As the presidential campaign heads into its final eight weeks, foreign policy and America's role in the world have been discussed hardly at all, and the debate over national security policy has deteriorated into an exercise in bomb counting.
The Gore campaign insists, and correctly so, that the U.S. armed forces are the best in the world. The Bush campaign concurs but counters, correctly, that being the best in the world is not good enough as long as troop morale is low, pay is even lower, spare parts are in short supply, officer recruitment is deficient and enlistment to the ranks is insufficient. Voters deserve a more thoughtful and enlightened discussion of the candidates' views on foreign policy, national security policy and America's role in world affairs so they can see where the real differences of opinion exist.
Vice President Al Gore's philosophy was best summed up in one of the scariest statements ever made by an American secretary of state: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about," Madeleine Albright asked Colin Powell, "if we can't use it?"
By contrast, the essence of George W. Bush's foreign policy views was revealed succinctly in the now-famous words of Condoleeza Rice spoken at the Republican convention: "America's armed forces are not a global police force, they are not the world's 911."
Bush is highly skeptical of the Clinton administration's penchant for overcommitting military force to theaters of marginal relevance to U.S. security. Dick Cheney has suggested that a Bush administration would review the array of military commitments in places like Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo. I am also of the opinion that the United States should consider removing the boycotts and economic sanctions we have in place around the world.
It's time for the candidates to articulate their strategic visions. Would a President Gore insist, as President Clinton did, on deploying U.S. troops anywhere in the world, subject to presidential whim? Does he maintain that it's inappropriate for Congress to question the administration's foreign policy and military actions, and will he, too, flout constitutional and statutory restrictions on the president's war-making powers? Will he continue to make public our most sensitive national security secrets based on the naive assumption that our potential adversaries will be bound by paper agreements not to test, develop and spread nuclear weapons?
The vice president should also explain why the Clinton administration cut funds for and put off the deployment of a missile defense system to defend American citizens against a rogue-nation or terrorist missile threat. Having kept missile defense on life support for eight years while giving it nothing more than lip service, Clinton has now decisively chosen to not decide.
At the same time, he is sending word of possible deployment of an American Patriot anti-missile unit to Israel, allegedly to protect that nation from a "surprise" election-season attack from Iraq. The problem is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says he doesn't think there is any threat and doesn't need the system, which makes sense given that Israel has started to deploy its own territorial missile defense.
Gore as vice president has followed in lock step with every one of Clinton's and Albright's politically motivated military interventions abroad. Will he do so again when Clinton springs an "October surprise" by intervening
militarily or slapping on new sanctions in some far-flung corner of the world in a politically motivated effort to rally the electorate for the Democrats at the polls in November?
For Bush, it's time to reassure the American people that as president he would use greater caution and restraint than the Clinton administration has used in deploying our men and women in uniform to remote theaters with no clear mission and no limit on the terms of deployment. Bush must make it clear that his commitment to maintain American leadership in the world would not mean making our military available to an endless array of causes, worthy though they may be. We must define for ourselves the United States' vital national interests and not allow them to be determined by our friends, allies or competitors.
The new Golden Age of freedom and democracy that Bush envisions requires a Golden Rule to guide a great and powerful nation. Bush must engage the foreign policy debate on precisely these terms and be clear, forthright and relentless on this subject. It is the only way to protect the freedom and security of the American people and help bring peace, prosperity and democracy to the world.