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Sludge Feedback: Dubya and Sludge Report #29

Dear C.D.,

Re. Sludge Report #29 –

Whatever the outcome of the US presidential election which, given that only around 50% of American voters cast their ballots, one might query whether indeed the 'world' is watching, US foreign policy is unlikely to change dramatically - even if George W. Bush wins. Despite the concerns expressed in Sludge #29 regarding Dubya, there are two reasons for continuity: first, the lack of difference between Bush and Gore, and, second, the constraints on the President.

First, as Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post writes in Sept/Oct 2000 issue of Foreign Policy, "...policy similarites almost guarantee that the presidential election with leave US diplomacy unaltered". While it is difficult to separate Gore's views from Clinton's in the foreign policy record of the last eight years, we do know something about what Gore has done and is thinking. There are differences from Bush, but they're not that significant.

Gore supported the Gulf War against Iraq (lambasted by Sludge), going against other Democratic Senators. He also took a hard line against Cuba during the Elian fiasco, no doubt with a close eye on local politics in Florida. He supported the Clinton policies of sanctions against Iraq, the drug war in Columbia, and has proposed building a missile defence shield - just not as large as Bush's.

Gore is also a fervent supporter of free trade, which sits uneasily with some of his environmental concerns. Clinton opened up Alaskan oil reserves for exports to China, removing a long-standing ban. Would Gore re-impose such a ban for environmental reasons? Gore, like Bush, is in favour of a strong military (and how it might be used differs more in emphasis than substance) and nuclear deterrence.

Gore may be able to deliver on some of his more progressive ideas but, if his choice of veep is any indication of his policy platform, he has positioned himself on the right of the Democrats. Bush's more conservative approach may make relations more difficult with Russia, China, Europe and even NZ, but the main disagreements between the US and others are on a deeper level.

Second, the President is firmly embedded in the larger institution of the US political system. With Congress controlling the budget, Jesse Helms blocking multilateralism in the Senate, and Washington being at the sharp-end of lobbying, pressure groups, and big money - what would change under Bush or Gore?

The US has had a constant theme in its post-World War II foreign policy: leading and shaping international institutions and systems to expand trade and ensure stability. There have been disagreements at the policy level and plenty of examples of mis-management, but there has been a discernable theme and a gradual evolution. As such, Sludge needs to look deeper to find the source of the concerns that plague #29, not just to George 'Dubya' Bush.

GWR.


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Dr Guy Wilson-Roberts
Deputy Director
Centre for Strategic Studies
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tel: 64 4 463 5233 ext 8825
64 4 463 5434
Fax: 64 4 463 5437
E-mail: guy.wilson-roberts@vuw.ac.nz
URL: http://www.vuw.ac.nz/css
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