Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley strongly defended policies of free trade and open markets Monday, telling a group of university students here that the advantages outweigh any harm that may be caused.
On the day the World Trade Organization opened its highly contentious meeting in Seattle, Bradley said that the complaints raised by labor and environmental groups should be taken into account in trade decisions. But he made clear these problems shouldn’t interfere with trade flows.
“Trade will benefit more people than it will hurt, but it will hurt some people,” Bradley told a town meeting at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
The goal of U.S. policy, he went on, should be to “try to mitigate the negative aspects of international trade, while keeping in full view the overwhelmingly greater positive aspects of international trade.”
The remarks by the former senator from New Jersey represented a mild rebuff to organized labor, an important constituency within the Democratic Party that has mounted a determined attack on the free-trade policies of the Clinton administration and is organizing protests against the WTO in Seattle.
Despite its displeasure with the White House, the AFL-CIO has endorsed Vice President Al Gore. The position Bradley has staked out shows that there is not much difference between Bradley and Gore on trade issues.
Bradley’s appearance at Tufts was originally scheduled to be a comprehensive speech on foreign policy.
But late last week, the Bradley campaign postponed the speech and announced he would merely answer students’ questions about foreign policy. Bradley’s spokesman, Eric Hauser, said the aim was to show the candidate’s views in a forum where he would be more “accessible.”
The result was that Bradley did not sketch out his views on some of America’s most important foreign-policy controversies, including the Russian war in Chechnya, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization or the proposals for construction of an American missile-defense system.
Bradley did discuss his differences with the Clinton-Gore administration regarding Russian arms talks.
Bradley said he would immediately begin talks on a START III treaty to limit both sides to fewer than 2,000 nuclear warheads. The White House has offered to cut nuclear arsenals to a minimum of 2,000 warheads and it has held up START III negotiations until Russia first ratifies the 1993 START II treaty, which the U.S. Senate approved in 1996.
Bradley also suggested that he would try to reduce the extent to which America sends its troops on humanitarian missions overseas. Over the last seven years, the Clinton administration has dispatched American forces on several such missions, including in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo.
“I think that we cannot give an open-ended humanitarian commitment to the world,” he said. “It has to be on a case-by-case basis.”
The Democratic candidate said he would use two general criteria in deciding when to send troops abroad: first, that such missions should be in the national interest, and second, that they must be consistent with American values.
He said the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 clearly met the national-interest standard for military action. But he stopped short of endorsing the Bush administration’s handling of the decision to go to war.
In December 1990, as the Operation Desert Storm attack against Iraq loomed, Bradley voted against going to war. Hauser told reporters Monday that Bradley believed at the time that the Bush administration should have allowed more time for economic sanctions to work.
Generally, Bradley said Monday, humanitarian operations overseas should be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. “If we did more of that, we would have better results,” he said. ". . . The key is to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier.”
On trade, Bradley said he would take a number of steps to address the grievances of environmental and labor groups. For example, he said he would let such groups file “friend-of-the-court” briefs in trade disputes and let such organizations participate in subcommittees within the WTO.
These suggestions fell considerably short of what organized labor and environmental groups have been seeking: that labor and environmental standards be actually written into the rules for deciding whether trade will be permitted.
Bradley said he would also try to help American workers whose jobs are threatened by trade. He said that health benefits should be expanded in such a way that they are portable from job to job. He also suggested that laid-off workers should be given retraining and could also be given financial assistance for a limited period of time.
But he emphasized repeatedly his strong support for the WTO. “I believe that the best answer for the long-term health of the world and the United States is a rule-based, multilateral trading system,” Bradley declared.