A Consensus on Global Leadership - Both Gore and Bush Are Active Internationalists Who Favor Free Trade

Article excerpt

Foreign and defense policy traditionally take a backseat to domestic concerns in presidential elections. This is especially true in noncrisis times and certainly appears to be true in 2000. When asked in polls, "What is the most important problem facing the country today," only 4 percent of Americans choose international issues/foreign affairs, with an even less impressive 2 percent opting for defense issues. To be sure, no issue gets more than 14 percent support during this era of good feelings, but matters such as moral decline, crime, education, health care, drugs, and gasoline prices are of greater concern than foreign policy.

Despite public complacency, foreign policy still matters, a lot, in a presidential campaign. Even if few Americans go to sleep at night worried about Russian-American relations, presidential candidates need to show voters that they know how to handle the Russians.

Some voters, especially the more ideologically inclined members of each party's base, care passionately about such issues as U.S.- China relations, missile defense, and the Middle East. They know that dealing with foreign affairs is the top priority for a president. Thus, the two main candidates have spent considerable time and energy articulating their positions and have gone to pains to explain where they agree and differ.

Contending yet similar worldviews

If both George W. Bush and Al Gore would like to present a broad, comprehensive, and coherent framework for U.S. involvement in the post- -Cold War world, that framework remains elusive. Certainly, each has tried to set out the broad principles of his approach to the world, while the out-party candidate, Bush, has also predictably criticized the ad hoc approach of the Clinton/Gore team (as out-party candidate Clinton criticized his opponent's approach in 1992 ).

The principles they have articulated illustrate some real differences in approach, which will be outlined below. The divergences in their worldviews have been expressed best through their approaches to specific policies; for example, Bush's strong position on missile defense underscores his differences with Gore over approaches to relations with our NATO allies, the Russians and Chinese, and the ABM Treaty.

Though their disagreements are clear, the similarities are significant: Both Gore and Bush are clearly free-trade-oriented, assertive internationalists. This is a sharp contrast with the two main alternative candidates, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader, who are against free trade and critical of serious American involvement abroad.

Bush fits comfortably into what might be called the American exceptionalist camp. His overarching theme is "A Distinctly American Internationalism," the title given to his showcase speech on foreign policy given at the Reagan Library in Simi, California, last November. Bush clearly draws a sharp distinction between his approach and the alternative of isolationism and protectionism.

He believes that America is the world's only superpower and should lead our allies by forging closer relationships with them and maintaining better communications--but also by acting, even unilaterally, in our strategic interest. His approach to Russia and China is more confrontational than the vice president's. Bush believes we should view China as a strategic competitor, not a strategic friend or ally, and that we should take a tougher stance on issues including nuclear weapons and international financial aid to Russia.

Bush's five priorities

In his framework speech, Bush said five priorities would shape his foreign policy: strengthening our basic alliances while working to "extend the peace" in Europe and Asia; controlling the spread of nuclear weapons; promoting peace in the Middle East; promoting democracy in our hemisphere, including the negotiation of a hemispheric free-trade zone; and expanding free trade generally. …