Bush, Kerry offer little contrast on foreign policy
WASHINGTON (AFP) Apr 19, 2004
As their campaign for November's election gathers steam, US President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry are offering contrasting styles but often little substantive difference on foreign policy.

Kerry has toughened his language to counter Republican charges he was weak on defense while the White House has worked hard to eradicate Bush's image of a lone cowboy prowling the international scene.

While polls show the economy uppermost in the minds of US voters, they also show the war in Iraq and security as major factors in what has already become a bitter personal contest.

Kerry's main line of attack has been to accuse Bush of running a "stunningly ineffective" foreign policy that has bruised key alliances, bogged the country down in Iraq and hurt the United States' global standing.

The Massachusetts senator said in a televised interview Sunday that he would make a priority of repairing relations abroad. "If I'm president, I will not only personally go to the UN, I will go to other capitals," he said.

But in concrete terms, Kerry has offered little more on Iraq than a pledge to bring in the United Nations, as Bush has already done to help restore Iraqi self-rule, and try to muster more international troops.

The Republican incumbent is also preaching the virtues of international troops and is reportedly ready to an unveil a new drive to boost the number of multi-national peacekeepers for duty in Africa and elsewhere.

The two men have different speeches on the war on terror prompted by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Bush calls himself an out-and-out "war" president, while Kerry says the task is primarily police and intelligence-gathering.

But both have made clear their readiness to use US military force pre-emptively and alone if necessary.

"I will not wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake," Kerry said in February. A month earlier Bush said he would "never seek a permission slip" to invade a country like Iraq if US security was at stake.

Bush and Kerry have also followed roughly the same trajectory on various other foreign policy issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, relations with Iran and the decades-old Cuban embargo.

Kerry embraced the Middle East peace "road map" laid out by Bush for establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005 and has, like Bush, taken a more pro-Israeli line as the peace process faltered.

The Democrat was right behind the president when Bush said last week that Israel could keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East conflict, and when he dropped support for the right of Palestinians to return to their pre-war homes.

Kerry also echoed the White House line on the weekend assassination of Abdelaziz Rantissi, chief of the Palestinian radical group Hamas, with both stressing the right of Israel to defend itself against presumed terrorists.

On Iran, Kerry has called for direct talks with Iran, a quarter-century after diplomatic ties were cut with the Islamic republic. Bush administration officials have also expressed interest in restarting some sort of dialogue.

Kerry, who once called for a major review of US policy towards Fidel Castro's communists in Cuba, had little appetite to challenge the embargo slapped on Havana, with the Latino-heavy state of Florida so important in the upcoming election.

"I wouldn't want to just announce a policy without sitting with people in the community, listening carefully, trying to build a consensus and see what we can do," he said Sunday.

Kerry and Bush do have clear differences in some areas, however, notably their approach to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. Bush has stuck to multilateral negotiations bringing in Asian powers and Russia, while Kerry would seek bilateral talks on a range of questions.

The Democrat has also staked out a much firmer pro-environmental stance, pledging to rejoin international efforts to combat problems such as the depleted ozone layer and global warming.