Bush, Gore See Global Issues in Different Terms

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When George W. Bush looks out at the world, he describes himself as a “clear-eyed realist” whose approach is “idealism, without illusions.” He sees America’s enemies falling into four categories: “terrorists and crime syndicates, drug cartels and unbalanced dictators.” And he promises to proceed with caution before getting America involved beyond its borders.

Al Gore looks out at the world as a globalist who favors “forward engagement.” He’s expanded the definition of national security threats to include AIDS, environmental degradation and the growing gap between rich and poor. And he advocates selective early intervention to contain problems before they explode into regional or international crises.

Although foreign policy has yet to emerge as a major theme in the campaign, the two presidential candidates have quite distinct visions of the world in the 21st century--and quite distinct approaches to its problems.


“The big difference is that Bush appears to view foreign policy from the pragmatic, problem-solving perspective and Gore has a somewhat messianic approach. He wants to do sweeping things that will change the world in one fell swoop,” said Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Neither Favors U.S. Isolationism

A close examination of the two candidates’ foreign policy views, as articulated in a half-dozen speeches and their parties’ platforms, reveals several fundamental distinctions: Bush views the world primarily in terms of where it came from, Gore from where it could go. Bush talks frequently about the post-Cold War world. Gore opines about the new “Global Age.” Bush defines foreign policy on the basis of “security threats.” Gore frames his agenda in terms of “unprecedented opportunities.”

Tactically, Bush wants to move incrementally when crises challenge American interests. Gore wants to be more engaged on a wider variety of fronts to preempt U.S. interests from being threatened.

Both candidates agree on two important premises in U.S. foreign policy: They oppose isolationism and protectionism, and don’t want the United States to serve as the world’s policeman.

Last November, in his premier foreign policy speech at the Reagan Presidential Library, Bush called isolationism “an approach that abandons our allies and our ideals” and that would produce “a stagnant America and a savage world.” Gore warned that the United States “must reject the new isolationism that says: Don’t help anywhere because we cannot help everywhere,” in his major foreign policy speech in April in Boston.

They differ significantly, however, on when and how the United States should intervene in the affairs of other countries and what kind of relationship it should have with international agencies.


Bush emphasizes unilaterally asserting American interests. He would engage with the United Nations and related institutions only if major reforms are carried out and if America’s share of the budget is lowered. And he has pledged never to put American troops under U.N. command.

Still, Bush looks to U.N. agencies to address key challenges.

“I don’t like genocide and I don’t like ethnic cleansing, but the president must set clear parameters as to where [American] troops ought to be used and when they ought to be used,” Bush said in January on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program. “The United States is going to have to work with organizations like the United Nations to encourage them to stop genocide.”

Gore advocates paying long-deferred U.N. dues in full and strengthening cooperation with international institutions to promote democracy and fight terrorism, drugs and corruption. “A realistic reading of the world today demands reinvigorated international and regional institutions. It demands that we confront threats before they spiral out of control,” he said in Boston.

At a graduation speech at the U.S. Military Academy in May, Gore said peacekeeping has taken on new importance in the “Global Age” and called it a critical mission of the American military.

In an era when economic strength often is a better barometer of global influence than military might or territorial size, both candidates see trade and investment as increasingly important foreign policy tools.

Opposite Views on Levels of Involvement

There are subtle differences, however. Bush appears to prefer to let market forces lead the way, while Gore has indicated he wants a significant increase in U.S. financial aid to supplement the efforts of the private sector and nongovernment organizations.


In an Iowa speech last November, Gore blasted the Republican Congress for cutting funds for embassy security, counter-terrorism, promotion of democracy, monitoring and dismantling arms, and peacekeeping.

“These programs are not charity, but national security. They must be enhanced, not reduced,” he said, noting that foreign operations account for only one penny of each federal dollar spent.

On individual issues of foreign policy, the distance between Bush, a moderate Republican, and Gore, a centrist Democrat, is not as great as the gaps between the candidates in previous presidential elections.

“They have a lot in common. They say similar things on Iraq and rogue states. They’re strongly pro-Israel and pro-trade. They both support American leadership and engagement,” said Lee H. Hamilton, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Added Zakaria: “The end of the Cold War and the Democratic party’s move rightward have narrowed the differences. Gore may have on his populist hat on other issues, but he’s consistently conservative on defense, and he favored bombing Kosovo, the North America free trade zone and bringing China into the World Trade Organization, which is why Bush has to find issues on which to differentiate himself.”

Yet on a handful of hot-button issues, the candidates differ significantly:

* Arms Control. Bush opposes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is supported by the Clinton administration. He wants to build a more ambitious missile defense system than the one under development, even if it means pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and antagonizing Russia and key allies. Gore supports the nuclear test ban treaty and views the ABM Treaty as “the cornerstone of strategic stability in the U.S. relationship with Russia.”


* The Balkans. Bush has proposed a timetable for removing American troops from Kosovo and handing over peacekeeping responsibility to European allies. Gore supports an ongoing role for American troops in a NATO force.

* China. Bush is highly critical of China for investing its growing wealth in advanced weaponry and characterizes its government as an “enemy” of religious freedom and a “sponsor of forced abortion.” “China is a competitor, not a strategic partner. We must deal with China without ill-will--but without illusions,” he said at the Reagan Library. Under a Bush presidency, he said, China would be “unthreatened but not unchecked.” He supports the “One China” policy--where the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the only legitimate government of China--but also endorses the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which commits closer U.S. defense cooperation with Taiwan.

Gore is highly critical of China’s human rights record and repression of Tibet, and expresses impatience with the slowness of political reform. But he supports future engagement with Beijing. “It’s wrong to isolate and demonize China, to build a wall when we need to build a bridge,” he said in Boston. Like Bush, he supports the “One China” policy. But he predicts the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act will lead to a “sharp deterioration” in regional security by spurring a regional arms race.

* Russia. Bush calls Russia a great power but laments the past decade as “an epic of deliverance and disappointment.” At the Reagan Library, he warned that its brutality in Chechnya should influence future U.S. aid. “Russia cannot learn the lessons of democracy from the textbook of tyranny,” he said. Cooperation is “impossible” unless Moscow operates with “civilized self-restraint.”

Gore’s main concerns are Russia’s sales of arms technology, its repression in Chechnya and its failure to achieve greater reforms and to diminish corruption. But his position is less threatening. “A new Cold War is not the right path to progress. Engaging Russia is the right thing to do,” he said in Boston.

Some experts regard experience as a more telling distinction between the two presidential candidates.


Although his father’s career was steeped in foreign policy, Bush is relatively inexperienced. The key exception is Mexico, where the Texas governor forged personal relationships with local leaders. Bush backed a U.S. bailout of Mexico’s troubled currency by the Clinton administration in 1995, a move many Republicans opposed.

Gore’s involvement with foreign policy is far more extensive, dating back two decades. As a young congressman in 1982, he introduced a comprehensive arms control plan to reduce the threat of nuclear war. In 1989, he co-sponsored legislation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to limit the proliferation of missile technology. And as vice president, he has headed bilateral commissions with Russia, Egypt and South Africa.

Some experts note that voters faced essentially the same choice eight years ago: George Bush, a president with extraordinary foreign policy credentials as former ambassador to the United Nations and China and former CIA director, was pitted against Clinton, an upstart governor from Arkansas with no hands-on experience in foreign policy. They chose Clinton, and American foreign policy survived the transition.

Despite their disparate world views and foreign policy resumes, the two men vying this year to lead the world’s only remaining superpower could wind up charting similar courses because of the increasing limits on presidential foreign policy.

“Globalization and domestic politics have constructed a web of constraints that now limit what presidents can do in foreign affairs,” said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“Congress used to deal only with guidelines, but today it’s increasingly micromanaging the details of how foreign policy is formulated and then implemented. The media and public opinion, as well as the emergence of nongovernment groups, all now have global reach--and great influence.”


Naim noted that the U.S. president and most politicians opposed a global treaty to ban land mines, but widespread public support and vigorous advocacy by an Internet-based alliance of nongovernment groups led to its approval.

“Bush and Gore will have less latitude for innovation than either of them thinks,” he predicted.