The overriding foreign policy puzzle facing the next president will be virtually the same as the one President Clinton found when he entered the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 1993:
How to wield American power in a world in which America is the only real power.
It is a burden not easily borne, it has no recent precedent, and it is full of apparent contradictions. When your economy is the largest in the world and your military spending equals that of the next six biggest spenders combined, you can pretty much do anything you want.
But with no strong enemies its own size -- as the Soviet Union once was militarily -- the country seems interested in doing little beyond building and maintaining prosperous economic ties abroad.
America "enjoys enormous influence, but has little idea what to do with its power or even how much effort it should expend," wrote Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, in the March issue of Foreign Affairs.
Judging from speeches and comments during the presidential debates, Vice President Gore and George W. Bush concur on many basic aspects of American diplomacy.
They are both internationalists and free traders who believe in overwhelming U.S. military strength and support the country's military alliances. Both are staunch advocates of Israel.
They part most significantly on America's role when its obvious and vital interests are not threatened.
Bush generally has a more traditional view of where and why the United States should become engaged. He would work closely with allies, he thinks the armed forces should be reserved for specific military campaigns, and he is cautious about entering regional conflicts or using the military for humanitarian missions.
Gore would have the United States more aggressively push its values and try to promote democracy.
He seems far more ready to pursue humanitarian missions, such as distributing food or medicine in war zones, or trying to prevent large-scale slaughters.
Bush has spelled out his position in responses to foreign policy questions during the last two debates.
He said he agreed with almost every instance in which U.S. troops have been sent to danger zones during the last two decades. Despite that, he said he believed deployment should be limited to those instances in which the country's "vital interest" is on the line, the mission is clear, and the force is strong enough to accomplish its goal.
Gore has said he believes in a more expansive American role. He, too, said in the second debate that military strength should be used when "our national security interest is involved, if we can really make the difference with military force, if we've tried everything else, if we have allies."
DIFFERENT WORLD VIEWS
Overall, said Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, the most significant difference is that Gore believes in an "America that is engaged in the world, dealing with the challenges and exploiting the opportunities to strengthen democracy and promote it, and strengthen and promote our values while protecting our interests and challenges to those interests. …