Tough. Strong. Hard-headed. Those are the words Michael Dukakis uses when talking about foreign policy and national security. Yet when Mr. Dukakis battles George Bush this fall, foreign and defense policy could be the governor's Achilles' heel.
With Dukakis moving swiftly toward the Democratic nomination, he now hopes to turn the national security issue around - and put Vice-President Bush on the defensive.
It won't be easy. Although Dukakis can surround himself with foreign policy gurus from Harvard and call upon Democratic experts in Washington, he cannot match Bush's years of experience in the White House, Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United Nations, and abroad.
The governor's aides and advisers, however, see Republican weaknesses that can be exploited, especially the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages affair and President Reagan's controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or ``star wars.''
They also argue that American perceptions of national security are changing. Economic power - not just military hardware - is becoming an important new measure of national strength, and Dukakis has strong economic credentials, they say.
``There is a new reality,'' says John Marttila of Marttila & Kiley, a Democratic consulting firm. ``Our challenges as a nation are more complicated. We need more in our arsenal than a big arsenal. We also need a power economy. National power in the future will be defined differently.''
Mr. Marttila, whose partner Thomas Kiley is a senior adviser to Dukakis, predicts that the challenge to American economic dominance, especially by Japan, will become a major issue in 1988. More and more voters will begin to equate economic power with national security, he says.
Jim Steinberg, an adviser to Dukakis on national security issues, says Bush looks vulnerable on a wide range of national security issues - from terrorism to Iran, from ``star wars'' to military readiness.
One of Dukakis's pet themes is military readiness, especially in conventional weapons. Rather than dump $4.5 billion into SDI, ``which does nothing for security,'' says Mr. Steinberg, that money should be going for readiness and ammunition, ``where you get the most bang for the buck.''
SDI has not been Dukakis's only target. In one speech, he noted that ``the administration wants to spend nearly $100 billion over the next five years on weapons systems we do not need, and cannot afford: on nuclear carriers, the MX [missile], Midgetman missiles, ``star wars,'' antisatellite weapons, and more [nuclear] warheads.''
Dukakis argues that for the same amount of money, the US could:
Convert three Army light divisions into mechanized units, with more tanks, antitank weapons, helicopters, and air-defense.
Buy 440 tactical fighters.
Improve antisubmarine capabilities.
Strengthen airlift and sealift.
Provide more training for reserve units.
Purchase needed ammunition and spare parts.
And after all that, he says, have $50 billion left over for the Treasury.
But a number of political analysts express doubts about Dukakis's chances of turning around the national security issue that easily. Most polls show Republicans ahead of Democrats when voters are asked which party they trust on defense issues.
John Chubb, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution, is especially doubtful that Japan and other trading partners can be depicted as a security threat. He says:
``George Bush is not going to allow Dukakis to define national security in terms of fear of the Japanese. It's mixing apples and oranges.''
Mr. Chubb observes that fear of the Soviets has declined because of the new arms treaty and the summit coming up in Moscow. But he adds:
``If anything, better feelings about the Soviet Union should work to Bush's advantage. People should be able to remember five years ago when there were movie dramas about nuclear destruction. ... The Reagan administration had something to do with changing that mood. ... I don't see Dukakis taking that away.''
But Marttila insists that the American people no longer see the threat to the well-being of the nation the way they once did.
The key to the future, Marttila says, is being able to compete - economically as well as militarily. That's what voters want to talk about.
``This is a real opportunity for Dukakis,'' he says. ``Massachusetts, like the rest of New England and California, is a future-oriented state. Massachusetts is a legitimate competitor in the world market. The economic miracle of Massachusetts has taken place in an air of confidence that we can compete.''
The '88 campaign will be fought on the issue of America's future, especially its economic power. ``There's no way Dukakis can be tripped up on that issue,'' suggests Marttila.