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Jewish World Review Aug. 24, 1999 /12 Elul, 5759

Morton Kondracke

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Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis? -- ALL OF A SUDDEN, a world of trouble faces the United States -- and it opens Vice President Al Gore to foreign policy attacks from presidential rivals.

New crises in Russia, the Taiwan Straits, Colombia, North Korea and former Yugoslavia all serve as fodder for opponents to charge that Clinton-Gore foreign policy has been inept, based on wishful thinking -- or even corrupt.

Gore inevitably will be assailed for the Democratic Party's receipt of Asian contributions in 1996 -- which opponents tie to a favorable tilt toward China in U.S. foreign policy.

There is a debate among GOP candidates over China policy -- but unanimity around the idea that Clinton and Gore winked at Chinese espionage, human rights crackdowns, arms building and trade violations.

Last weekend, religious conservative Gary Bauer criticized GOP front-runner George W. Bush for advocating the same policy toward China as Gore because Bush favors maintaining normal trade relations.

But Bush makes it clear that he does not believe -- as Clinton and Gore do -- that the U.S.-China relationship is a "strategic partnership," but "competition."

The latest rumble over Taiwan's partial declaration of independence from China creates a dangerous new situation -- and more material for political dispute.

Some Republicans think the United States should unmistakably back Taiwan, a free-market democracy. Others favor both restraining Taiwan's breakaway movement and also warning China that an attack on the island might lead to hostilities with the United States.

Both GOP factions, however, accuse Clinton and Gore of allowing the situation to reach this danger point and of failing either to back Taiwan or restrain it.

Gore is also politically vulnerable over developments in Russia. He has been the top U.S. official in charge of dealing with Russia's various prime ministers as Russia has sunk deeper and deeper into financial and political crisis.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post last weekend carried extensive critiques of U.S. policy toward Russia -- especially of uncritical support for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whose regime is in tatters and whose unpopularity rubs off on the United States.

Gore's Democratic rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., also has been critical of the U.S. attempt to force-feed Russia on free-market economics, which has impoverished the Russian population and soured it on the United States.

The United States insisted that Russia "privatize" former government-owned enterprises, which were mainly bought at fire-sale prices by their managers and friendly money men, who promptly looted them and moved their profits abroad.

The United States also uncritically backed a policy of massive lending to Russia by the International Monetary Fund. Much of that money was also wasted or stolen. As a condition of the loans, meantime, the IMF demanded government austerity -- which meant that thousands of Russian workers lost their jobs.

U.S. policy has led to the vast enrichment of a class of politically powerful oligarchs close to Yeltsin who may do anything -- including, perhaps, cancel elections -- to keep their power.

According to The Washington Post's Robert Kaiser, U.S. diplomats in Moscow have been prevented from reporting back to Washington their real worries about pervasive high-level corruption in Washington, because top officials fear the reports will leak and embarrass Gore.

Republicans are sure to seize upon such reports -- and, indeed, The New York Times quoted Condoleeza Rice, a top foreign policy adviser to Bush and former Russia expert in his father's White House, as saying that the Clinton administration miscalculated in being too permissive toward Yeltsin.

Meantime, there are other troubles in the world. While Clinton won the war in Kosovo, the peace is harder to maintain as ethnic Albanians take out reprisals against the Serbs who victimized them.

NATO forces are hard-pressed to keep order and have as one of their tasks disarming the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. U.S. casualties, avoided during the war, would cost Clinton politically.

Despite U.S. efforts to isolate him, Serbian boss Slobodan Milosevic is still in power. And so is Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The U.S. brokered peace in Bosnia, but now it's revealed that Serb, Croatian and Muslim leaders there may have stolen up to $1 billion in international relief.

Elsewhere, North Korea is poised to test a long-range ballistic missile -- which, if it happens, will represent a failure of U.S. carrot-and-stick diplomacy -- and India and Pakistan have been fighting in Kashmir and rattling nuclear weapons.

The U.S.-assisted anti-drug war is failing in Colombia, where the country is gradually being taken over by leftist guerrillas working hand-in-hand with narcotics traffickers.

And peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Mideast -- which Clinton may have seen as his ticket to a Nobel Peace Prize and political vindication -- both are struggling.

What all this means is that foreign policy may be a major issue in 2000. Republicans will point fingers at Gore, who will respond -- justifiably -- "OK, what would you do?" It's a question the press should ask, too.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

©1999, NEA