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Foreign-Policy Experience Still Matters

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IN his closing statements at the second and third presidential debates, President Bush argued that his proven ability to handle an international crisis is an important reason why Americans should reelect him.

Throughout the 1992 campaign, polls have shown that prospective voters give Mr. Bush a sizable edge over Gov. Bill Clinton when it comes to strong leadership of United States foreign-policy interests and vital national-security issues.

But many reporters commenting on Bush's plea for recognition of his foreign-policy credentials dismissed the president's argument out of hand.

With few exceptions, they confidently reminded viewers and Bush that the cold war is over, that no nation is going to attack the US, and that the president is facing a world scene so dramatically changed that reminders of his foreign-policy leadership are tiresome and irrelevant. To underscore their impatience with the president's insistence on mentioning security issues, pollsters display charts showing a host of domestic issues ranking solidly ahead of anything related to a foreign country.

The day after the Richmond debate, the Wall Street Journal asked four giants of the financial world if a repeat of the the stock-market crash of October 1987 was possible. Peter Lynch, former manager of the Magellan Fund, sketched a possibility for the intermediate future when he replied, "What if the Soviet Union becomes a giant Yugoslavia?"

Said Mr. Lynch: "The Soviet Union is a country loaded with nuclear weapons and is the third-largest oil producer in the world. It's pretty scary. The price of oil would take off. We used to pray for the conversion of Russia; now we pray that it will stay in business. Here's a country that's had years of repression, and their first experience with capitalism is a depression."

The Lynch scenario should be evaluated in light of disturbing current news. Russia is advertising for sale large inventories of military aircraft, submarines, missile systems, as well as technologies to enrich uranium, to potential customers with hard currency.

Meanwhile, ethnic hostilities simmer on Russia's periphery, the pain of economic reform begets popular Russian disillusionment, and elements of the still muscular Russian military sulk about declining prestige. Ultimately, what happens in Russian will greatly affect our security, international economic stability, and the volume of resources available for US domestic programs.

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