IF the recent Munich summit is an indication, the White House plans to make caution its guiding principle in foreign affairs for the final election season. The problem with this strategy is that the world is too hot to be put on hold until November. A White House calculation of painless or risk-free leadership might be a short-term political palliative, but it could harm both US and world interests in the long term. A new world order won't come cheap; nor will the old world wait five months for President
Bush to venture beyond the polling data and demand constructive change.
Events in the old East bloc (and in areas from population to energy to the environment), require ambitious, innovative US leadership. Who else, frankly, can build the coalitions and take the needed steps to effect change?
In Munich, the world's most powerful nations condemned Serbian aggression in Bosnia and threatened use of force. But the effect was lost on Serbs in Bosnia who increased the attack and called the West's bluff. Muslim towns are empty; ammunition is running out in a hellish Sarajevo; slaughters in the countryside are possible - but Mr. Bush cautions on "rushing into" the Balkans.
Rushing? For April, May, June, and half of July, Sarajevo has been under seige. The least the US and West can do, since East bloc problems get worse with no attention, is ground the Serb air force, provide arms now for Bosnians to defend themselves with, and boost morale by guaranteeing militarily that aid gets through. Will more peace talks matter?
Bush must be engaged in Russian affairs - pressure Moscow to remove troops from Moldova and the Baltics. Threats of a Moscow coup must be regarded seriously.
The UN is in a crucial period of transition. The US must support and help shape UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's plans for financing collective-security and interventionist forces.
James Baker should remain at the State Department. Mr. Baker has embodied US foreign policy, and his possible departure to run the Bush reelection campaign would leave a huge vacuum.
The US needs an ongoing, active foreign policy. A Clinton, Perot - or Bush - administration will later regret a policy of caution that waits for November.