On the surface, the foreign policy positions of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush seem pretty much the same. Both candidates support admitting China into the World Trade Organization. Both love NAFTA. Both opposed a Senate bill that would have stopped the deployment of U.S. troops in Kosovo until Congress authorized an extended stay; as Bush explained, he opposed the Senate trying to "tie the president's hand."
Both men surround themselves with experts steeped in globalist philosophy. (The experts can't be isolationists, or they'd put themselves out of work.)
Gore has accused the Texas governor of being steeped in "right-
wing partisan isolationism." Bush knows better than to lob off such a silly charge. For one thing, many voters want an isolationist president. They don't want another Somalia. They don't want the United States to become the world's cop. And they see foreign policy as a scam that gives millions to the world's bad guys -- which is often too true.
Last week, Stanford's Condoleezza Rice -- the woman named most likely to become Bush's national security adviser -- told me how she thought foreign policy would change under a Bush administration. A lot of what she had to say, I think, could be said by any pol from either major party. You know, Bush wants a more "regionalized" approach to crisis management; yada, yada, yada.
But Rice also noted that Bush is less eager than the current administration to send troops into hellholes abroad. "The United States cannot get itself in the position of being the 911 for every" conflict in the world, Rice explained. There should be a strategic national interest when the president deploys troops.
Clinton erred in pushing America's engagement in Kosovo as humanitarian, she said, because Kosovo is in the zone of American national interest. Framing Kosovo as humanitarian puts pressure on Washington to send troops into more conflicts.
Rice added that there should be more limited military objectives in humanitarian missions. Under a Bush II administration, she said: "I think we would have gone a different route with Somalia. We might have gone in as the Bush administration did to try to relieve the famine," without taking sides in the internal politics that caused the famine. Instead of going after warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, she said, the answer might be to "maybe get out after you've done the famine relief."
Gore, for his part, has argued that "our national security interests can be defined by our values" -- which suggests that he would be more likely to send U.S. troops into foreign war zones. Or is this just Gore talking as he tends to during an election, promising a more moral foreign policy on the campaign trail, then shucking that kind approach after the election? Will he be clinking champagne glasses next year with the very leaders he brands as butchers or outlaws today?
Rice also explained that Bush would not hand over International Monetary Fund money to Russia as this administration has done under Gore's guidance. "The time for the national assistance that you've had in Russia has probably passed. First of all, Russia has plenty of assets and resources."
And: "With oil prices where they are, they should be using this period of time to reform their economy. They're not really doing that." In the past, Bush has said he would cut off IMF funds to Russia until Russia stops messing with Chechnya, but Rice went beyond that condition.
Of course, promising to cut off Russia is a popular pose -- which makes Gore's refusal to pander on the issue quite extraordinary. You have to credit Gore for going out on a limb to defend a practice that has fueled corruption, but, he believes, has left the world more stable in terms of nuclear war. I have to wonder if Bush II might come around to that same position, just as Bill Clinton and Al Gore, having won office by trashing the China policy of President Bush I, out-Bushed the man they beat when it came to caving in to the People's Republic of China.
Any candidate can promise more focus, that his people will have a better take on violent disputes that tear people apart worlds away, that he will be more moral, more careful, more knowing.
In the end, it all comes down to trust and habit. Do you trust a candidate to walk into a room full of experts and see the flaw that the know-it-alls always miss? Gore's record on China and Russia was too predictable. Bush has no record, which may give one a glimmer of hope that he has the moxie to buck the ultimate establishment -- the international community.