Democrats rise to Bush's foreign policy challenge

THE DEMOCRATIC ticket in the US elections, led by Bill Clinton, continued to strive yesterday to convert the seemingly unpromising territory of foreign policy into an issue of advantage over President George Bush.

At the same time the Field Poll in California gave Mr Clinton a 34-point lead over Mr Bush, the largest lead for a presidential nominee in the 45-year history of the poll. Mr Clinton scored 62 per cent against 28 per cent for Mr Bush. In the same poll last September Mr Bush led Mr Clinton 60 per cent to 23 per cent. Mr Bush appealed in newspaper advertisements yesterday for the backing of those who supported the former independent candidate, Ross Perot, and decided to shorten a planned 11-day August holiday in Maine by one week.

Carrying on the fierce debate that has erupted over recent days between the rival camps over international affairs, Al Gore, Mr Clinton's running-mate, repeated claims that the Bush administration had mishandled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who was 'thumbing his nose at the rest of the world'. Mr Gore, speaking at a rally in Philadelphia, also attempted to score double points by suggesting that Mr Bush had not just erred in his handling of Iraq and other world problems but had at the same time spent too much time on international diplomacy and 'turned his back' on problems at home.

For Mr Clinton, who as Governor of the small land-locked state of Arkansas has no experience in world affairs, foreign policy was always going to be difficult territory. But when it came to the fore as a campaign issue last week, as Mr Bush played chicken on the world stage with President Saddam, the Democrats looked ready for combat. The Republicans, naturally, saw the crisis as a chance to reinforce the image of Mr Bush as the world's leader. Network television helpfully broadcast images of Mr Bush huddled at Camp David with his security advisers. The President, looking to score election points, bragged that only he had what it takes to 'stand up to the Baghdad bully'.

The Clinton-Gore team, however, was ready with the counter- punch, underlining that Saddam Hussein might have been off the scene long ago had he not been 'coddled' by the Bush administration before the Gulf war. At the same time, Mr Clinton carefully avoided criticism of Mr Bush's handling of the immediate crisis, backing consideration of military action to enforce UN resolutions.

The ease with which Mr Clinton is taking almost hawkish positions on world issues - he has also suggested military strikes against Serbia to allow humanitarian aid into Sarajevo - fits into the wider pattern of a candidacy distinctly more centrist in philosophy than those of past Democrat campaigns, including that of Michael Dukakis in 1988. It is a shift that immediately makes Mr Clinton a trickier target for Republicans to strike at.

Behind the Clinton strategy is a team of foreign policy advisers, most of whose members have been in place and working up position papers since before the start even of the primary campaign.

MANAMA - UN experts found no evidence of weapons programmes in Iraq's Agriculture Ministry and Baghdad said yesterday Saddam Hussein's dignity had been restored during his stand-off with the West, AP reports. After the search the head of the UN team said: 'There is room for concern some major material might have been brought out.'

(Photograph omitted)

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