Some are already salivating over the prospects of the fall debates.
"If you liked the  Quayle-Bentsen debate, you'll love the Cheney-Edwards debate," said Ed Rogers, Republican political consultant, referring to vice presidential candidates Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen. "The contrast with Cheney just couldn't be more stark on this issue. Who's going to be tougher on terrorists who want to kill you and your family? Cheney or Edwards? It is just going to be laughable."
But Democrats are coyly confident that Edwards, who consistently played well among voters during the primary debates, will surprise the electorate. "Bring it on," said Richard C. Holbrooke, U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration and now a senior foreign policy adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
"I would say Vice President Cheney is a man of the Cold War generation who still thinks in Cold War terms. He is knowledgeable but rigid. He shows no ability to adjust to new 21st century realities," he said.
Over the past three years, Edwards has scrambled to organize crash tutorials, roundtable discussions with foreign policy analysts at his Georgetown home, trips to hot spots abroad and meetings with foreign leaders to prepare for his presidential campaign, aides and advisers said. Democrats note that Edwards's foreign policy experience matches or exceeds the credentials of Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter when they were nominees.
"He understood in the post-9/11 world his national security credentials would be challenged from the get-go," Holbrooke said, adding that Edwards tried to avoid being pulled too far left during the primaries. "He was very thoughtful in trying to find a balance in national security priorities and how to present them effectively" as former Vermont governor Howard Dean appeared to be running away with the nomination.
To gain first-hand foreign experience, Edwards toured Israel and Egypt in 2001. As part of a tour to South and Central Asia, Edwards traveled to Afghanistan in 2002 shortly after the U.S.-led war to oust the ruling Taliban and destroy Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda camps. He also visited Britain and twice visited NATO headquarters, in 2002 and 2004. He has met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, campaign aides said.
Edwards surprised participants in 2002 meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European foreign policy experts, said William Drozdiak, executive director of the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund who helped organize the Brussels sessions.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company