Arizona Sen. John McCain outlined his foreign policy views yesterday, promising to preserve American preeminence in world affairs far into the future, as he and the five other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination made separate appearances before an organization of Jewish Republicans.
On the day that the front-runner for the nomination, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, proposed a major tax-cut plan in a speech in Iowa, McCain chose to deliver his most extensive foreign policy remarks since formally announcing his candidacy.
Accusing the Clinton administration of conducting a foreign policy marked by "strategic incoherence and self-doubt," McCain said the next president must craft a foreign policy that recognizes that the threats posed by the post-Cold War era are "more immediate and more likely to be realized than a massive intercontinental ballistic missile attack once was."
"Ethnic and religious hatreds, violent expressions of nationalism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, and international terrorism now constitute the clear and present danger," he added.
Specifically, McCain promised a more "realistic" approach to Russia, including opposition to Russian military intervention in Chechnya, to "engage" China but oppose Chinese attempts to undermine U.S. interests and values, and to implement a concerted policy of "rogue state rollback" aimed at regimes such as Saddam Hussein's in Iraq.
Speaking to a largely Jewish audience, the six candidates--including Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, publisher Steve Forbes, activist Gary Bauer and radio talk show host Alan Keyes--all pledged to continue strong U.S. support for Israel and not to pressure Israel into accepting a flawed peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Bush, the last candidate to speak, said a lasting peace in the Middle East will not be achieved "if our government tries to get Israel to conform to our vision of national security."
The GOP front-runner largely delivered his standard stump speech and repeated some of the tax-cut proposals that he made earlier in the day in Iowa. He also reiterated his strong support for free-trade policies and said of the protest at the World Trade Organization meeting, "They've got it wrong out in Seattle, Washington."
Hatch said he was "sick and tired of U.S. meddling [in the Middle East peace process] in an effort to build a legacy but on which the Israelis have to bet their lives."
Forbes accused the Clinton administration of turning "a blind eye" toward mounting economic problems in Russia and of the threat posed to Israel by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Keyes and Bauer stressed the moral and religious underpinnings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and said those values should be reflected in U.S. foreign policy.
"We are way down the road to abandoning those moral principles," Keyes said.
"If you look at all the major problems facing the country, racial reconciliation, foreign policy, almost all those things end up being a moral question," Bauer said.
McCain, who was introduced and endorsed by Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated several positions that he shares with Bush. These included opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and support for China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Like Bush, McCain pledged to deploy a missile defense system and said he would withdraw the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if necessary to accomplish that.
Yesterday's forum, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, came the day before all six of the GOP hopefuls will appear together for the first time in a debate in New Hampshire. McCain, who has emerged as Bush's main rival in the New Hampshire primary, said at an informal news conference that he expected to be the target of stepped-up attacks by the others. Asked how he hoped to be seen in contrast to Bush in the first debate in which the Texas governor will participate, McCain said, "In a word, that I'm presidential."
That debate could set the tone for the intense campaigning from now until the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 1 primary in New Hampshire. It comes as Bush has seen his once-formidable lead in New Hampshire evaporate, with the Texas governor now running even with McCain in Time/CNN poll released over the weekend and other private data.
The Time/CNN poll showed McCain with 37 percent and Bush with 35 percent, a statistically insignificant difference. Forbes was third with 8 percent, followed by Keyes with 3 percent, Bauer with 2 percent and Hatch an asterisk.
"McCain is certainly at least even with Bush, perhaps leading Bush right now," said Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center. "He's got momentum on his side and he's been campaigning very effectively."
Bush was hurt in New Hampshire by his decision to skip two candidate forums in October and has promised to make up for that by steadily increasing the amount of time he spends campaigning in the state. Bush advisers expect that he will be the target of criticism tonight, particularly from Forbes, but said he would attempt to stay above the fray.
The 90-minute debate, hosted by WMUR-TV and Fox News, will begin at 8 p.m.
The Republican Jewish Coalition has been running a television commercial in New York assailing first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for failing to denounce immediately remarks made by Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Introducing Clinton at an event in the West Bank, Arafat accused Israel of using "poison gases" against Palestinians, causing cancer among women and children.
Clinton later said Arafat's charges were "baseless," but the episode caused a furor among Jewish voters in New York, where Clinton is running for the Senate. Hatch, Bauer and Forbes praised the coalition for broadcasting the ad, but Bush, McCain and Keyes ignored the issue.
Staff writer Dan Balz in New Hampshire contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to Jewish Republican group.