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U.S.: Gore, Bush Foreign Policies Offer Some Major Differences

This week, the Democratic Party will formally nominate Al Gore as its candidate for president in the 7 November general election. Gore's party has an extensive foreign policy agenda, but as RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports, some experts say that is likely to be a minor issue in the presidential campaign.

Washington, 14 August 2000 (RFE/RL) - This week, the Democrats -- one of the two major U.S. political parties -- will hold their nominating convention in Los Angeles.

As with the Republicans two weeks ago, there will be little suspense. Vice President Al Gore will be nominated as the party's candidate for president, and Senator Joseph Lieberman will be named the party's candidate for vice president.

And just like the Republicans, the Democrats have carefully scripted the convention's four days. They want to project an image of a united party in a year when they face formidable opponents in George W. Bush, the Republicans' nominee for president, and his running mate, Richard Cheney.

The convention opens Monday night, highlighting Gore's strongest argument that he should be the next president: the domestic-policy record of the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which Gore serves as vice president.

The American economy is booming and unemployment is at one of its lowest rates ever. In other words, Americans are more prosperous than they have been in recent memory. Gore hopes voters will conclude that he had a part in promoting this prosperity.

The agenda for Tuesday and Wednesday will be how Gore hopes to continue the Clinton legacy, with improved programs for education, health care, and retirement issues. And on Thursday, Gore will give his address accepting the party's nomination for president.

The Democrats' platform -- the party's statement of goals -- is a long document divided into three categories: Prosperity, Progress, and Peace. The "Prosperity" section gives the Clinton-Gore administration credit for what it calls "the lowest unemployment and fastest economic growth in more than 30 years." The "Progress" section gives the administration credit for improving the nation's social climate. It states, "America is not just better off, it is better."

The third section of the platform -- "Peace" -- summarizes the Clinton-Gore administration's foreign-policy achievements and outlines Gore's goals, should he be elected president.

These goals are not listed in detail, and several are essentially no different from those put forth by Bush and Cheney. The candidates for both parties, for instance, espouse some kind of national missile-defense system. Both would keep Iran isolated, while looking for evidence of political moderation there. Both endorse an expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And neither would allow a non-member of NATO -- namely Russia -- to veto a country's accession to the alliance.

But there are significant foreign-policy differences between the two candidates. For example, Gore would continue the Clinton administration's policy of positive engagement with Russia, while still differing over Moscow's handling of rampant economic corruption and the Kremlin's pursuit of the war in Chechnya.

The Republicans who control Congress say this policy ignores the economic and social destruction that corruption causes in Russia. And they say the U.S. should give no aid to Moscow, complaining that it merely rewards President Vladimir Putin for the Chechnya war and for his support of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the government of Iran.

Despite such deep divisions between the two leading political parties, many observers believe that foreign policy will not be a major issue in the presidential campaign. One is Charles Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin who has written extensively on American presidential politics.

"It just isn't registering on the -- with voters at all. If you look at the list of issues in any poll, foreign policy is way down at the bottom."

Ted Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington think-tank. He agrees that foreign policy probably will not be a major issue during the presidential campaign.

"However, if we get turmoil in the Balkans again or, let's say, China engages in more saber-rattling, then foreign policy can play a somewhat bigger role. But barring that, I think it'll be very much a domestic policy-oriented election."

Carpenter says Republicans Bush and Cheney are unlikely to challenge Gore on foreign policy, even on the issue of corruption in Russia.

"The Republicans have to be careful about pushing this too hard because Gore can come back and say specifically, 'What would the Republicans have declined to do that we did? Were they opposed to NATO expansion? Were they opposed to IMF loans to Russia? Just what would they have done differently?' And the voting record of the Republican-controlled Congress indicates that there wasn't that much difference in terms of the administration's policy and the policy of congressional Republicans."

Jones says that the booming U.S. economy has kept the attention of American voters to the exclusion of all else. This, he says, can be troublesome.

"There is, in my judgment, a serious effect of foreign policy not being part of the agenda. And that is that neither candidate has to think seriously about it, and so it doesn't force them to really set forth a serious set of ideas if they're never challenged."

Jones said he wonders whether a president could be prepared for a foreign-policy crisis if he is not properly challenged on such issues during the campaign.