Thu, 09 Nov 2000

Bipartisan consensus on United States as global leader

By Ching Cheong

SINGAPORE: Despite many claims that American foreign policy lacks bipartisan consensus, a close examination of the campaign statements suggests otherwise.

Both Al Gore of the Democrats and George W. Bush of the Republicans are fervent supporters of the concept of American global leadership.

Hence, no matter who gets elected, one can expect a more interventionist foreign-policy line.

"For all of my career, I have believed that America has a responsibility to lead in the world," said Gore in his major foreign-policy speech.

"Today, at the dawn of the 21st century, we need a new approach for a new century grounded in our own economic and security interests, but uplifted by what is right in the world."

And, of course, what is right or wrong is to be decided by the Americans.

Similarly, Bush told his supporters that "America must be involved in the world" and "American foreign policy must have a great and guiding goal: to turn this time of American influence into generations of democratic peace".

They differ only on the content of such leadership. Barbara Conry, a foreign-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, points out their differences.

Basically, the Democratic Party wants to be a global crusader for the idealist objectives of promoting democracy, protecting human rights or delivering humanitarian assistance.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, tends to favor realpolitik leadership, advocating intervention to keep the world in line with US interests and to preserve America's status as the world's foremost military power.

No matter what the objectives are, strong military might is needed to achieve them. Hence, both advocate a strong defense.

As Ms Conry concludes: "Global leadership is essentially coercive, relying on diplomacy backed by threats or military action."

Gore's Senate voting record is consistently pro-military. He has supported robust Pentagon budgets throughout his career and he is calling for increased military spending.

Bush, too, wants even greater military spending. He is for financing all future generations of weapons systems, and is especially keen on implementing the national and theater missile- defense systems.

Both their foreign-policy statements start with the need to have a strong defense. Gore reminds his people that "we must never forget that our national defense is about much more than the land within our borders".

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recently asked for a US$30 billion (S$52 billion), or 10-per-cent hike over the current defense budget of $300 billion, and both candidates seem predisposed to accept it.

The new budget, if accepted, will be way above what is required to defend the US and more than the combined defense budgets of the other OECD industrial powers.

According to a commentary by the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think-tank on foreign-policy issues, if the US were not too preoccupied with notions of global leadership, the entire military budget could have been reduced by between $40 billion, or 13 per cent, as proposed by former Reagan administration Defense Department official Lawrence Korb, and US$150 billion, or 50 per cent, as proposed by Randall Forsberg, an arms expert with the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies.

The conservative former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, put it thus: "You do not need today's defense budget to defend the United States.

"You need today's defense budget to lead the world. If you are prepared to give up leading the world, you can have a much smaller defense budget."

This declaration shows the so-called American global leadership, backed by a blatant display of force. In the pursuit of might-buttressed American leadership, both Gore and Bush are identical. This is a newly-found bipartisan consensus.

This has serious implications for world peace. Drawing on the experience of a number of American military operations abroad, Ms Conry concluded that the so-called American global leadership resembles bullying rather than leadership.

This bipartisan consensus creates a dangerous condition, because it leads the Americans to act as if their presumed destiny confers upon them the right to supervise and judge what other nations do and, when necessary, to intervene or to punish miscreants or troublemakers.

This, in the long term, is unacceptable to the others. It therefore is an unsustainable policy for the long term and, in the meantime, inevitably creates resentment and backlash.

The writer, now in Washington, is a member of The Straits Times team covering the U.S. presidential elections.

-- The Straits Times/Asia News Network