Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would be tickled pink by GOP front-runner George W. Bush's attempts to frame a new international policy that replaces Clinton-Gore vacillation with steely realpolitik. In new campaign ads, Bush vows to strengthen America's military might while pursuing "a foreign policy with a touch of iron."
On Nov. 19, the candidate who has had trouble telling his Slovenians from his Slovakians plans to troop to the Reagan Library in California to unveil a New Bush Doctrine--and dispel doubts that he can master global relations. "He needs a solid foreign policy talk to put aside some of the criticism," says Rice University political scientist Earl Black. "The stakes are considerable."
Bush will paint his foreign policy canvas with bold, Reaganesque strokes. The key elements: a singular focus on Russia, China, and other great powers; fewer open-ended humanitarian missions in peripheral hellholes such as Somalia; a clearer U.S. strategic vision; and new steps to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation. "Let us resolve never to multiply our missions while cutting our capabilities," he said on Nov. 9 in a pre-Veterans Day speech in Pickens, S.C.
FILIGREE. Bush needs to sound militant because, among other things, he's appealing to conservative GOP primary voters and fending off a challenge from war hero John McCain. But stripped of its filigree, just how different is the New Bush Doctrine from existing policy?
True, Bush aims to increase spending for military R&D and pay by more than $20 billion. But the White House and Republican Congress have already started the process by agreeing to modest boosts in the Pentagon budget. At bottom, what Bush offers, says Council on Foreign Relations official Robert A. Manning, is "more of a sense of strategy, more adult supervision." Otherwise, Bush's goal of building post-cold-war alliances to help a stretched-thin U.S. keep the peace seems decidedly mainstream. President Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, and Bush are all committed internationalists--just like George W.'s daddy, a skillful weaver of global alliances. But while Clinton's head is into globalism, his heart is with domestic concerns. The result: a zigzagging foreign policy sometimes mishandled by subordinates.
Domestic issues fascinate George W., too: Bush's top priorities are education reform and tax cuts. But he hopes to avoid Clintonian drift by recruiting savvy international advisers. Among them: Russia expert Condoleeza Rice of Stanford University, former Pentagon officials Richard L. Armitage and Paul Wolfowitz.
Unlike Clinton, Bush wouldn't call either China or Russia a strategic partner. He prefers the term "competitor." He favors China's admission into the World Trade Organization but would bolster ties to allies such as Taiwan and Japan to discourage Beijing from regional bullying. As for Russia, Bush wants to work with Moscow to modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and allow U.S. deployment of a national missile defense system. Barring that, he's prepared to junk the pact.
Bush would pay more attention to smoothing rocky relations with India, an assertive nuclear power in a dangerous neighborhood. And the Texas governor wants stronger ties to Mexico and Central America, a reflection of his belief that closer hemispheric links bring economic benefits for U.S. workers.
None of this cuts a bold new direction for U.S. diplomacy. But George W. intends to convince voters that, with another Bush in the White House, at least that direction will be linear.