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How to test candidates on foreign policy

To the surprise of everyone, including the candidates, foreign policy is the centerpiece of the presidential sweepstakes of 1980. President Carter's advisers are hoping the drama of White House crisis management will turn off questions about White House responsibility for what now needs to be managed. The other candidates, after a couple of months of rallying round the President, or at least the flag, are beginning to find ways to debate foreign policy without sounding gauche.

How do we the people tell whether it's likely that any of these other men, of assorted ages, qualifications, and track records, would handle things better?

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The Carter administration is most vulnerable, not in the detailed positions it takes from day to day, but in the absence of a sense of strategy that links together all the things Washington is trying to do and the things it is trying to avoid. So during the next few months we who are going to have to vote in November will have to examine with an especially critical eye, not just the endless list of specialized "positions" but whether the other candidates are articulately conscious of what the Carter administration has found so baffling, the need to "get it all together."

Each time a candidate talks in your hearing about American foreign policy, I suggest you ask yourself four questions:

* Is he helping us understand that "domestic" and "international" are two aspects of each other -- that there are international impacts and implications in everything we do and say "at home," and "domestic" consequences for Americans in everything that happens abroad? Does he think, for example, that inflation is "domestic economics" or a global challenge?

* Does he seem to understand, and is he able to get across, the ways in which each foreign policy issue is dynamically related to all the other foreign policy issues?

* Is he emphasizing, or neglecting, the importance of tackling international problems only in close cooperation with wider communities of the concerned -- sometimes with our immediate allies and biggest trading partners, sometimes with the developing countries or some of them, sometimes with "those who would be our adversaries," sometimes (as in the World Weather Watch) with practically the whole world? Or is he preoccupied with stamping an American trademark on every international undertaking?

The measure of any society is whether its people think their Golden Age is in their past or in their future. Does what the candidate says, and what he does, reinforce or undermine our national selfconfidence in our capacity to overcome?


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