In his first major foreign policy speech yesterday, Texas Gov. George W. Bush vowed to strengthen ties with major allies and devote more attention to managing relations with potential rivals such as Russia and China. But there is much about his approach that could inflame tensions with both camps.
The European allies, for example, will likely object to Bush's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and his eager embrace of a national missile defense system--even at the expense of infuriating Russia by scrapping the 30-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Nor are many U.S. allies likely to support the governor's suggestion that Washington should pay its United Nations dues "only if the U.N.'s bureaucracy is reformed, and our disproportionate share of its costs is reduced."
China, which Bush says should be "respected as a great power," would surely react with anger if--as he hinted yesterday--he would provide theater missile defenses to Taiwan. By the same token, Russian leaders may ask how Bush can promise to "support Russian reform" even as he threatens to withhold international aid as punishment for Moscow's military action in Chechnya.
Bush describes his approach as one of "clear-eyed realism," balancing continued engagement on the world stage--he is a big supporter of free trade, for example--with a prudent regard for the real threats to U.S. security. And there is much about his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., that major European powers and other friendly countries would find appealing--such as his assertion that "alliances are not just for crises, summoned into action when the fire bell sounds."
But rivals from both major parties, as well as some independent analysts, called the speech vague and inconsistent, accusing Bush of failing to grapple with the hard choices that inevitably would confront him in office. Though Bush was said to have been heavily involved in drafting the speech, it also reflected the views of high-powered advisers--from his father's administration and that of President Reagan--who are trying to help him live down his reputation as a foreign policy naif.
Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Bush's speech "seems to gloss over the fact that foreign policy is about having to make tough choices. He sets a series of priorities and aspirations but never really tells you how he's going to get there. And the reason is, when you get there, you have to make a trade-off."
Daalder noted that on China, Bush "says that our values about freedom and human rights ought to be central. But he also favors unrestrained trade with China. How are we going to do both? He never deals with that."
Bush and his advisers have placed special emphasis on maintaining good relations with major allies--an area where, in their view, the Clinton administration has fallen short. In his speech yesterday, however, Bush placed himself squarely at odds with the leaders of Britain, Germany and France, who last month warned--in a New York Times opinion piece--that Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would be "a failure in our struggle against [nuclear] proliferation."
Bush said the treaty, which was rejected by the Senate, was "not the answer," although he promised to maintain the U.S. testing moratorium declared by his father in 1992.
"The most important thing is the inconsistency in his message when it comes to our European allies," said Marc Ginsburg, a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Gore, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. "He's turned his back on them and ignored their arguments. He's a captive of a very isolationist minority in Congress on this issue."
GOP candidate Gary Bauer also was critical of Bush's speech, albeit for different reasons. "Bush's views on trade with Red China are identical in every important respect with the appeasement policies of Bill Clinton and Al Gore," he said. "This puts Bush out of step with the vast majority of rank-and-file Republicans and certainly out of step with the conservatives within the GOP."
Some analysts faulted Bush for failing to explain how he would manage competing goals of his Russia policy. They noted, for example, that if the United States were to punish Russian aggression in Chechnya by cutting off economic aid, that could make it more difficult to promote reform--a goal that Bush also embraced. Similarly, if the United States unilaterally decides to deploy a missile defense system, that could encourage Russia to build up its nuclear arsenal.