Bush UN Talk: Attempt to Chart World Direction

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WORLD events hardly held still long enough for President Bush to draft and deliver his annual, state-of-the-world-style address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.These are fast-changing times. The United States is again leading an escalating UN confrontation against Iraq, Mr. Bush is flexing seldom-used political muscles against an astonished Israeli leadership, and nations are joining the UN as full members that were mere pieces of the Soviet Union a matter of weeks ago. The world the president describes is not an easy one. With the dissolving of communism, he told the General Assembly, "suspended hatreds have sprung to life" based on ethnic rivalries, nationalism, and old prejudices. This emphasis reflects the skepticism the Bush administration has long held that the demise of communism and the cold war lead inevitably to democracy or international stability. By his own account, this was the first speech to the UN to dwell on the shape of the post-cold-war world rather than superpower competition. Articulating his vision of world progress has never been Bush's strong point. Instead he is widely considered a superb manager of crises, an energetic diplomat who errs on the side of caution, and a committed internationalist who prefers to deal personally with established leaders rather than to unsettle world order for the sake of democracy abroad. His address at the UN Sept. 23 represents one of his more sweeping efforts to chart a direction in the fast currents of world events. The first necessity, in Bush's world view, is to spread prosperity through free, open markets. He made only passing mention of financial aid to developing countries or formerly communist countries, a course that has been pursued more actively by West Europeans. But he made a strong pitch for the so-called Uruguay Round of negotiations on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The Uruguay Round has been hung up over reluctance in Western Europe to open up agricultural markets. "If the Uruguay Round should fail, a new wave of protectionism could destroy our hopes for a better future," he said. Bush also faces pressures at home from labor unions and some industrialists to close American markets. But while virtually all postwar American presidents have been free-trade advocates, says Brookings Institution senior fellow Bert Rockman, none surpass Bush in his commitment to open markets. Economic progress around the world, Bush explained, "supplies the soil in which democracy grows best." Bush held up the US-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein's armies from Kuwait last fall and winter as a model of international cooperation in settling disputes.

Gulf war rare The more conventional wisdom among foreign-affairs analysts here is that the Gulf war was a rare and improbable case. The combination of American interest in Gulf oil, Saudi and Kuwaiti money to fund the war, and Saddam Hussein's clear-cut villainy make an easy case for the US to lead an international effort. A more likely model for post-cold-war conflicts, many analysts say, are the warring republics of what once was Yugoslavia, where the European Community would like to mediate but has no compelling reason to intervene between ethnic nationalists. The world can afford to rope off such instabilities, says George Liska of Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), leaving "primitive political civilizations to bloody themselves into reason." Bush did not mention Yugoslavia at the UN. Even as the president spoke, Iraq was detaining UN inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction who reported by satellite telephone that they had found plans outlining Iraq's nuclear- weapons program. Bush called for upholding the sanctions against Iraq, which had eroded slightly. (The UN just allowed Iraq a limited oil sale.) He steered away from handing Iraq any deadlines or ultimatums, however.

Peace conference Bush's foremost effort to make a larger peace out of the Gulf war is to bring Arabs and Israelis to a peace conference next month. His administration does not want the waters muddied by Israel's continued building of settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights. Bush seeks to delay $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel resettle Soviet emigres in the most direct pressure on Israel from an American president in years. At the same time, he asked the UN to reverse its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. His aides have said this move is to prepare the ground for the peace conference. It also helps to maintain some credibility with Israel and American Jewish groups.

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Bush focus on world Overall, Bush's style of foreign policy has revived the liberal Republican ambition for active world leadership, says Dr. Liska. "I think the president is very much in the Rockefeller Republican tradition," says Ted Galen Carpenter, director of Foreign Policy Studies at the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute. In Bush's case, his priorities are to promote stability, manage change in an orderly way, and put the US in the leadership of international cooperation whenever possible, he says. "Those are Bush's personal predilections," says Michael Mandelbaum of SAIS and the Council on Foreign Relations. "But that's not how it's going to be." The world is unlikely to allow for orderly change or Gulf-style international coalitions, he says.

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