The Boston Phoenix
May 18 - 25, 2000


Elephant walk

Battle of the '80s-era presidents

by Seth Gitell

One of the big questions about George W. Bush -- does he follow the Ronald "you can run, but you can't hide" Reagan school of foreign policy, or does he adhere to his father's more moderate ways? -- may have been answered this past Monday at the Kennedy School of Government.

The Kennedy School and the Overseas Development Council, a Washington-based think tank, sponsored a conference called "America's National Interests in Multilateral Engagement: A Bipartisan Dialogue." Organizers invited the campaigns of Al Gore and George W. Bush to send speakers to talk about "Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next President and Congress."

The Gore campaign sent Richard Gardner, a former American ambassador to Spain, to speak to the group Sunday night at the Charles Hotel. The Bush campaign planned to send Condoleeza Rice, a former national security adviser to President Bush, until a family emergency prevented her from attending. Princeton Lyman, a visiting fellow at the Overseas Development Council, announced that Richard Haass, a member of President Bush's National Security Council, would substitute for Rice -- at her recommendation.

Close observers of the Bush camp's behind-the-scenes battle over foreign policy see this as a clear sign that W. intends to practice his father's diplomatic ways -- rather than the assertive, Reagan-style approach that former Reagan-administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle have been pushing. Rice, a protégé of Brent Scowcroft, has been advocating the more pragmatic approach favored by President Bush.

"In short, the real battle is between Reagan and Bush foreign policies," says David Wurmser, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Haass's visibility at this event suggests a tip toward the Scowcroft-Bush Sr. camp."

During his talk, Haass indicated that Bush would be willing to work with international bodies, such as the United Nations, on a "pragmatic" basis, and argued against a "theological" advocacy of strategic missile defense, often called "Star Wars."

Haass denied that having any official role in the Bush campaign, saying, "I'm just speaking for me."