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WASHINGTON LETTER Sep-24-2004 (1,070 words) Backgrounder. With photo posted today and logos posted March 10. xxxn

Campaign '04: War on terrorism dominates foreign policy debate

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dominated the first term of President George W. Bush, the war on terrorism is dominating the foreign policy issues of the 2004 presidential campaign.

While there is much debate about defeating terrorists and U.S. involvement in Iraq, there has been little campaign discussion about fighting global poverty, solving regional conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, combating the global pandemic of AIDS, debt relief for poor countries and international arms reduction treaties.

The U.S. bishops see all of these issues as an integral part of an effective world struggle against terrorism.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, "we must be careful not to define our security primarily in military terms," said the bishops in "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," their 2004 election guide for Catholics.

"Our nation must join with others in addressing policies and problems that provide fertile ground in which terrorism can thrive," it said.

Although there are notable differences about fighting the war on terrorism between Bush and his Democratic rival, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, experts interviewed by Catholic News Service see minimal differences between the two on other pivotal foreign policy issues.

Bush's terrorism policy is that "the best defense is a good offense," said James M. Lindsay, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan New York-based think tank.

"The assumption is that you can wipe out terrorists or at least wipe them out faster than they can replenish themselves," said Lindsay, the National Security Council's director for global issues from 1996-97 during the Clinton administration.

Kerry does not see current involvement in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, he said.

Kerry's anti-terrorism policy includes more emphasis on homeland security, working more with European allies and rethinking current policies in Afghanistan, said Lindsay.

The candidates' plans for ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq will depend more on the situation in Iraq on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, than on promises made during the campaign, he said.

On other major issues, foreign policy experts see approaches rather than goals as the delineator between Bush and Kerry.

A key example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The positions of both candidates include:

-- Strong support for Israel.

-- Reforms within the Palestinian Authority to develop a new leadership committed to ending violence and to living in peace with Israel.

-- The eventual creation of a Palestinian state with the borders to be determined through negotiations.

Middle East experts, however, said Kerry would take a more activist role in seeking solutions.

"The crucial difference is that Bush would do the minimum necessary to manage the crisis, while Kerry would be more fully engaged, be more personally committed," said Allen Keiswetter, adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, an independent think tank in Washington.

When Bush took office, he tried to avoid becoming seriously involved but he was "mugged by reality" when the Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians caused him to become more active in seeking solutions, said Keiswetter, a foreign service officer from 1967-2003.

He was deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in 2000-01 during the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush presidency.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, a foreign policy adviser to the bishops and associate editor of the national Catholic magazine America, agreed that there is little difference between the two candidates on Israeli-Palestinian policy.

He added, however, that the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace have deteriorated significantly during the Bush presidency, making it difficult for whoever wins to seek a solution.

Father Christiansen and other experts also cited a greater emphasis by Kerry on international cooperation and use of international agencies in foreign policy matters.

Lindsay, of the foreign policy council, said Bush is skeptical of international agreements and institutions because he believes they can hinder use of U.S. power to achieve goals.

Kerry believes that international agreements and working with allies gives the United States greater leverage in achieving its objectives, said Lindsay.

The bishops' guidelines call for U.S. support of the United Nations and other international organizations to address world problems such as regional conflicts.

An analysis of the candidates' positions on arms trading and arms reduction in light of "Faithful Citizenship" appears on BustedHalo, a Web site sponsored by Paulist Young Adult Ministries.

The U.S. bishops call it a "moral imperative" that the United States work to curb the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and "reduce its own reliance on weapons of mass destruction."

BustedHalo said Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty and supports development of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. It said Kerry voted for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and opposes the development of tactical nuclear weapons.

Regarding the conventional arms trade, BustedHalo said that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks the United States has begun selling arms to six countries -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Yugoslavia -- that were formerly banned from receiving such aid. It said Kerry co-sponsored a U.S. code of conduct that prohibits arms exports to governments which abuse human rights and are engaged in armed aggression.

The bishops also urged U.S. programs to curb world poverty and underdevelopment.

Under Bush, the United States has promoted programs to fight AIDS, especially in Africa; advanced efforts to reduce the foreign debt of poor countries; and developed the Millennium Challenge Account, which ties foreign aid to anti-corruption and good government practices in underdeveloped countries.

On these issues, "Bush was able to do what the Democrats said should be done," said Lindsay.

Such programs would be compatible with Kerry's views, but Kerry would not have success advancing them if Republicans controlled at least one house of Congress, said Lindsay.

If re-elected, Bush would have more success with Republicans, he said. "Bush is tough on Republicans who oppose him."

"Faithful Citizenship" also calls on the U.S. government to promote religious liberty as a human right in its foreign policy.

The Republican Party platform supports promoting religious liberty abroad. The Democratic Party platform is silent on the issue.

Lindsay said promoting religious liberty is possible in many parts of the world but either candidate would find it impractical in important Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Sudan.


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