Bridging the partisan gap in foreign affairs

Some suggest the US should set aside political differences to meet the terror threat, even though it's an election year.

The findings of the 9/11 commission on the organization that planned the 2001 terrorist attacks - and now the chilling beheading in Saudi Arabia Friday of American Paul Johnson at the hands of Al Qaeda - are fresh reminders of what the international community is up against.

As one result, some prominent political leaders and international experts are calling for partisan rivals in the US and for the world in general to unite more resolutely - as the West did during the cold war.

But with the US presidential race about to enter high gear, possibly hinging on foreign-policy differences, many observers say the prospects for building on common ground over the next few months will be difficult at best.

Also as the election nears, Bush administration infighting is likely to heat up over which direction foreign policy in a second term would take - between Secretary of State Colin Powell's internationalist stance and the neoconservatives' muscular "America first" approach.

Yet others see the trend toward international cooperation against a common threat advancing despite political differences - though they admit the US campaign may temporarily hide a growing global cooperation. "The campaign around the [presidential] election may obscure what is happening to some extent, but it won't stop this development of a community that is as big as what the West created during the cold war," says Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist at George Washington University.

Finding that the world has already created since Sept. 11 "what is in effect a global antiterrorism department," Mr. Etzioni says the growing international cooperation is "not limited to stopping terrorism" but includes spreading values. Although the Sept. 11 attacks were directed against the US, more than 50 countries have passed or modified laws to enhance their participation, he says.

A 'war of values'

Among political leaders, one of the more forceful voices for making the global fight against terrorism less an American military fight and more a multilateral "war of values" is Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut. In a recent speech before the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, the senator warned that Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists are determined to establish what he called a "new evil empire" in the Middle East. "What we are fighting for in Iraq and around the world is freedom," says the Democratic 2000 vice-presidential candidate. "What we are fighting against is an Islamic terrorist totalitarian movement which is as dire a threat to individual liberty as the fascist and communist totalitarian threats we faced and defeated in the last century."

Etzioni, the author of a new book entitled "From Empire to Community," maintains that the much-discussed empire-building of the Bush administration "lasted only six months" after the onset of war in Iraq, when the administration realized both in Iraq and elsewhere that it could no longer "go it alone."

A protracted conflict in Iraq turned a shunning of the United Nations into a courting, while other international crises, such as North Korea, proved they could only be addressed multilaterally, Etzioni says. Then came the wake-up to an over-stretched and "exhausted military."

Moreover, he says that "the greatest success of the Bush administration" - getting Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to relinquish his weapons programs and rejoin the world community - demonstrates "more than Afghanistan or Iraq the approach of the future."

That accomplishment, along with a series of appeals to the international community on several fronts, suggests that the Bush administration is a participant in the "communitarian" trend seen by Etzioni.

But the presidential campaign is also serving as the moment for opponents to weigh in on other administration policies, including the so-called "Bush doctrine" of preemptive military action.

Last week a bipartisan group of former ambassadors and military commanders launched an appeal to defeat President Bush, citing their opposition to the president's foreign policy. The group of 27 retired envoys and officers says Bush's "overbearing approach to America's role in the world" has actually weakened US national security.

The drive to be different

Yet some advocates of even more forceful American action on the world stage than the administration has delivered acknowledge that it's not surprising Mr. Bush's opponents are trying to downplay the multilateralist policies the administration has followed. "Of course John Kerry and his supporters are going to try to come up with something on foreign policy that sounds different from what the president is doing," says Michael Ledeen, a foreign-policy specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

If there's anything to say about the Bush administration's recent high-profile cooperation with the world community - at the UN on Iraq and at the G-8 summit in Georgia - "it's the continuity it displays," he adds, "not any break with the past."

As for global cooperation on Islamic terrorism, Mr. Ledeen says that "on such life-and-death matters" the US needs to be more prepared to go it alone. He cites the months of UN negotiations before the US went to war against Iraq as precious time lost that "allowed our enemies to better organize for the battle we're now fighting."

One of the criticisms Senator Lieberman could face from his own camp is that his calls for a global war of values transcending bipartisan interests could be interpreted as helpful to the incumbent. But Lieberman spokesman Matt Gobush says, "It's not a matter of saying that in order to win this war, you have to reelect Bush." Noting that his boss has campaigned for Kerry, Mr. Gobush says Lieberman's "critical point is that despite the rhetoric of the campaign, there is a larger demand: that we and a community of like-minded democracies around the world persist in the battle against a new form of totalitarianism."

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