Daschle Speech Criticizes Bush's Missile Defense

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President Bush has shown a willingness to walk away from international agreements backed by America's allies during his first six months in office, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Thursday in his first foreign policy speech since becoming majority leader.

"Instead of asserting our leadership, we are abdicating it," Daschle, D-S.D., said. "Instead of shaping international agreements to serve our interests, we have removed ourselves from a position to shape them at all."

In remarks prepared for delivery to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Daschle also criticized Bush for placing too great an emphasis on a missile defense system, and took him to task for relying too heavily on a personal impression of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

"The stakes are too high to base our strategic relationship on one man's assessment of another man's soul," he said, referring to favorable comments Bush made after meeting Putin.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Daschle was himself obstructing international cooperation by pressing for tougher standards on Mexican trucks entering this country than the standards envisioned in NAFTA. McClellan also called on Daschle to support broad new trade-negotiating powers for the president, a matter Congress will consider this fall.

"The Senate majority leader is welcome to express his views," McClellan said Thursday. "But I think those views should be put in the overall context, and nowhere is there a better example of working with other countries than when it comes to trade."

Daschle has focused his public efforts almost exclusively on domestic issues since June, when he became majority leader in the wake of a switch in party control of the Senate and when speculation began to increase that he might become a contender for the White House in 2004.

While he has fielded questions on foreign policy periodically in interviews or news conferences, an aide said he consulted with former Clinton administration officials Sandy Berger and Richard Holbrooke in crafting his speech.

In his remarks, Daschle said Bush had walked away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as well as agreements on greenhouse gases, biological weapons and other issues.

"If we continue down this path, our allies will be forced to fill the void we leave, not necessarily with our interests uppermost in their minds," he said.

"It is not enough, as President Bush has suggested, simply to send U.S. officials to international meetings. ... Woody Allen wasn't talking about foreign policy when he said that '85 percent of life is just showing up."'

Daschle also criticized Bush extensively on the administration's plans for developing and deploying a nationwide defense against long-range missiles. The White House has yet to persuade Moscow to scrap or amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that prohibits such defenses. On its current schedule, the Pentagon is due to come in conflict with legal restrictions in a matter of months. In the spring, for example, the Pentagon may start construction at Fort Greely, Alaska, of underground silos for missile interceptors.

"Democrats support mutually agreed-upon modifications to the ABM treaty and a robust national missile defense testing program," Daschle said. "Under the right circumstances, we could support deployment of a limited national missile defense."

But he said administration was planning "the most expensive possible response to the least likely threat we face."

He added, "The chief threats today come from biological and chemical weapons and bombs that could be smuggled in a cargo container, bus or backpack."

Bush's budget, Daschle said, calls for a 57 percent increase in spending on missile defense this year, and other large increases in future years, far above the overall 10 percent increase targeted for the Pentagon. The result would be to "cannibalize the personnel and force structure that deal with the threats we are more likely to face."

He said holding the first year's increase for missile defense to 10 percent, for example, would make $2.5 billion available for a variety of defense and national security programs. They include a restoration of funds for the program to help Russia destroy its nuclear weapons, increased funding for development of cruise missile defense, and a greater emphasis on counterterrorism and cyber-terrorism.

It would also allow a greater effort on "developing and deploying theater missile defenses, which will be needed tomorrow to protect our soldiers if we are thrust into another Gulf-like war," he said.