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THE WORLD FROM...Washington

Foreign crisis could intrude into US election despite Bush pledge not to let that happen

IN a brief and pointed aside during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, President Bush promised that he would never let politics interfere with a foreign policy decision. What he didn't mention was that foreign policy is likely to interfere with American politics before November rolls around.

While the presidential campaign has increasingly dominated the American media, world problems have gone about their grim business, heedless of debate on family values.

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In Bosnia the shelling goes on; in Somalia the starving goes on; in Iraq President Saddam Hussein continues to duck and weave in response to United Nations demands. It is possible that, sometime in the next few months, something will happen somewhere in the world with the potential to sway public opinion in the United States.

The Bush administration has been heavily criticized for acting tougher in Iraq at the time of the Houston convention. But it is not necessarily certain that a foreign crisis would benefit President Bush.

"The world is too unpredictable for that to be a sure thing," says one longtime Washington defense analyst often critical of the administration.

"I'm just not cynical enough," the analyst says, to believe Bush would create a foreign confrontation for his own political aggrandizement.

Of course, during election seasons the US always looks at the rest of the world a little bit differently.

It becomes more two-dimensional than usual, almost an adjunct to US territory.

Bush's convention speech had more than a dollop of this attitude. Not that foreign policy was not mentioned at all: it was, at length.

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The president emphasized over and over again that on his watch the cold war had ended, and communism died. Yet the struggle was presented as one between the Oval Office and the Kremlin.

There was no mention of Lech Walsea, or Vaclav Havel, or Boris Yeltsin, or the millions of faceless Central and East Europeans without whom the fall of the Iron Curtain would not have happened.

US debate about the new "no fly" zone in southern Iraq is also indicative. There have been many opinion-page articles about Bush's possible political motives in Iraq, while there has been much less discussion about whether establishing the zone is the right thing to do.

After all, protecting the Shiites in southern Iraq is a big step for the US and its allies to take.

It makes another armed confrontation with Saddam Hussein far more likely, and perhaps soon, as Saddam has said he rejects the "no fly" zone's premise. It raises the possibility of Iraqi territory eventually splitting into different Kurdish, Sunni Muslim, and Shiite nations, though the administration says it doesn't want this to happen.

If another spate of shooting erupts in Iraq, the old rally-round-the-flag effect could boost the president's political prospects. Bush could have a chance to exercise that old poll-boosting magic of multiple phone calls to world leaders.

But a crisis could just as easily turn sour. Many voters might feel that Bush was picking a fight for domestic political reasons.

And the whole thing could point out that Saddam Hussein remains embarrassingly in power.

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