A prominent U.S. senator says President George W. Bush is abdicating America's leadership abroad by adopting a unilateral approach on missile defense and other key issues. Tom Daschle, who is majority leader of the Senate, says Bush's policy could trigger a new arms race with Russia and China. He says it can also alienate U.S. allies. RFE/RL correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 10 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The leader of the United States Senate says President George W. Bush is jeopardizing American leadership around the globe by disregarding agreements that are supported by America's allies.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said in a speech on 9 August that since Bush was sworn into office in January, his administration has shown a willingness to walk away from a number of international agreements. Daschle said these included the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Kyoto global warming pact, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The speech to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an independent Washington think tank, contained some of the harshest criticism Democrats have leveled against Bush's foreign policy. Earlier this month, the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Richard Gephardt, said Bush was pursuing a "go-it-alone" approach to global affairs that has raised considerable concern on the part of U.S. allies.
Just last month, Daschle said Bush's policies are driving a wedge between the United States and its allies. He made the comments when the president was visiting Europe. The timing was criticized by the White House, saying American political tradition calls for refraining from criticism of a president when he is abroad.
In comments made while he was in London, Bush rejected the assertion that his policies were making the allies nervous. He said the U.S. was not retreating from its international obligations. Bush added that he intends to stand for what he thinks is right for America.
Daschle acknowledged yesterday following his speech that he was coordinating his critical comments with other prominent Democratic congressional figures. The U.S. Senate is now controlled by Democrats after a Republican senator switched to become independent earlier this year. As leader of the Senate, Daschle has a great deal of influence about what legislation is considered or brought to a vote. The U.S. House of Representatives is controlled by Bush's Republican Party.
In his speech, Daschle said Bush's proposal to develop a missile defense system could trigger a new arms race.
"It encourages other countries to either increase their existing arsenal, develop new weapons, or seek other means to exploit perceived U.S. vulnerability. And if we choose to act unilaterally, it makes it harder to develop the necessary multilateral responses to arms control and a whole array of global issues."
Both Russia and China have expressed opposition to the missile shield proposal. The ABM treaty, signed by Washington and Moscow during the height of the Cold War, specifically forbids both countries to develop such a system. Bush says the treaty is a relic of the Cold War. He wants to step up research and testing that would be a breach of the treaty, unless modified or abrogated. Some of America's NATO allies have expressed uneasiness about the U.S. approach.
Daschle said he sees a major problem in the way the Bush administration is handling this issue. He said:
"This administration's single-minded approach jeopardizes larger U.S. political, economic, and security goals around the world. It shortchanges our ability to deal with our more immediate threats here at home. "
The senator said international terrorism on American soil and against U.S. interests around the world represents a bigger threat now than renegade missiles. And he said Bush's determination to develop a missile shield system distorts U.S. relations with both Russia and China. Daschle said:
"We need to speak out against Russian behavior we see as retrogressive. But we have a fundamental interest in helping Russia build a modern, pluralistic democracy tied to the West. I fear the administration is looking at our complex relationships with our allies and with Russia and China not through the spectrum of shared concern but rather through the prism today of missile defense."
Daschle also questioned Bush's warm personal comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin following their meetings in Europe. The senator suggested Bush's complimentary comments about the Russian leader perhaps was an effort to win Putin over.
"What else could explain, for example, President Bush's personal embrace of Russia's Vladimir Putin while avoiding any public mention of Putin's crackdown on Russia's free press and the continuing atrocities in Chechnya?"
Last month, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said in a newspaper interview that he has been disappointed "in almost everything" Bush has done since assuming office. Carter, also a Democrat, cited Bush's approach to abandon the ABM Treaty among other things.