Bush's wade into foreign waters

It was no surprise that President Bush would spend his first weeks concentrating on domestic initiatives such as education reform and religious social services. But the world did not stand still, and will eventually claim his attention.

American intelligence has determined that Iraq has rebuilt a series of factories suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons.

Saddam Hussein is talking as though he won the Gulf War. During the election campaign, Governor Bush said that if Iraq produced weapons of mass destruction, they would be "taken out." He may soon have to be a little more specific.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has talked so far only of "re-energizing' sanctions.

The Palestinian Authority has made an overture to the Bush administration by condemning the Clinton record of peacemaking as tilting toward Israel and "disastrous."

Secretary Powell has urged that peace talks get back on track, but has yet to say what role the United States will play.

Powell also promised greater attention to Africa, but there is no sign that he has any better idea than anyone else of how to deal with civil war in Congo and the assassination of its leader.

Russia has been trying to take the measure of President Bush, and there are signs President Vladimir Putin would welcome American disengagement.

That would permit him to pursue his own authoritarian policies. Putin has announced plans to eliminate all but a handful of Russia's 186 political parties, and he's proceeding with a crackdown on the free press. Russian democratic scholars say any sign that America is drawing into itself will encourage Putin's autocratic streak.

Powell says relations with Russia will depend on Russia's efforts to get on with reform. That policy will have to be demonstrated.

Talk of early withdrawal of American forces from Bosnia and Kosovo is being soft-pedaled while the administration's national security team gets up to speed.

Preoccupied with domestic issues, the president is dipping his toe in international waters slowly.

Only Mexico and Canada lie in his early travel plans. His first big decision, due in April, is whether to sell destroyers and other advanced weapons to Taiwan over the opposition of mainland China.

And then Mr. Bush will find, as his predecessors have, that a crisis could suddenly blow up in the most unexpected place.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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