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America's Next Diplomat in Chief

THE foremost issues in the 1992 US presidential campaign are domestic, with the recession at the top of the list. Understandably, the Democratic candidates are focusing their attention on economic and social matters. But a president's portfolio also includes foreign policy and national defense; and, as the Gulf war showed, sometimes an international crisis can sweep all other matters off a president's desk.

The Democratic hopefuls have to demonstrate to American voters that they can handle presidential responsibilities beyond the nation's borders.

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None of the Democratic challengers has significant foreign-policy experience. Indeed, their party has had little recent, hands-on involvement in foreign and security matters. Most of the people who would staff the top jobs at the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council in a Democratic administration have spent the last decade at think tanks or on university faculties, not in the thick of the policymaking melee.

Moreover, in the eyes of many voters the Democrats bear the burden of proving that their party isn't "soft" in protecting American interests abroad. The opposition of most Democratic leaders to the Gulf war may have added to that burden.

At the same time, though, the events of recent years have aided Democrats. With the end of the cold war, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the rise of Japan as an economic superpower, a new global environment has emerged in which George Bush's resume looks somewhat dated.

President Bush was never a prominent cold warrior, trailing the feathers of a hawk. Yet he gained his foreign-policy experience as a member of successive Republican administrations during a time when the superpower standoff set the agenda for America's international strategy.

Now, a new global outlook and strategy for the United States is needed. Bush, no less than the Democratic candidates, must persuade voters that he understands a world in which "national security" means more than just military strength.

For America's next commander in chief and diplomat in chief, events have placed a premium on insight and creativity as much as on experience.

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