It is still a dangerous world. The United States cannot isolate itself but must remain engaged. While the Cold War seems to be ending and democracy advances in all continents, the United States must retain a military defense role, reshaped to the new realities.
Perhaps few Americans would disagree with these propositions. Yet some members of Congress, dealing with issues from budget priorities to foreign policy, would refute each one. Vice President Dan Quayle came to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations yesterday to reassert these truths.
"How many more Saddam Husseins are out there," he asks, "waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting world?" Mr. Quayle was making a plea for military spending, not at the old level, but reflecting a smaller scale, a "qualitative edge," including strategic weapons, with respect to other nuclear or near-nuclear powers and the uncertainties in the Soviet Union.
Certainly the lesson of Iraq is not that Saddam Hussein is uniquely demonic but that in a number of countries the potential remains for chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry with strategic delivery to be unleashed for demonic purpose. Missile and chemical warfare proliferation are as disturbing as nuclear proliferation. The chaos in Yugoslavia is a menace to the peace of its neighbors. The traumatic restructuring of the Soviet republics raises many questions.
Mr. Quayle, who is evolving into the responsible spokesman for administration policies that a vice president should be, made an effective statement of the Bush administration world view. He exulted in the democratic revolution embracing the globe and its "challenge to review our assumptions about the way the world works."
Few diplomatists have made a better link between democracy and stability: "Democratic institutions are the closest thing we have to a guarantee that governments will not wage wars of aggression. Democratic institutions are the best peace plans, the most effective arms control plans and the most enduring collective security guarantees." On a case-by-case review, that sometimes is the administration's practical message to other regimes. The principle is sound. Conservatives and liberals should agree on it.