The Next Four Years: Introduction

The election campaign failed to shed much light on the probable course of American foreign policy over the next four years. Domestic issues and personalities dominated the presidential contest; there was no urgent issue comparable to Korea in 1952, the Berlin and Cuban confrontations of the 1960s, Vietnam in the 1970s or even the Iran hostage crisis of 1980. President George Bush will probably not be confronted with a burning foreign policy problem in his first hundred days.

To be sure, there were real national security issues in the campaign, and some important differences between the candidates, more over defense issues than foreign policy. The defense debate concentrated on narrow questions, e.g., the MX missile, rather than questions of general strategy or what kind of defense might be affordable. Governor Michael Dukakis opposed the MX and Midgetman missiles, and the candidates also divided over the future of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. But they both supported a strong alliance with Western Europe and agreed on the need to strengthen conventional defenses. Both supported the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and claimed they would complete the negotiations for a strategic arms reduction treaty.

Governor Dukakis seemed to be more protectionist in his campaign statements on trade, while Vice President Bush carried the banner of free trade. They differed sharply over Nicaragua and the contras. And they seemed to differ on South African sanctions, though the issue was not thoroughly aired.

Both candidates struck an optimistic note in their visions of America’s place in the world, as is customary in election campaigns. The president-elect emphasized a platform of peace, prosperity and continuity in foreign policy. His most prominent theme was "peace through strength." Thus, his election can be interpreted as a mandate to continue this policy.

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