WASHINGTON - In three months, either George W. Bush or Al Gore will be directing the economic power of the world's most prosperous nation and the military might of a nuclear-equipped force of some 2,000 aircraft, 300 warships and more than 2 million active and reserve troops.
How would each candidate deploy the resources of the world's only superpower?
Gore, a Democrat, advocates a vigorous, disciplined extension of U.S. muscle around the world to promote American interests and fight repression.
Bush, a Republican, says he would take a harder line against major powers such as China and Russia, but that he would not intervene in overseas crises as readily as has President Clinton.
After months of campaigning, each candidate seems to have tapped some of his party's heritage.
Counseled by retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, Bush occasionally echoes Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft, who opposed foreign entanglements in the years before World War II.
"If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road," Bush said in the first presidential debate with Gore.
Gore sometimes calls to mind President John F. Kennedy's committing America to "bear any burden, pay any price" to promote global freedom, or the voice of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat who led the nation through World War I and helped create the League of Nations.
"If we meet our great responsibility, I believe we cannot only deter aggression and create an ever more secure and widening world of security, but we can also shape, step by step, a future of liberty and opportunity across the world," Gore said in a speech last year.
To be sure, both men's advisers take issue with such comparisons, saying that the candidates' foreign policy views are rooted in hard, contemporary facts, not the past. And many international affairs veterans predict that, as always, much of the campaign's heated foreign policy rhetoric will cool into centrist pragmatism once the election victor actually takes power.
"I think either a Gore or a Bush foreign policy will differ less from a Clinton foreign policy than one might suppose," said Anthony Lake, Clinton's former national security adviser. "My point isn't the wisdom of Clinton's policies. It's that, after every election, candidates that were proclaiming their differences with the status quo find that America's interests haven't changed, even if the person in the Oval Office has changed."
Clinton offers a good example. During the 1992 campaign, he criticized President George Bush for failing to act decisively in the Balkans and for strengthening ties to China. But as president, Clinton, too, hesitated to intervene in the former Yugoslavia and sought better relations with Beijing.
Gore vs. Bush
Even so, the differences between Gore and Bush on overseas affairs are distinct enough to promise fundamentally different approaches.
Guided by longtime foreign policy aide Leon Fuerth, who many assume would be Gore's national security adviser, the vice president's thinking on international issues is based on what he calls "forward engagement," which his advisers describe as an open-eyed embrace of the world based on democratic and humanitarian values.
Gore's list of potential threats to U.S. security includes not just traditional gun-and-bomb menaces but impersonal forces such as AIDS, global warming and economic meltdowns.
Bush and running mate Dick Cheney "are fixated on the old agenda issues" of Russian power and ballistic missile threats, said Gore adviser Bruce Jentleson. "Gore understands the importance of relations with the major powers - Russia and China - and dealing with major hot spots like the Middle East. And at the same time, he has a good grasp on the new agenda."
Bush rejects the contention that his foreign policy views have been overly influenced by advisers from his father's administration, who some critics say are still focused on the Cold War.
Those advisers, led by former National Security Council staff member Condoleezza Rice, chide Gore for what they describe as a grandiose and unfocused view of U.S. world obligations. They acknowledge that the post-Cold War world is a more complicated place, but say that even a superpower needs to pick its fights carefully.
"Unless a president sets his own priorities, his priorities will be set by others - by adversaries, or the crisis of the moment, live on CNN," Bush has said.
In one category - world trade - Gore's promise of forward engagement rings false, Republicans charge. His advocacy of global environmental and labor standards is a cloak for protecting U.S. unions from overseas competition, they contend.
"Gore has tried to hide on these issues [free trade] because he's been courting the protectionist constituencies in his party," said Robert Zoellick, one of Bush's international policy advisers.
Both candidates have indicated that they would avoid what is often perceived as Clinton's penchant for ad hoc diplomacy, hesitation in crises and lack of a consistent foreign policy.
For Bush, who frequently draws on the Clinton administration for examples of what not to do, the comparison is explicit. For Gore, it is more subtle. But for all the differences in their foreign affairs views, there is a surprising harmony in their tendency to define themselves as not Clinton.
The key to a Gore presidency would be "anticipating as opposed to reacting," said Gordon Adams, a Gore defense adviser and former security specialist at the Office of Management and Budget.
Rejecting the Republican charge that a Gore White House would risk overextension, Adams said that Gore would not be "an episodic president," but would "bring a structured sense of looking at issues and problems globally at a stage early enough to deal with them before they become major crises."
Clinton has been criticized for his initial reluctance to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, his abrupt withdrawal from Somalia after the deaths of U.S. soldiers, his invasion of Haiti for few perceived U.S. benefits and second-guessing himself on the decision not to try to stop the Rwandan massacre.
Some political observers believe that a Bush or Gore presidency would be more aggressive than Clinton's, though in different ways.
For Gore, "anytime he thought our national interest was involved, no matter where it was - Iraq or Sierra Leone or wherever - I think he might be a little less hesitant in committing us" militarily than Clinton would have been, said former Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers, a Democrat.
Gore was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote in favor of U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf in 1991, and in the White House, he often pushed for a harder position against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic than did others in the Clinton administration.
Bush, who has said that Washington should set a timetable for turning over its Balkans peacekeeping duties to European allies, would be less likely than Gore to intervene in humanitarian crises such as Somalia, Kosovo or Rwanda, analysts said.
Bush adviser Zoellick said that while the Texas governor "doesn't rule out peacekeeping missions, he's obviously going to be pretty careful about them."
But Bush would probably take a tougher line than Gore with major powers such as Russia and China, foreign policy specialists said.
For example, Bush supports the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which would boost U.S.-Taiwan defense ties, and has charged the Clinton administration with "focusing our aid on a corrupt and favored elite" in Russia.
"A Bush administration would be more confrontational than either Gore or Clinton ... with regard to Russia," said Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington. "Under Gore, we would probably have a more interventionist policy than we had under Clinton. Clinton was largely media-driven and poll-driven. Gore would be proactive."
A centerpiece of Bush confrontation with Russia and China might be a missile defense to shield Americans and their allies from enemy rockets. Bush has promised to press ahead with an ambitious antimissile shield, which Beijing and Moscow fear would undermine their nuclear deterrents, although he has also promised to consider cutting U.S. offensive capability.
Gore advocates a less ambitious system that would be built only after conferring with Russia on amending the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits all but a tiny antimissile capability in Russia and the United States.
Gore vs. Bush on foreign policy
George W. Bush
National Missile Defense
Would begin work on a land- and sea-based system to shoot down enemy missiles, even if it involved breaking the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.
Using U.S. forces overseas
Would put the lives of troops at risk only "if it's in our vital national interest, and that means whether our territory is threatened or people could be harmed, whether or not ... our defense alliances are threatened."
U.S. troops in the Balkans
Would ask Europeans to take over in Bosnia, Kosovo.
Would continue economic sanctions and boost resources for Iraqi opposition groups. Has threatened to bomb Iraqi nuclear or biological weapons sites.
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Opposes it on the grounds that it would not be verifiable and would hamper U.S. ability to check the effectiveness of American weapons.
Favors freer trade with China but would boost U.S. military support for Taiwan.
Criticizes the Clinton-Gore administration for placing too much faith in Boris N. Yeltsin and other Russian leaders. Would continue to work with Russia to control nuclear proliferation.
National Missile Defense
Favors further testing before building a missile defense. Would seek Russia's approval to amend the ABM treaty to allow both nations to deploy limited systems.
Using U.S. forces overseas
Would be quicker to use military force in purely humanitarian crises. "There are situations like in Bosnia and Kosovo where there's a genocide, where our national security is at stake there."
U.S. troops in the Balkans
Would maintain U.S. presence.
Would maintain the Clinton administration's economic sanctions and military containment of Iraq.
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Promises to reintroduce the treaty to Congress, where it was defeated last year.
Supports freer trade with China but favors linking environmental and labor standards to reductions in trade regulations. Opposes efforts to increase defense cooperation between Washington and Taiwan.
Played a key role in fashioning the U.S.-Russian relationship. Believes Washington must continue to engage Moscow, even if its leaders aren't perfect. Would continue nonproliferation efforts.
SOURCE: SUN WASHINGTON BUREAU