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On its face, Bush's realism might seem a more prudent application of U.S. resources than Gore's crusading interventionism. But the messiness of the global scene requires active, consistent American leadership--which is impossible if the U.S. insists simply on staying at home. In that sense, Gore's assertive policy appears more appropriate in the current environment, in which U.S. security faces no grave challenges, but regional flare-ups can still become destabilizing conflagrations. It's not surprising that Bush has struggled to remain consistent. He says stability in "our own hemisphere" would be among his four top foreign policy priorities, yet he faults the Administration for stepping into Haiti; he argues that purely humanitarian missions do not warrant U.S. military involvement--but he defends his father's humanitarian intervention in Somalia. And while Bush opposed congressional Republican efforts to mandate early U.S. withdrawal from the Balkans, his top foreign policy adviser made clear last week he plans to pull U.S. peacekeeping troops out of there. More egregiously, he said during the second debate, "I hope our European friends become the peacekeepers in Bosnia." But they already are. U.S. forces account for just 4,500 of the 20,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia.
Gore didn't pounce on that gaffe to embarrass Bush, and he probably won't trumpet his foreign policy credentials in the homestretch. That's partly a bow to public passivity, and perhaps an acknowledgment that the proper course for U.S. foreign policy is anything but clear. Besides, voters are known to punish candidates who purport to know too much. Late in the 1992 campaign, President Bush ridiculed the expertise of Clinton and Gore. "My dog Millie," he said, "knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos." The bozos won.
--Reported by Barry Hillenbrand/Washington