Leader of the Pack

Irrespective of how things might look after the protests against the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle turned unexpectedly fierce right before the talks themselves suddenly collapsed, a consensus has already emerged in the presidential debate over foreign policy that is sure to last. The question is no longer whether Washington should try to control the pace and terms of globalization, but how and toward what ends. The leading candidates have each rejected isolationists to both their right and left while favoring different strategies for more globalization. One way or another, America is likely to become more engaged abroad in the 2000s.

Bradley’s plan

Although the candidates have so far barely addressed foreign affairs, one man long known for his ability to synthesize information, Bill Bradley, recently became the first to articulate a new strategy. Last week at Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass., Bradley said that the United States must stop going it alone so much in the world and making decisions unilaterally. Instead, America must learn to work more cooperatively with other states to “help mold [the] international system,” Bradley said. “This requires partners in the world to do this, alliances with international organizations.”

Bradley’s plan is so ambitious that he says it will do nothing less than establish the basis for the first consensus on America’s role in the world since the Cold War, even though it is based on the unconventional notion that America must finally get over its suspicions of multinational institutions like the United Nations and instead learn to guide them in the future. Bradley’s plan also is based on the novel idea that the interests of America and other nations have been merging since the Cold War. Popular in some circles, the concept that the world community shares an interest in matters like environmental preservation motivated many protestors in Seattle.

However radical he may sound, Bradley echoes recent establishment authors in the premier journal of its kind, Foreign Affairs. Both Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard University professor, and Richard N. Haass, a former Bush administration national security adviser (and an IC contributing editor), have argued separately that American hegemony over the world has waned since the Cold War and that U.S. power now is only likely to decrease more. These leading “realists” say the United States no longer has any choice but to work more cooperatively with other states within international fora.

American interests and of other nations have been merging since the Cold War

Can Gore and Bush respond?

Bradley is a quick study, and his plan establishes him as a serious foreign-policy thinker. His idea — that even though we are the world’s only surviving superpower, we should work cooperatively with other states to forge a global community — was originally a progressive one that only this year was legitimized by conservatives. By being the first candidate to promote it, Bradley has begun to define America’s foreign-policy debate along new, broad lines that transcend the old divisions of the Cold War.

Bradley’s words challenge his main rival, Al Gore, and leave him with bad options. Top heavy with too many advisers loyal to Clinton as well as the vice president, Gore only suffers over his ongoing embrace of the administration. The rationale Bradley is using to explain his plan is that the United States will not necessarily stand by in the face of more crises like Kosovo, but that it cannot afford to assume either the costs or the responsibilities for future interventions by itself. The solution then is for the United States to find effective ways to support multilateral institutions like the United Nations to assume those costs in the future, says Bradley. To do so, the United States must reverse itself 180 degrees in its attitude to the United Nations and back it with the spirit and resources to make it work well.

Bradley’s plan is likely to be opposed by candidates like John McCain who this week, at the U.S.S. Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, argued that the United States should strengthen and reform its own military to better handle future problems by itself. Some conservatives are likely to have even stronger objections to Bradley’s new internationalism. A few years ago, so many members of the gun lobby believed conspiracy myths that the National Rifle Association issued a disclaimer declaring false widely-disseminated rumors that U.N. forces were flying “black helicopters” in a secret plot to take over America. Few Americans in their lifetimes have heard much more than criticism of the United Nations. No doubt, both Gore and George W. Bush will say they represent the majority of Americans when and if they express skepticism about Bradley’s plan.

But Gore finds himself cornered. The Clinton administration has recently lost big battles over arms control and global trade, and its most important legacy is likely to be its Kosovo intervention. President Clinton’sgreatest flaw in taking the United States in a bold new direction in leading humanitarian intervention is that he never set any limits to decide when it is and is not worth the risk and costs. Gore has many reasons to defend the effort, but he can no longer defend its lack of realism. Now whether he denies or admits the policy’s shortcomings, he will go on being associated with them.

Bush, too, must eventually face Bradley’s new pitch. And although, like Gore, Bush has plenty of big-name foreign-policy advisers, he still seems unsure of his own views. While Bush has yet to articulate any response to Bradley’s plan, the views of the realists who dominate his foreign-policy team are well known.

Like their most influential strategist, Henry Kissinger, most realists opposed the Clinton administration’s NATO-led intervention against Yugoslavia. But while they argue for the need to scale back international humanitarian interventions, they nevertheless recognize that the United States must, in the words of Gulf War-era adviser Haass, “support constructive notions of how international society should be organized and should operate,” instead of going on like it has done and acting mainly unilaterally.

Bush’s advisers surely will encourage him to eventually speak out against Bradley’s foreign-policy plan, although some of them may already agree with the notion that the United States must learn to work more effectively within multinational institutions to promote greater globalization. Bush, however, is sure to back efforts promoting trade instead of any leadership for humanitarian interventions, for which U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has recently all but begged. Meanwhile, Bradley’s and Annan’s separate plans seem wholly compatible. Bush might decide to attack their unspoken alliance, but whatever move he makes now will be catch up to Bradley’s breakaway last week.

Leaving the competition behind

Bradley also is the first candidate to spell out how he would handle Russia, criticizing the Clinton administration for pushing Russia to adopt unpopular economic reforms while neglecting to disarm the former Soviet empire’s various nuclear missiles. Bradley was also the first to speak out on trade.

Before the collapse of the Seattle talks, Bradley said that the World Trade Organization should afford labor and environmental groups the right to file “friend of the court” briefs to the organization, although he has yet to explain how the ultimate decisions should be made. Bradley favors global trade, but he wants it to expand at a slower, more cautious pace than some other business advocates.

While Gore and Bush alike each go on consulting their respective advisers who are no doubt giving them conflicting advice, the former New York Knicks forward and Rhodes scholar has already thought a lot about foreign affairs. He has never looked more alpha leading the pack.

Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has written for Foreign Affairs, World Policy Journal and Jane’s Intelligence Review. He is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff. He is a contributing editor at IntellectualCapital.com.