Small World

Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2000 /13 Shevat, 5760

Foreign Policy: Do
Candidates Even Have One?

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES facing the candidates running for major offices, from the presidency to senator from New York?

The economy, jobs, taxes, schools, crime, gun control all the usual domestic suspects.

But while Americans are increasingly self-consumed, the fact is that foreign policy issues continue to loom large.

America's role as the world's only superpower demands that the leaders we elect focus on the entire community of nations, not just on our own backyard. During the next few months, this column will attempt to examine and comment on the foreign policy positions of all the major candidates. I've asked a few colleagues to chime in with some thoughts as well.

Econophone For starters, let's define the major foreign issues. Terry Atlas, foreign editor of U.S. News & World Report, sees two. He calls the first "managing big-power relations" dealing with China and Russia, for example. The other he calls managing "big-money relationships" dealing with major trading partners, such as the increasingly powerful European Union, Japan and, again, China.

Russia, as recent events demonstrate, may be one of the more volatile of the issues ahead. Like the rest of the former Soviet Union, it has a fragile, immature democratic structure, a near basket-case economy and enough ethnic woes to launch a dozen Chechnya-like bloodbaths.

It also has nuclear missiles, "the wounded pride of a former superpower," as Atlas puts it, and a dangerous clique of people desperate or greedy enough to peddle nuclear and chemical weapons know-how to terror groups and rogue nations.

Our challenge with China is to find a way to encourage what we like for example, its continued passage toward economic freedom and to discourage what we don't human rights abuses, saber-rattling, etc.

Trakdata But beyond bilateral relations, there are a score of pan-world threats: terrorism and other international crimes, the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by madmen such as Saddam Hussein, ecological perils to our oceans and forests, AIDS and hunger.

There are also ongoing crisis zones such as Africa, where poverty and ethnic hatred remain the rule rather than the exception. Then there's the Middle East, where we have to escort the Arabs and Israelis into real peace without endangering Israel's survival.

How about Iran, where hard-core Islamists are pitted against relatively moderate ones? How do we encourage the latter without giving away the candy store to the former?

Jacki Lyden, National Public Radio's senior correspondent and one of the few journalists who regularly visits there, believes that Iran represents one of our major challenges. She suggests that, at a minimum, "We should be promoting more cultural exchanges, opening doors" in hopes that a new Iranian leadership will invite us in.

In the end, the biggest foreign policy challenge for our new leaders is not about any specific issue at all. It's to get the American public to abandon its isolationist tendencies.

Ethnic violence in Kosovo or terrorist attacks in India will always grab American headlines but for how long? Unless it is a dramatic crisis, most of the media devote less and less time, space and resources to foreign affairs.

Finding long-term solutions to foreign issues even just being "engaged in the world," as Atlas puts it is what we should be doing more of, not less. If I can find candidates who recognize these goals and have a program, I might even vote for them.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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