It's Not Just Iraq

In 2004, foreign policy--not domestic economic issues--have been front and center in the presidential campaign, more so than at anytime since the Vietnam war. But both Bush and Kerry have devoted most of their energies to the Iraq debate, only sporadically mentioning other key global concerns. Sifting through the fragmentary evidence, here's a scorecard on how a second Bush administration and a Kerry administration would differ--or not--in dealing with a broad range of foreign policy questions:

IRAN

Bush: Hawks in the Bush administration are calling for United Nations sanctions on Iran unless it gives up its quest for nuclear weapons, but that won't be an easy sell. Bush would have to arm-twist the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the Iran problem to the U.N., and security council members like China, which buys 17 per cent of its oil from Iran, would hardly be enthusiastic backers of sanctions. Bush is likely to face further strains with Iran if he makes good on promises to investigate claims of the 9/11 Commission Report that Iran aided Al Qaeda operatives.

Kerry: Almost certain to face many of the same difficulties in mobilizing the U.N. to act. Says he would close a loophole in the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty that allows countries like Iran to use civilian nuclear projects as a cover for programs to develop nuclear weapons. Aides say he will lead European partners to take a tougher stance on Iran, including multilateral sanctions and/or a pledge to provide and track fuel. Promises to exchange anti-Iranian terrorists based in Iraq for Al Qaeda operatives in Iran.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Bush: Unlikely to waver in his support for Sharon's plan for a full Gaza withdrawal and annexation of parts of the West Bank. Although he refused to negotiate with Yasir Arafat, Bush could find that any successor would be a more appealing negotiating partner.

Kerry: Also a strong supporter of Israel, Kerry says he would appoint an ambassador to the peace process to report directly to him and the secretary of State. His goal will be to revive some version of the Roadmap by establishing verifiable security benchmarks that the Palestinian Authority can accept.

SAUDI ARABIA

Bush: Expect continued strong ties and a defense of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Says Saudi Arabia is working with the United States to fight terrorism and to hunt down Al Qaeda operatives in the country.

Kerry: Calls U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia "unacceptable" and vows to confront the Saudis on funding for terrorist groups. Says American ingenuity will help decrease dependence on Saudi oil, which would make it easier to press the kingdom to institute internal reforms. If he sticks to his word, expect fireworks.

AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN

Bush: While Afghanistan's presidential elections last month were chalked up as a big success for Bush's policy, there may be differences with President Hamid Karzai's government on some issues. Already, the Bush administration is opposing Karzai's call for international help to disarm warlords, since it doesn't want to see foreign troops bogged down in local fighting. Although Osama bin Laden may be hiding out in Pakistan's tribal areas, Bush will continue to consider Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror.

Kerry: Says his war on terror will focus on capturing the Qaeda leader and not on pre-emptive wars like the one in Iraq. To secure the peace in Afghanistan, Kerry has indicated he will be willing to call for more allied troops on the ground as part of a "long-term commitment." Kerry has charged that Pakistan misled the U.S. on weapons proliferation and promises a tougher line, especially in urging President Pervez Musharraf's government to control the tribal areas.

NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA

Bush: A second term may produce a more focused approach to North Korea's nuclear development. Expect more six-party talks, and continued opposition to the bilateral talks Pyongyang has been advocating. Since ordering the pullout of 12,500 U.S. troops from South Korea to deal with threats elsewhere, Bush hasn't indicated whether further "redeployments" are likely in a second term.

Kerry: In a clear shift in policy, the Democrat has indicated he will resume bilateral talks with North Korea. Kerry has also been critical of the troop withdrawals from South Korea, arguing they are sending the wrong signal to North Korea at a time when more, not less, pressure is needed to convince it to forfeit its nuclear weapons program.

CHINA

Bush: After starting out with a testy relationship with China, Bush reversed course and now sees close ties as essential. While supporting a "one China" policy on Taiwan and "one country, two systems" for Hong Kong, he sees China as the best hope for keeping the multi-party talks with North Korea on track.

Kerry: While sticking to Bush's "one China" policy, Kerry has vowed to take a stronger stance on trade and piracy issues, and on human rights. But whether this campaign rhetoric will shape policy remains to be seen. On China, winning candidates (Clinton, Bush) tend to talk a lot softer once they get into office.

JAPAN

Bush: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been a strong supporter of Bush's tough negotiating stance with North Korea, and a loyal member of "the coalition of the willing" on Iraq. Expect relations to remain warm if Bush is re-elected.

Kerry: While he may push to eliminate indirect barriers to U.S. imports, Kerry is unlikely to push for any major changes in the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

EUROPE

Bush: After pursuing close ties with the new entrants from Eastern Europe and also backing Turkey's bid to join the European Union, Bush, in the best-case scenario, could begin mending relations with "old Europe" nations, particularly Germany and maybe even France. Seem far-fetched? Bush claims "bitter differences" are in the past, and supporters contend that a second Bush Administration could prove to be as much of a surprise to Western Europeans as Reagan's second term was. The worst case: a continuation of the current bitter divisions and recriminations.

Kerry: While lambasting Bush for alienating much of the rest of the world, Kerry insists he will do a better job of getting allies to help with Iraq and other trouble spots. As a first step, he promises to convene a summit with European and world leaders to combat terrorism. Sensitive to criticism that he didn't credit Poland and other nations that have dispatched troops to Iraq, he says he will give them a good shot at Iraqi reconstruction contracts. He also has talked about easing visa restrictions on Poles and others from Central Europe, which would be a highly popular move.

RUSSIA

Bush: Don't expect major changes. Bush will push for expanded cooperation on energy and military issues, and will urge the Kremlin to help deal with Iran and North Korea on nukes. But he'll keep calling President Vladmir Putin by his favorite nickname, "Pootie-Poot," and is unlikely to protest loudly against his increasingly authoritarian ways.

Kerry: Has no nicknames for Putin--yet. He vows to accelerate programs to safeguard Russia's nuclear stockpiles, achieving that goal within four years. Kerry also says that economic cooperation with Russia must be linked to improvements in Russia's record on human rights, the rule of law and independent media. Don't hold your breath for dramatic results.

AFRICA

Bush: Has promised to triple U.S. funding to fight HIV/AIDS overseas, and one Bush program aims to increase U.S. development aid to Africa by 50 per cent between 2003-2006. But African farmers are still unlikely to find it easy to export their crops to the U.S. Libya will be a prime focus for new oil deals.

Kerry: Also vows to increase AIDS spending dramatically, and has attacked Bush for "equivocating" on Sudan's Darfur tragedy, urging the U.N. to act. Kerry's willingness, or unwillingness, to push for real action may be one of his earliest tests as a leader.

MEXICO

Bush: With continued tensions over immigration issues, the U.S.-Mexican relationship has soured. Bush favors a U.S. program to match foreign guest workers with American employers, and opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants. Without new overtures, expect relations to continue to slide downwards.

Kerry: Promises to offer a reform bill in his first 100 days in office that allows immigrants to legalize their status and encourages family reunification. Once they are screened for security purposes, undocumented immigrants would have a chance to become citizens after five years. A limited number of temporary workers would be allowed into the U.S., who would be promised full protection under current U.S. labor laws. That is, if he can convince Congress to go along with such measures.

COLOMBIA AND CUBA

Bush: A likely doubling of the number of U.S. forces in Colombia and an increase in the number of civilian contractors to fight the narcotics trade. Expect continuing sanctions on Cuba and no let-up on travel restrictions.

Kerry: No extra troops for Colombia, but he proposes a "Community of the Americas" package to focus support on security, education and development issues. Arguing that Bush's approach to Cuba has been overly punitive, he would ease travel restrictions and may allow some financial remittances that Bush has blocked.

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