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UNITED STATES: Foreign Policy under George W. Bush

Diplomatic correspondence is super secret. It will be fascinating, when they finally become available, to read their reports on a speech given by Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The audience gave him a standing ovation, but the diplomats must have expressed different degrees of concern.

Helms' tone was triumphalist. He boasted that the Republicans would control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, not mentioning that the tie in the Senate would require the vote of the Vice-President to break it and that in the House the Republican majority was seven. He thanked the Cuban Americans who ensured the victory in Florida which gave George W. Bush the presidency. He made no reference to the odd circumstances of that victory and showed no embarrassment over it. His references to the Clinton administration were harsh.

His address fell into two parts: religious and military. He damned AID and vowed virtually to abolish that agency, while he had high praise for religious organizations as exemplars of compassionate conservatism, singling out Samaritan's Purse, based in his own state of North Carolina and directed by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. He described its humanitarian work in places like the Sudan. He stressed that these faith-based operations do not receive a cent of government aid and cost the tax-payer nothing. However, Helms plans to create an International Aid Foundation, which apparently would receive government aid. It looked as though the plan was part of a deal with the Christian right.

In the military area he spoke of strengthening the US armed might and of developing a star wars program, even thought that would mean repudiating the ABM treaty. He made no reference to the feasibility of the program and brushed aside objections from other powers. He showed no desire to be conciliatory with Russia, and he was particularly hard on Castro's Cuba, vowing to strengthen the Helms-Burton embargo and enforce the 1998 Cuba Solidarity Act.. Quoting the remark that, like a cat, Castro's regime has nine lives, but predicted that it was coming to the end of its ninth life and that President Bush would go to Cuba for the inauguration of the first freely-elected president. It was not clear if he meant that the US would actively promote the downfall of Castro.

He spoke warmly of Mexico's President Fox (who incidentally as the backing of the Catholic Church). The implication was that the US would support a military campaign by him against the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It is probable that the attempts by Fox to open a dialog with them are intended to show that the government had made all the concessions, so that failure to reach an agreement would be due to the intransigeance of the Zapatistas, and that therefore military action was necessary. It seemed obvious that the US will support military action in Colombia and push Plan Colombia.

Helms vowed to give Taiwan modern military equipment to defend itself against the threat from mainland China. He made no reference to the improvement in the relations between the two Chinas or to the harsh response which his plan might evoke in China. He showed little concern over the reaction of other countries to his plans, and obviously felt that the US could go it alone with no concern for niceties. He damned Clinton for having signed the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and vowed that it would be dead on arrival when it reached the Senate for confirmation.

He avoided specifics, especially regarding the Middle East. Partly because Joe Lieberman was the Democratic candidate for the vice.presidency, Jews generally voted the Democratic ticket, whereas the majority of Muslims voted for Bush, In addition to the obvious deal with the Christian right, Helms' praise for Pope John Paul II was an appeal to the Catholic community. Backed by the Christians and the Muslims, Helms and the Bush administration might push for the internationalization of Jerusalem, giving equal rights to Muslims, Christians and Jews. This appears to be the only way to bring fairness and peace to the area, and so deserves strong support.

In general, however, Helms showed little awareness of or sensitivity to the complexity of the world scene, and this appears to be true of the Bush team generally. The danger is that the US may blunder into a situation from which it would be difficult to extricate itself. Helms made some patronizing references to Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, who seems like a pussy. The Senate has a Foreign Relations Committee, the House and International Relations Committee. "Foreign" sounds more menacing that "International". Helms must approve of the choice of words.

Ronald Hilton - 1/14/01