"UNTIL THE FALL of the Berlin Wall in 1989," says Bill Bradley, "we were sure about one thing: We knew where we stood on foreign policy." This is a pleasant fiction, this nostalgia for a time of national consensus and simple choices in foreign affairs, and presidential candidate Bradley is far from alone in perpetuating it. But the former senator lived through Vietnam and agonized over the Nicaraguan contras. A few years later, he voted against the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait; that he now cites Iraq, 1991, as a place and time when "the national interest [was] clear" cannot retroactively create a consensus that did not exist.

More than historical accuracy is at issue, for Mr. Bradley pits the supposed simplicity of the Cold War against the more difficult choices that he says now confront the country--and the next president. "We need to figure out what we are for," he says. But just as his history is incomplete, his criticisms of the Clinton administration are inconsistent and at times unfair. He speaks of the need for "a new vision," but he has yet to offer one. Not once during his foreign policy "town meeting" at Tufts University did he mention the promotion of democracy as a core U.S. interest.

Mr. Bradley's first substantial campaign foray into foreign affairs did offer a welcome defense of international alliances and open trade. He spoke intelligently of the futility of fighting the supply of illegal drugs without better approaches to reducing demand. He displayed a familiarity with the world that comes of long interest in international issues and that would serve any president well.

But how can you favor more arms control agreements with Russia while complaining that the United States has a relationship "with the Yeltsin government" instead of with the Russian people? Who but Mr. Yeltsin could negotiate arms reductions? While there is certainly room to criticize President Clinton's Russia policy, many planks that Mr. Bradley claims were lacking--pushing for the destruction of nuclear weapons, to employ Russian nuclear scientists and so on--were central themes both in Congress and in the White House from the beginning.

Similarly, Mr. Bradley wants the United States to intervene less around the world and let the United Nations do more. But to a large extent, the United Nations works only if the United States leads. In Bosnia, for example, Mr. Bradley says the key would have been "to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier before things reach the point where there is only a military option." But that is exactly what Mr. Clinton did, and exactly why he failed; while the United States refused to bring military pressure to bear, while it deferred to the United Nations for four years, 300,000 people were killed.

Was the United States right not to play "policeman" in Rwanda and to allow the genocide to take place? Should it not have intervened in Kosovo or in Haiti--and if not, what would Mr. Bradley have done about the atrocities in one and the boat people in the other? As for all the candidates, Mr. Bradley's "vision" can emerge only if he tells us how he would handle the hard cases. The campaign will give him time to take another crack at them.