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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U. S. global voice fades out

Just before this week's final round of presidential primary elections. Jerry Brown met a group of reporters as he went to give a speech at the Columbia Studios in Hollywood. We asked if he had been faced with many foreign policy questions by the California voters. "You just asked the first one", Brown said.

We put the same question to Bill Clinton, who said, yes, he had been asked a question about Israel and one about Japan. "This ain't What you'd call a foreign policy year", concluded the Democrat's new candidate for the presidency.

Foreign affairs have declined so far in U. S. thinking that the hot rumor this week is that Secretary of State James Baker is posed to resign from his command of American diplomacy to take charge of President Bush's faltering re-election campaign. Baker served as Bush campaign manager in 1980, and again in 1988.

Baker is very good at the work, ruthless and with sharp political instincts. He is so old and close a friend to Bush that when Baker gives orders on a campaign everybody obeys - including the presidential candidate. It would speak volumes about Bush's fears of losing the election if Baker does step down from the State Depart ment to run the campaign, but it would also say a lot about the low priority the rest of the world now has in America.

This is partly because American voters are focusing on the presidential elections, and partly because of sheer exhaustion. During the last four years of the Bush administration, the United States has overdosed on foreign affairs. The voters have watched the massacre in China's Tianamen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, the invasion of Panama, the Gulf War and the Middle East peace talks, the Moscow coup and the Soviet collapse.

The current mood among American voters is that this has all been wonderful history and compulsive television, but expensive. This economic recession has gone on so long that. American voters want the money to be spent at home, on them. and only one of the political candidates dares make that case for the United States to keep up its international responsibilities.

There has been little talk about the New World Order being applied to the vicious wars in the Balkans and the Transcaucasus.

This election campaign so far has seen a strange auction, as the politicians compete to promise how quickly the U. S. troops can be brought home from abroad. The 300, 000 U. S. troops who were in Europe when Bush became president are down to fewer than 200, 000 now, to be cut to 150, 000 in the next two years. Bill Clinton talks of cutting them back to 50, 000-75, 000 men, and Jerry Brown wanted them all brought home. The third-party billion aire businessman Ross Perot, currently leading in the polls, says U. S. troops will remain overseas only if the Europeans and Japanese each pay $50 billion a year in protection money.

This is ridiculous. The United States has its own national strategic reasons to keep a military presence in Europe and Japan, whatever the costs. It is one way to ensure that Japan and Germany do not develop nuclear weapons, adding military weight to the economic challenge they already present.

And the costs of the Pentagon are no longer a serious burden. By the end of 1995, under the current budgets, the United States will be spending 3. 6 per cent of its gross domestic product on defense. This will be the lowest level since 1940, the year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. It is not that the United States can no longer afford a world role; the voters no longer want to, and the presidential candidates have lost the political courage to explain why they should. Now this petulant mood of America First has gone further. It is one level of irresponsibility for the politicians of the world's last super power to avoid talking about foreign policy because it might cost them votes. It is something else when the fragile planet is at stake.

The United States has now refused to sign the biodiversity treaty, designed to protect endangered species, and has torpedoed the treaty to control global warming by setting limits for pollution emissions. As the voters turn inward to domestic problems, and President Bush fights for his political life, it looks as if this election will not confront the real international question: Where is that fabled U. S. global leadership now that the planet really needs it?