Bill Bradley called today for the United States to reduce its unilateral overseas interventions and instead work with the United Nations and other international organizations to build security in a world that lacks the Cold War's predictability.
"We cannot give an open-ended humanitarian commitment to the world," Bradley said, charting his foreign policy in a discussion with Tufts University students. "The United States has been spread very thin over a wide territory in the world and has not had the impact that we seek to have in places that we do get involved."
Bradley contended that America has neither the resources nor the wisdom to soothe every hot spot. "The key is to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier, before things reach the point where only there is a military option," he said. "That requires partners in the world to do this, alliances with international organizations."
In a rebuke to Vice President Gore, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bradley also said that the United States had "missed a real opportunity" in responding to overtures from Russian leaders in the years since the fall of communism. He said the Clinton administration focused too much on encouraging Russia to adopt domestic economic reforms, instead of pushing for deep reductions in nuclear arms and other weapons.
Though carefully measured, Bradley's comments placed him firmly to the left of Gore and other presidential candidates on foreign policy issues. While Republican frontrunner George W. Bush and other GOP candidates have also criticized the Clinton administration's foreign interventions, Bradley differs from them in calling for greater reliance on the United Nations and other international organizations.
Bradley's call for more extensive and far-reaching negotiations with Russia on arms control and other issues is also distinctive. He said today he would work to negotiate a new missile-reduction treaty with Moscow, even though the START II treaty reducing nuclear warheads has never been ratified by the Russian parliament. "I am in favor of moving beyond START II, even in the absence of ratification by Russia, to negotiations on START III," he said, giving a goal of reducing arms stocks to 1,000 to 2,000 warheads for each side.
Bradley opposes the immediate deployment of a national missile defense, a step that would require renegotiating or breaking the antiballistic missile treaty with Russia. He favors ongoing research but is concerned about the diplomatic consequences of deployment. Gore has said he wants to negotiate with Russia about the deployment of the system while Bush has said he would build it even over Russian objections.
Bradley endorsed an open world trading system, but said the World Trade Organization should give labor organizations and environmentalists a role in shaping the rules of international commerce, allow such groups to file "friend-of-the-court" briefs in trade disputes and let such organizations participate in subcommittees within the WTO.
But the former senator's most striking comments concerned U.S. interventions abroad, an area where the Clinton administration has built a long and controversial record with missions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. Robert Kagan, a specialist in foreign policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Bradley "wants to wrap overseas intervention around Al Gore's neck in the same way that Republicans in Congress have wanted to wrap it around President Clinton's neck."
Speaking at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, which was founded in the midst of the Great Depression in an effort to boost internationalism at a time of isolationism, Bradley described "a disturbing paradox, where we're more powerful than ever before, but we're also more vulnerable to a variety of threats."
"The great risk of nuclear holocaust with the Soviet Union has receded," he said. "But there are a multitude of smaller threats--from troublemaking dictatorships like Iraq, to poorly safeguarded nuclear warheads in Russia, to the increasingly dangerous situation on the Korean peninsula to transnational terrorists."
Bradley declared that "in this new world, the next president has an even heavier burden, which is to try to create a comprehensive framework for peace and security and prosperity." He said the United States must work through international institutions to "help mold this international system."
He said that too many United States policies, and even its military strategy, are remnants from those days when enemies were clear and friends were obvious. "The choices are no longer so stark," he said.
Bradley said he would work to restore one mindset of the Cold War, when "men and women of goodwill in both parties joined together to do what was in America's best interest."
"There was an old saying that political division stopped at the water's edge," he said. "Sadly, that consensus has vanished. Foreign policy has become more of a political football, or is made to score domestic political points. I deplore that. One of the things that I will try to restore if I become president of the United States is a bipartisan foreign policy consensus."
Drawing an implicit contrast with Bush, Bradley said he was comfortable with international affairs and had needed no crash course. "I've been thinking and speaking and writing about foreign policy for more than 20 years," he said.
In a swipe at the administration, Bradley said, "To lead, a president must have the support of the American people and to get that support, he must always be straight with them."
Bradley had planned to give a formal foreign policy address today, but postponed that to an undetermined time for reasons his staff would not disclose. Instead he simply outlined the framework of his policy in what he called "a whirlwind tour of the horizon." Then he answered questions from the students, joking that he would move to the next questioner if he didn't know the answer or thought the inquiry was stupid. At one point, he said that when he was 9 or 10 years old, he had designed his own bomb shelter, marking spaces for a cot, his favorite books and his basketball.
Walter Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bradley's approach distinguished him at a time when the other candidates were promoting "an aggressive style of national leadership."
"Bradley is saying that United States influence in the world is greatest, and costs the least, when the United States cooperates with other leading powers," he said.
However, Ted Galen Carpenter, the Cato Institute's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, said he saw "a fundamental contradiction" in the idea of a more robust United Nations and a more passive United States, given the country's dominance in that organization.