His non-candidacy notwithstanding, President Clinton drew deep distinctions Saturday between his view of U.S. foreign policy in coming decades and that expressed a day earlier by Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
He presented Bush as hunkered down in the conventional thinking of the 19th and 20th centuries, in a world of competition between opposing international powers, and said, "I have a whole different view."
"I don't have an 'either/or' view of Russia or China," the president said. "I have a 'both' view."
Bush, running for the Republican presidential nomination, presented what he offered as a "distinctly American internationalism," built around closer relations with U.S. allies in Europe and Asia and a more confrontational approach toward Russia and China. But at the same time, Bush rejected the inward-looking nationalism gaining strength in his party and insisted that the U.S. cannot retreat into "protectionism and isolationism."
The president delved into the Bush speech during a brief news conference after meeting with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis.
Clinton has at times publicly offered himself as distanced from the 2000 presidential campaign. But at other times he has openly displayed a sharp interest in the race to succeed him that is typical of his lifelong interest in political detail.
Asked his reaction to Bush's foreign policy speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Clinton begged off--for about three seconds.
"I am not a candidate. I'm not always happy about that, but I'm not," he said.
With that, Clinton said, "I have a whole different view of this: We should imagine what we would like the world to look like 50 years from now. What major countries will have an impact on that? How will we compete with them? How will we cooperate with them?"
Bush's address was not a condemnation of Clinton's seven-year record in global politics, nor was it as rooted in re-fighting the policy battles of the 20th century as Clinton portrayed. And some of the differences Bush listed with Clinton--and by extension, with Vice President Al Gore, a Democratic presidential candidate--are differences of detail unrelated to broad political or global philosophy.
Bush agreed with the efforts by the Clinton administration so far to bring China into the World Trade Organization. But he promised to take a harder line than Clinton has against Beijing.
"China is a competitor, not a strategic partner," the governor said, turning around a phrase used by the administration. "We must deal with China without ill will--but without illusions."
Clinton, responding specifically to that point, said: "I think there is a problem with characterizing a country as a competitor [unless] that means we know for sure for the next 20 years there will be an adversary relationship."
He continued: "We will have certain interests in common with China; we will have certain things we disagree with. We will support a lot of their domestic developments. We still have great trouble when people--free speech or religious rights--are restrained."
With Russia too, the relationship is one of differences, but also one of partnership, the president said.
But overall, he said, global relations will be defined not by a nation's ability, as in the past, to dominate its neighbors but by "the achievements of their people and by their ability to profit in their relations with other nations by bringing out the best in them."