BOSTON--On the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, a presidential candidate and veteran of the Vietnam War outlined his agenda for shaping American foreign policy in a world that has changed dramatically from the time of that Cold War struggle.
Vice President Al Gore '69, the presumptive Democratic nominee, explained his policy of "forward engagement" that would direct him if he was "entrusted with the presidency" while also lancing his opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
He detailed his positions on questions involving China, Africa, free trade and other key foreign policy issues.
Gore gave the speech in the Old South Meeting Place in Boston's Back Bay, one of the gathering points of patriots during the American Revolution, in an address to the 50th anniversary meeting of the International Press Institute, a journalists' organization.
While in Vietnam after his Harvard graduation, Gore served as a reporter for Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper.
Gore press secretary Chris Lehane said the campaign chose the Meeting Place for the speech because "Boston is symbolic; it's the place our democracy grew out of, and the vice president's policy of forward engagement is about the spreading of American values across the world.
Gore's speech, the latest in a series on different issues, was designed both to lay out the philosophy behind his foreign policy and to show significant ways in which he differs from Bush.
Many analysts have said the contest between Gore and Bush has been marked by a public perception that the candidates are similar in both policy and personal history.
Both candidates were the children of famous politicians and grew up in the public spotlight, eventually attending Ivy League universities and breaking into their fathers' profession at a later stage in life.
Some analysts and voters also note that their views are also very similar. Both emphasize education reform, free trade and other mainstream, middle-of-the-road political values.
In the Meeting Place address, Gore attempted to show himself as more experienced and knowledgeable than Bush in the arena of foreign affairs, emphasizing the policies he has worked on as vice president, the nations he has visited and world leaders he has met with during his political career.
Gore devoted the first portion of his remarks to explaining his concept of a "new security agenda" combing what he called "classic security"--policies which focus on war and peace among states--with the realities of economic and political interdependence of the post-Cold War era.
"We are now in a new era...a global age," Gore said. "Like it or not, we live in an age when our destinies and the destinies of billions of people around the globe are increasingly intertwined. When our grand domestic and international challenges are also intertwined. We should neither bemoan nor naively idealize this new reality. We should deal with it."
Gore focused on the concept of "forward engagement," a policy which advocates preventive measures by the United States to stop conflicts before they start in areas of national interest.
"We need a new security agenda for the global age based on forward engagement," Gore said. "Isolationism and protectionism were dangerously wrong in the industrial age--and they are still wrong and even more dangerous in this new global age."
Beyond broad foreign policy goals, the vice president spoke about specific issues, advocating that America engage with former Cold War adversaries and commit to bringing Africa into the world economic community.
He talked most often about China, stressing his commitment to the Clinton administration's "One China" policy, aimed at eventual reconciliation between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. He also called for bringing China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and permanently normalizing trade relations.
Gore said the best way to foster democratic reform and curb human rights abuses in China is by building close political and economic ties rather than containment.
"It is wrong to isolate and demonize China--to build a wall when we need to build a bridge," Gore said.
While Bush also supports bringing China into the WTO, Gore said the Republican supports current legislation that would inflame tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Gore spent the last part of his address attacking Bush's foreign policy, which he called "noticeably blank." He claimed his opponent was not prepared in foreign affairs.
"From what we can tell of his foreign policy, Governor Bush does not prepare us to meet the grand challenges of both the classic and new security agendas," Gore said.
Gore associated Bush with the views of Republican congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), whom he dubbed "neo-isolationists."
Pointing to the failure of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a measure to prohibit all testing of nuclear weapons that was defeated by Republicans in the Senate, Gore questioned whether Bush would distance himself from members of his party.
"Governor Bush joined with the isolationist, partisan Republican majority in Congress in opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," Gore said. "He chose politics over principle."
Bush campaign officials lost no time in responding to Gore's attacks.
"The governor has not said that Russia and China should be enemies; in fact he has said that China is a competitor, and we should reach out to Russia," Bush foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice told The New York Times. "It is very much like the vice president to distort [Bush's] record."