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U.S.: Candidate Bush Unveils Foreign Policy Vision

The front-running U.S. Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, has outlined his vision of America's future foreign policy interests. The U.S. presidential election is still nearly a year away, but the candidates and the media are pushing the campaign agenda. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams in Washington reports:

Washington, 22 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking from the Ronald Reagan Presidential library in California Friday, Republican Presidential front-runner George W. Bush set two broad foreign-policy goals -- to resist isolationism and at the same time keep out of crises in places without clear U.S. interests.

He referred to his policy as a "new American Internationalism." It was largely conceived by a team of influential advisors of two previous Republican Administrations, including that of his father, George Bush Senior.

Bush Jr. said America under his leadership would focus on emphasizing relations with major allies and great powers, such as China, Russia, and possibly India.

He identified a strong defense as the "first priority" of a George W. Bush presidency. At the same time, he said military power cannot be the final measure of might. This is seen as an apparent criticism of Democratic President Bill Clinton, who has committed to the use force in Yugoslavia and Iraq, among other places.

"America must be involved in the world. But that does not mean our military is the answer to every difficult foreign policy situation -- a substitute for strategy. American internationalism should not mean action without vision, activity without priority, and missions without end -- an approach that squanders American will and drains American energy."

Bush said American foreign policy must be more than the management of crisis. It must, he said, have a "great and guiding goal."

For example, citing Eurasia as strategically key, Bush said U.S.-China relations should be founded on the principle of "competition, not strategic partnership." He said the United States must deal with China without ill-will, but also without illusions. And he added that if he were president, China would find itself "unthreatened, but not unchecked."

U.S.-Russia relations, according to Bush, should focus on security issues, such as arms control, missile defense, and regional cooperation.

Bush also sought to take on one of the biggest foreign policy concerns of the moment -- Moscow's renewed conflict in breakaway Chechnya. He said even as the United States supports Russian reform, it cannot excuse what he called Russian brutality.

"When the Russian government attacks civilians, killing women and children, leaving orphans and refugees, it can no longer expect aid from international lending institutions. The Russian government will discover that it cannot build a stable and unified nation on the ruins of human rights."

Bush said a U.S. Administration under his leadership would want to cooperate with Russia on its concern with terrorism. But he said such cooperation would be impossible unless Moscow operates with civilized self-restraint.

Russian officials have repeatedly stated that their ongoing military campaign in Chechnya is designed to counter terrorists and is purely an "internal matter."

Bush added that dealing with Russia on essential issues such as these would be far easier if the U.S. was dealing with a democratic and free Russia. The goal, Bush said, is to promote not only the appearance of democracy in Russia, but the "structure, spirit, and reality of democracy."

Bush said all his goals in Eurasia would depend on America strengthening the alliances that sustain its influence -- in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East.

Billed as a major international policy address, the Bush speech comes a little less than a year before Americans go to the polls. It also follows what was viewed by some analysts as a politically damaging television interview, during which the Texas governor was unable to name several prominent world leaders. And the television incident came after two earlier publicized gaffes, when he confused Slovakia with Slovenia and referred to Greeks as Grecians.

Brookings Senior Fellow on politics and the presidency, Charles Jones, said Bush was undergoing a "presidential right of passage" in a sense in just making Friday's speech.

"What he had to correct, I think, was the image that he's a light-weight in this area [foreign policy] and allay the concerns not only here, but abroad, that as [the] leading candidate of the Republican side that he has some gravitas in regard to foreign relations and military policy. He by no means took care of all of that in this speech because it was in fact a speech and it was prepared for him with his approval. On the other hand, it seemed to me that he did a good job."

Jones said the attention now will be on whether Bush can continue, without a speech in front of him, to be reassuring as well.

Rival Democrats dismissed the speech as a carefully scripted, self-administered foreign policy test no candidate could fail.