Bradley Plays Foreign Policy Card (posted March 4, 2000)

In a major foreign policy speech at Brown University yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley called on the United States to end Export/Import Bank assistance to Russia in order to express dissatisfaction with that country's bloody war on Chechnya. Striking a tough tone against the Clinton-Gore Administration, Bradley lashed out at the White House saying it had brought a "volunteer fire department" mentality to foreign policy. Rather than lay out a bold vision, he said, Clinton and Gore merely lurched from one crisis to another, with no overall plan to guide their actions.

Bradley took an especially tough line on Russia, criticizing it not only for the attacks on unarmed civilians in Chechnya, but for rampant corruption in the government and anti-democratic steps in its internal operations. The presidential candidate also renewed his call for normalized trade relations with China and support for the World Trade Organization agreement recently unveiled in Seattle. He closed his speech by tying the lack of trust in the Clinton Administration to foreign policy. If people couldn't trust the administration, he asked, why should they trust its foreign policy?

The speech was unusual in that it raised an issue -- foreign policy -- that typically attracts little attention in presidential campaigns. Bradley himself in earlier speeches generally has de-emphasized foreign policy in order to discuss his differences with the administration on health care, education, and Medicare. The shift in focus represents an attempt by Bradley to open a new front with Gore. Given the limited success he has had on the domestic front, the new approach aims to redefine the terms of the debate along new terrain. As a strategic move, it is similar to Ted Kennedy's major speech on foreign policy at Georgetown University in 1980 during his failed effort to deny the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter. That speech gave Kennedy new life, and helped him do better against the Georgian Democrat. It remains to be seen whether the Brown University speech will give new life to Bradley's flagging campaign.