Foreign Issues Tug at Next President New World Disorder Will Require Hard Choices Series: Oval Office in Box. Part Two of Two. One of One Articles Appearing Today

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Although relations with the rest of the world were all but ignored in the presidential election, the winner confronts an array of foreign-policy issues that hold profound implications for the United States' political and economic well-being.

In fact, overseas issues could well rival domestic concerns in the next four years. The world remains rife with nasty regional conflicts, while some big powers such as Russia and China may face delicate transitions of leadership.

The new administration's approach to trade will affect US jobs and corporate profits, while its stewardship of Middle East peace efforts and policies in the Gulf could impact the availability and price of oil. The new president's conduct of foreign policy will also impact his overall relations with Congress. With the country no longer facing the Soviet threat and the public favoring a balanced budget and fewer global commitments, his ability to advance US interests abroad will be affected by the funding of the foreign-affairs budget. Many analysts say whoever occupies the White House will have to press Congress to restore GOP-authored budget cuts that have slashed foreign-aid programs, hobbled State Department operations, and forced embassy closures. As a result, they say, the US has lost diplomatic clout, forcing it to rely more heavily in international crises on unpopular and costly military responses with uncertain consequences. "A major task right off the bat will be trying to straighten out the day-to-day management of foreign policy, but that will depend on Congress," says Stephen Hook, a foreign-policy expert at Kent State University in Ohio. Many experts say the new president will face a range of issues that transcend international borders and are helping fuel post-cold-war conflicts and regional tensions that affect US interests. These include global environmental degradation, the growing disparity in wealth between developed and developing nations, overpopulation, food shortages, and serious health problems. But with the US facing no overt threats to its power and preoccupied with pressing domestic concerns, the new president will likely be able to focus on the "high politics" of the most important foreign-policy issues. Many experts say his top priority should be devising a balanced approach toward communist China that safeguards US economic interests and allies in East Asia, while averting a cold- war-style rivalry with the world's fastest-growing economic power. This won't be easy. "China is probably the No. 1 serious problem for American foreign policy," says Stephen Gilbert, head of national security studies at Georgetown University in Washington. China has become America's fifth-largest trading partner, and US firms are hungry to invest in the world's most populous market. …