July 27, 2004 | Wall Street Journal

Burning Bridges

A Democratic foreign policy is what I was looking for when I switched on the TV Monday to watch the opening lineup at the Democratic Convention. I sat through Jimmy Carter (“Brezhnev lied to me”), Al Gore (“no controlling legal authority”), Hillary Clinton (the “woulda coulda shoulda” commodities trader) and then, at last, there he was, Big Bill (ol' “what the meaning of 'is' is”) telling us that sending Sen. John Kerry to the White House would make America safer, smarter, stronger–just the way it was by the time Mr. Clinton left office (a March Rich pardon on his lips and state silverware in his luggage–or did Sandy Berger pack that in his pants?).

“By the only test that matters–were people better off when we finished than when we started–our way worked better,” said Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Clinton finished, of course, in January, 2001, by which time al Qaeda's training camps, on Mr. Clinton's watch, had already churned out thousands of terrorists we've been trying to catch ever since. By that time, the Sept. 11 plot was just eight months from completion; our intelligence community was if possible even dumber than it is now; Iran had already been working for at least half a decade toward its nuclear bomb; North Korea had already been cheating for years on Mr. Clinton's “Agreed Framework” nuclear freeze; Arafat's intifada had crowned the Clinton photo-op forays into the Middle East; and Saddam Hussein, having kicked out the United Nations weapons inspectors in 1998, was busy cashing in bigtime on the Clinton-launched United Nations Oil-for-Food program, buying influence and blackmail opportunities among our allies, some of them the very same allies Mr. Bush has alienated, pushed away, burned his bridges to . . .

Hold on right there. In the scavenger hunt for any substantive Democratic foreign policy, we have found the platform's main plank. President Bush has caused us to “walk away from our allies” (there are a few allies out there, such as our new pal, Moammar Gadhafi, where I'd suggest: Don't walk–run. But we'll get to that). And that, so far, has been pretty much the sum total of Democratic foreign policy offered up for this election. The rallying cry for Mr. Kerry is that the Bush administration has engaged in a crusade of ally-alienating, away-pushing, bridge-burning pre-emptive war on two of the world's worst terrorist-sponsoring tyrannies, and only John Kerry can now re-unite us, in fluent French, no less, with the likes of Jacques Chirac

While Bill was whipping the crowd into a frenzy of “Send me” (he meant John Kerry, but with Bill the operative word is always “me”) I got out a world map, to look for those burned bridges. (Have you ever noticed how small Western Europe really is?)

There was China, home to about one-fifth of the world's population. I know plenty of exiled Chinese democrats who like America so much that they still choose to live here while waiting for enlightened rule in Beijing–where they, too, have alienated local authorities. But in China proper, there must have been a certain amount of alienation even before Mr. Bush went into Afghanistan and Iraq. China was one of the countries where folks in 2001 cheered and threw video parties to celebrate the attacks of Sept. 11. Perhaps they were mad because Mr. Bush hadn't apologized quite enough for their warplane colliding with our spy-plane in April, 2001. But that raises the further question of why the Chinese would have been hostile enough, just three months after Mr. Clinton left office, to jostle our plane out of international air space and hold the crew hostage. Perhaps Mr. Clinton's toadying approach on Taiwan had not entirely charmed the Chinese regime–though I must concede, he did make enough friends in China to earn himself some fat speaker's fees there post-presidency.

What about South Korea? Actually, it was during the Clinton administration that Seoul embarked on its current anti-American bender. In fact, that bridge really began to burn around the time Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in 1994 hammered out a strategy of appeasing North Korea by promising food, fuel and nuclear reactors to a dictator who no doubt appreciated the gesture while cheating, lying and starving two death two million of his fellow citizens. South Koreans took the cue, and by the time Mr. Clinton left office, they were already deep into the sunshine policy of pandering to Pyongyang while burning the American flag.

How about Russia? Come to think of it, it was on Clinton's watch that the I'm-OK You're-OK summit of 1993, fruit of Ronald Reagan's refusal to appease the Evil Empire, had already soured by the late 1990s into a cranky and increasingly dictatorial Russia. The Russians were alienated enough during Clinton's presidency to start building a nuclear reactor for terrorist-sponsoring Iran, against U.S. wishes and while receiving loads of U.S. aid. If we're going to fault Mr. Bush on this one, it ought to be that when he looked into President Vladimir Putin's eyes, back in 2001, and thought he saw a straight-shooter, he really should have looked a little deeper. Among other things, he might have seen a flicker of all that big business Russia was doing with Saddam.

Then there's Africa. There are probably policies that would earn us points with the governments of such places as Sudan or Zimbabwe. But I'd suggest we're already doing quite enough damage by embracing Libya's Gadhafi, whose main contribution to becoming a model U.S. friend and ally would be to leave office.

And, speaking of friends like that, of course there's the Middle East. This can get confusing, because the real problem with, say, Saudi Arabia, is not that we've treated the royal family badly, but that's we've treated them much too well. As for Iran, wasn't it on Jimmy Carter's watch, not George W. Bush's, that Teheran in a haze of burning bridge smoke first designated America as the Great Satan and set up shop as terrorist central?

And Europe? Eastern Europe is taboo in this debate, because many of these countries have–don't tell anyone!–stood by us. In Iraq, along with troops from Britain, though you wouldn't know it from listening to the speechifying Monday night, are forces from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine. Among the other European nations present are Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark and Italy.

In one column, there is, unfortunately, not room enough to cover the entire world. Suffice it to say that we are at least not at war with Latin America, and that India–home to more than one billion people–is chummier with the U.S. these days than in a long time, perhaps because they, too, appreciate the need to stop Islamofascism.

Let's get to the real point. George Bush has deeply irritated France. That would be more distressing were it not for the memory that the last time the French resented America this much was in the mid-1980s. That was when President Ronald Reagan was more intent on winning the Cold War than pleasing the Elysee. And you know what? We won.

The real point is that the world is in fact too big and complicated a place to be simply all about America, and whether we're hated or loved. There are at least 190 other governments out there, dozens of them dictatorships we probably shouldn't try to please, and some of them democracies in which politicians, believe it or not, have agendas that may well differ from Washington's. It's an interesting notion, that we can make friends, influence nations and win the war on terror by relying on John Kerry's social skills. But it would be lot more comforting to hear the Democrats touting the virtues of principle.

Ms. Rosett is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute. Her column appears here and in The Wall Street Journal Europe on alternate Wednesdays.