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Opposition Democrats Begin Criticizing Bush Foreign Policy, Despite Risks - 2002-07-16

Criticism has been muted for the most part, but some Democrats are beginning to question President Bush's foreign policy. They are disturbed by what seems to them an overly unilateral and militaristic approach. Citing the polls, Republicans say they have the country behind them - the first stirrings of debate between the two political parties on U.S. foreign policy.

When U.S. Senate majority leader Thomas Daschle made some mild criticism of the Bush administration's foreign policy last winter, Republicans cast doubt on his patriotism. That seemed to silence similar criticism.

Now The Washington Post says some Democrats are recovering their voice. Senator John Kerry talks about a lack of focus in current foreign policy. "It's reluctant," he said. "It's shifting. It's inconsistent and, to some measure, disengaged globally." He worries that the United States is not sufficiently committed to rebuilding Afghanistan in the aftermath of a destructive war.

Leon Fuerth, foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore, said President Bush has shocked the world by ignoring world opinion. He gives the impression the United States will go its own way regardless of others.

This belated criticism is to be expected, said Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government and author of the recently published, The Paradox of American Power. "After September 11," he said, "there was a rally around the President phenomenon, which is typical of the United States. In that period of feeling a sense of national threat, bipartisanship becomes very strong. In that sense, I think the Bush administration got a free ride after September until quite recently."

Mr. Nye said with the passage of time, Democrats have become willing to raise questions, especially about U.S. unilateralism, the complaint of many nations, both friends and foes. "The danger of that is the feeling that the United States is not listening, is not recruiting the support it needs from others," Mr. Nye said. "That has led to a good deal of criticism in Europe and Japan, which has been echoed in part by the comments of some of the Democrats here in the United States."

Mr. Nye believes Afghanistan, if it falls apart, could become a major issue for Democrats, who accuse the Bush administration of being simplistic in its war on terrorism and relying too much on military action. "Military solutions," Mr. Nye continued, "are part of the response to the war on terrorism, but they are far from being a total response. The United States also needs to use its economic power and its softer, attractive power, if it is going to succeed."

This kind of criticism does not worry Republicans, said Gary Schmitt, executive director of Project for the New American Century, a policy research organization in Washington. They respond that the most powerful nation on earth has special responsibilities and must sometimes act on its own. "This charge of unilateralism," Mr. Schmitt said, "is typically laid against the administration when they refuse to sign what I would call globalist multilateral treaties like Kyoto or the International Criminal Court. The administration has been more than willing to talk about traditional multilateralism, which involves our allies."

The United States must rely on multilateralism in Afghanistan, said Mr. Schmitt. The administration is reluctant to commit more troops for reconstruction since they may be needed elsewhere in the war on terrorism, notably Iraq.

Mr. Schmitt adds the administration has history on its side. At the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President Harry Truman was criticized for oversimplifying the conflict. He called it freedom versus totalitarianism. No question who was good and who was evil. "History has borne out the fact that sometimes the world is divided that way," Mr. Schmitt contintued. "I think the Bush administration is headed in the right direction by drawing a radical distinction between the states that sponsor terrorism and those who are civilized."

Democrats also cite history, like the U.S. military failure in Vietnam, to support a more cautious foreign policy. But so far analysts agree the Republican view prevails.