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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 01:28 GMT 02:28 UK
Analysis: Foreign policy lookalikes

By Rob Watson
BBC Washington correspondent

John Kerry
Kerry's difference is one of emphasis not content
Based on Senator John Kerry's Thursday speech laying out his vision for American foreign policy, most US voters would be hard pressed to find much difference between the challenger and the incumbent George W Bush.

Let's just run through it for a minute.

Senator Kerry said that his number one priority would be to prevent terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Hard to see George W Bush having much problem with that.

The senator also said the US should remain the paramount military power in the world.

We've definitely heard that before from the White House.

And in one case the senator even tried to outhawk this most hawkish of administrations, promising to "confront the failure of Saudi Arabia to do all it can to stop financing and providing ideological support of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups".

What difference there was in the speech was more a matter of emphasis.

Senator Kerry repeatedly criticised the unilateralism of the Bush administration and its use of force "before exhausting diplomacy".

Under a President Kerry, he said, the US would rebuild alliances around the world.

On Iraq Senator Kerry said not a lot.

As an early supporter of the war, he has little room to manoeuvre.

So, as before, he restricted himself to urging President Bush to seek more international help in Iraq, but there was no talk of a US withdrawal.

Warding off attacks

So how does one read this speech, what is Senator Kerry trying to achieve?

In the first place it seems his tough talk was designed to inoculate him from Republican attacks.

Although the opinion polls suggest President Bush has a clear advantage on the issue of national security, that doesn't mean Senator Kerry wants it be seen as his weakness.

Second, his talk of rebuilding alliances abroad has genuine appeal in this country.

President George Bush
National security is central to George Bush's re-election strategy
Although Americans are more willing than most to go it alone, they much prefer the idea of having support from the rest of the world.

As to Iraq, the Kerry campaign feels "Why should he say very much?"

After all, the campaign argues, President Bush started the war now he should be left to stew in his own juices and reap whatever electoral consequences there might be.

Of course many Democrats feel frustrated their candidate is not more outspoken in his criticism of the US led-occupation and more dove-ish in general on matters of foreign policy.

But the Kerry campaign is no doubt convinced that kind of Democrat is hardly going to vote for President Bush.

So the name of the game is not alienating those voters who are losing trust in the president but who are still finding it hard to entrust the country's security in the hands of a Democrat.


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