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COMMENTARY by Stan Crock November 22, 1999

George W's Foreign Policy: Will Too Many Chefs Spoil This Broth?
The front-runner for the 2000 GOP Presidential nomination says he'll execute better than President Clinton. But can he with so much advice?

For all the talk by his aides of a dramatic break from current White House practices, Texas Governor George W. Bush endorsed a decidedly Clintonesque brand of internationalism in his first major foreign policy speech on Nov. 19. Bush quoted Alexander Hamilton, who said "the spirit of commerce" tends to "soften the manners of men." That's a central tenet of the Clintonites. He applauded China's inclusion in the World Trade Organization. He called for stepped-up efforts to dismantle Russia's nuclear arsenal. And he has supported Australia-led forces in East Timor -- all initiatives Clinton backs.

Bush's biggest selling point was that he'll execute better on the world stage. The Clinton Administration ignores countries until crises erupt, which make the crises harder to handle, GOP critics contend. "How you manage these things really does make a difference," says the Council on Foreign Relations' Robert A. Manning.

It isn't clear, however, that Bush could deliver on his one big promise. Just take a look at the diverse adivce he is getting from his foreign policy advisers. "There's a pretty wide spectrum" on the Bush team, notes Brent Scowcroft, a national security adviser to two GOP Presidents.

Case in point: national missile defense. The key question is whether the U.S. should try to preserve the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which limits missile-defense deployments.

ABM SIDESHOW? Some of the ideological hard-liners in the Bush camp balk at the notion that Moscow should have a say in what Washington does. Former Pentagon official Richard Perle has long viewed Russia with suspicion. He was a prime mover behind the Jackson-Vanik bill two decades ago, which imposed economic sanctions on Russia for restricting Jewish emigration. And he would love to demonstrate America's ability to act unilaterally by abandoning the ABM treaty. His preference would be to build whatever national missile-defense system best suits America's needs, regardless of Russia's reaction or the treaty's restrictions.

Other advisers, such as former Under Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, think the ABM treaty dispute is a sideshow. Zoellick argues that the U.S. should pay more attention to areas where Russia and the U.S. could make common cause. He would share missile-defense technology with Moscow, for example, as long as Russia doesn't transfer the information to Tehran. What's needed, he says, is to "discuss real things with the Russians, as opposed to symbolic stuff from 30 years ago."

Yet a third faction is more sympathetic to Russia. This group argues that since Russia remains a strategic power, the U.S. can't dismiss it, as Perle would. This group is led by Bush's top foreign policy adviser, Stanford University professor Condoleeza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft's. Scowcroft criticizes the Clintonites for ignoring Russia except when they want something, at which point "they badger them and humiliate them." This faction seems to have the upper hand in the missile defense debate. In interviews leading up to the Nov. 19 speech, Bush said Washington should try to negotiate revisions in the ABM treaty, scrapping it only if Moscow balks at a more effective system of monitoring.

That's just one of many skirmishes to come. And other factions will have allies on Capitol Hill. Indeed, Congress has been a stumbling block on any number of occasions for the Clinton White House -- and could prove every bit as meddlesome and nettlesome for Bush. That's especialy true if Democrats take over the House and decide it's payback time. And don't forget: Congressional Republicans led the charge to cut funds for a program that helps Russia dismantle nuclear weapons -- a program that Bush backs.

"The first step for their ability to manage better would be to get rid of Congress," says a senior Gore adviser. Lawmakers aren't "going to let any kind of policy based on broad vision go forth without challenge."

It may be that the amiable Bush will be able to work better with Congress than Clinton could. It's hard to imagine White House relations with Capitol Hill continuing to be as poisonous as they've been these last seven years. But Bush's challenge won't be just to keep lawmakers in line. He also may have to referee battles among his own contentious advisers. And Bush, even more of a neophyte in foreign policy than Clinton was in 1992, would have to make the final calls without the advantage of instant replay. Rolling all of these ingredients together is hardly a recipe for well-executed foreign policy.

Crock covers national security issues from Washington for Business Week

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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