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Did George W. Prove His Point?

Despite earlier indications that Texas Gov. George W. Bush had a poor knowledge of the names of world leaders, his first foray into foreign policy issues successfully separated the Republican presidential candidate from the other front-runners, at least one political pundit observed.

"Let's reject the blinders of isolationism, just as we have refused the crown of an empire," Bush told supporters at the Ronald Reagan Library in California on Friday. "It should not mean action without vision, activity without priority and missions without end."

According to Charles Cook, political analyst for The National Journal, Bush needed to declare how he stands on foreign policy and to counter the impression that he's a lightweight for recently failing a reporter's foreign affairs pop quiz. He also needed to set himself apart from other presidential contenders.

"He separated from congressional Republicans and at the same time he differentiated himself from the Clinton administration and said we need to be supportive of multinational organizations but not dependent on them," Cook says.

CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that Bush staked out a foreign policy tougher than the Clinton Administration on Russia's military action in Chechnya.

"When the Russian government attacks civilians - killing women and children," Bush said, "it can no longer expect aid from international lending institutions."

Bush also took a tough line on China.

"If I am elected president, China will find itself respected as a great power. It will be unthreatened, but not unchecked," he said.

With voters in approaching primaries just beginning to focus on the presidential race, Bush hasn't come into sharp focus for many of them and he can't afford to be defined by any shortcomings.

"George Bush has something to prove and mainly he has to prove it to the media and the pundits and it's this: that he is not the Dan Quayle of foreign affairs," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

Condoleeza Rice, Bush's respected chief foreign policy adviser, said his strong suit in foreign affairs, as in national affairs, is his record and judgment.

"He hasn't spent the last 10 years at the Council on Foreign Relations attending seminars, because he's been governor and before that he was building a business. But he's got all the right characteristics, all the right instincts," Rice said.

And with the campaign heating up, he must convince voters that means he's got the right stuff.

Bush's speech drew criticism from Democratic rival Al Gore. Leon Fuerth, the vice president's national security adviser, said: "Overall, it is a speech that makes you feel if it was well designed for some period that we have already passed through."

He criticized the lack of comment on the global economy and whole continents.

"Latin America is an also-ran credit here, but if you look at the rade figures and what it means to the world, it's huge and meaningful," Fuerth said. "There's also no mention of Africa."

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on television Sunday he thought Bush had failed to reassure Americans.

"And while I think it's too early to claim that George Bush is an empty suit, I think there are people beginning to think the suits he's wearing are probably several sizes too large," Torricelli quipped.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report