Foreign policy? Who cares?

Posted: Sep 25, 2000 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Ever since the current campaign for the White House began, I've been told by my "colleagues" in the so-called mainstream media that "nobody cares about foreign policy." The conventional wisdom has it that all Americans care about is child care, prescription medicine plans, and how well a candidate does on "Oprah." I'm not buying it. The reason foreign policy and national security concerns rate just above pet care in the polls is because the American people just don't know what's happening outside our borders. And the reason they don't know is because these masters of the media don't know their elbows from their ears when it comes to what's going on outside the good ol' U.S. of A. These are the same folks who poked fun at Texas governor George W. Bush fielding "pop quiz" questions about obscure heads of state during the primary season, but who failed to report that America's sons and daughters, deployed from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf to East Timor, are now on alert because of heightened threat status. This is the same Washington press corps that devoted days of front-page ink and hours of television air time covering a two-bit story about a botched political ad containing -- for one thirtieth of one second -- the word "RATS," but ignored record-setting oil prices, heating oil shortages, and a veritable gas-tax revolt in Europe. And this is the same media that gives more coverage to Britney Spears uncovering herself at some music awards program than it does to the disastrous diplomacy of the Clinton-Gore administration. This week, the scribes and cameras dutifully recorded the Senate's overwhelming 83-15 vote to grant Communist China Permanent Normal Trade Status (while omitting mention that St. Joseph Lieberman, the "Conscience of the Senate," didn't have the courage to go "on record" by voting "yea" or "nay"). But those who purport to keep us informed buried reports of new human rights abuses and threats to Taiwan by the regime in Beijing. The talking heads were all a-twitter when nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee walked out of nine months of solitary confinement after the government dropped all but one of the 59 charges against him. But practically no one with a pen or videotape took notice when Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, the disgraced nuclear scientist's principal accuser, suddenly discovered that "oil prices are out of control." Newspapers and networks continue to report on the confrontation between Lazio and Clinton in the New York Senate race. They've all debated the business of bussing Mrs. Arafat and the horror of handshakes with her husband. But did any of them take but passing notice that the Middle East peace talks have all but collapsed? Have any of these "reporters" noted that the FALN terrorists Mrs. Clinton's husband pardoned are now organizing protests against the U.S. Navy's vital training on Puerto Rico's Vieques Island? If so, I missed it. And this week, when a House panel reported on yet another diplomatic debacle -- this time involving Russia, the nation with more nuclear weapons than any other on earth -- the Fourth Estate depicted it as a Republican vs. Democrat political story rather than another alarming example of foreign policy misfeasance by Clinton and Gore. Unfortunately, "Russia's Road to Corruption" isn't just a partisan diatribe. If it were, it wouldn't matter that the press didn't bother to read it -- and misreported its meaning. Authored by Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., and released by House Speaker Dennis Hastert's Advisory Group on Russia, the 209-page report charges that a "troika" of Washington power-brokers, Vice President Al Gore, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, have created a foreign policy "echo chamber" with disastrous consequences for both Russia and the United States. Congressman Cox, praised by both parties for his careful chronicle on Communist Chinese nuclear espionage, is now being demeaned for his critical assessment of the "fundamental flaws" in U.S. policy toward Moscow. Cox cites devastating errors in judgment resulting in "strengthening Russia's central government, rather than deconstructing the Soviet State"; a "narrow focus on the Russian executive branch to the near exclusion of the Russian legislature"; and "close personal relationships" with "senior Russian officials" that willfully ignored their corruption. The report is particularly critical of Gore's role as co-chairman (with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin) of the U.S.-Russia Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. So, did the press bother to analyze the charges about what went wrong with the U.S.-Russian relationship and why? Not on your life. Instead, they set out to make this chronicle of arrogance and ignorance into a partisan political issue, and hunted for Democrats who would criticize the author they once commended. Liberal Democrat Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut happily obliged, describing Cox's effort as "70; a political hatchet job. It's outrageous." He's wrong. What's outrageous is the unwillingness of my "colleagues" in the press to scrutinize an appallingly incoherent national security process. No wonder the polls show Americans don't care about foreign policy. We don't have one -- and they don't know it.