Foreign Issues Will Mount in Next President's In-Box

Article excerpt

So far the dialogue of the 1996 US presidential campaign has dwelt on many things. For the most part, the future of the world hasn't been one of them.

It's not surprising that Oval Office hopefuls focus on jobs instead of Japan, character instead of Kuwait, and taxes instead of Turkey and its future inside NATO. As George Bush learned to his regret in 1992, foreign policy expertise may not swing many votes in today's inward-looking, post-cold-war America.

The problem is that the next US chief executive could well face an unprecedented array of overseas crises, ranging from a leadership change in China to new fighting in the Middle East. Foreign policy - not tax cuts or values - might become the most important focus. "The foreign policy establishment is convinced that in the next administration there are some big, taxing problems ahead," says Robert Hutchings, director of international studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Other nations have not been entirely absent from this year's Dole-Clinton contest. The GOP standardbearer criticized the recent White House Middle East summit as "photo-op foreign policy" - though he didn't really indicate how a Dole administration would have handled the surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence. Last Sunday's presidential debate also touched on the administration's response to Iraqi adventurism, and criteria for sending US forces overseas. But discussion of foreign issues remains both scant and too narrowly focused, according to foreign policy experts. There's been wrangling over whether particular moves were the right ones - and no argument over broad US interests, or the US role in the world. That may be what voters want now that the burdens of cold war leadership have been lifted, points out a recent report on US leadership by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It's also ironic, considering that America is likely to remain the sole superpower nation for years, if not decades to come. "More than any time in its past, the United States is strongly positioned to influence the kind of world it would like to see unfold," concludes the "Foreign Policy Into the 21st Century" study. THE next president might find far more scope for the exercise of power overseas. US presidents talk about job creation and boast about GDP success, but their ability to influence the huge US economy is rather limited. That's especially true today, when deficit reduction, rather than new spending programs, remains a domestic priority. And as Bill Clinton has discovered, the world has a way of barging onto a president's agenda. That's likely to happen more and more between now and the year 2000, say experts. …