U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has delivered a strong attack on President Bush's foreign policy. Mr. Daschle, a potential opponent of Mr. Bush in the 2004 election, portrayed him as a unilateralist, and one who is rushing to judgement about missile defense.
The hottest debates in Washington in the early months of the president's term have focused on domestic matters - taxes, education and health care. But in recent weeks, both Mr. Daschle and his House counterpart, minority leader Dick Gephardt, have blasted the administration's stand on foreign affairs.
The Senate majority leader took the offensive in a Washington speech on Thursday. He accused the president of walking away from international accords on global warming and more. "Instead of asserting our leadership we are abdicating it. Instead of shaping international agreements to serve our interests we have removed ourselves from a position to shape them at all," he said.
The senator accuses Mr. Bush of taking an overly simplistic approach to complicated issues. He says the president's stand toward Russia depends too much on personal impressions of President Vladimir Putin. "That's why it was troubling to watch President Bush reduce our complex relationship with Russia to a simple matter of trust between leaders. The stakes are too high to base our strategic relationship on one man's assessment of another man's soul," he said.
Mr. Daschle leveled one of his sharpest attacks on Mr. Bush's plan for national missile defense. He says he would support research and testing, as long as it does not violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with Moscow.
But he mocked the results of one recent test and denounced the president's call for a 57 percent spending hike for the program. The senator says the Bush proposal represents the most expensive response to the nation's least likely threat.
"The chief threat to America is not from big, lumbering ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), launched with a clear return address. The chief threats today come from biological and chemical weapons and bombs that could be smuggled in a cargo container, bus or backpack," Mr. Daschle said.
The White House responded by accusing Mr. Daschle of blocking international cooperation himself, by pressing for safety standards on Mexican trucks in the United States. Public opinion polls show most voters approve of Mr. Bush's handling of foreign policy, though some wish he would pay more attention to other countries when making decisions.
The missile defense debate will take center stage in the next few months, as Congress decides how much or how little the Pentagon should spend.