Much of the United States is protesting that President Bush is neglecting America and devoting too much energy to foreign policy.

David Duke and Patrick Buchanan have hit him from the right, Sen. Haris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Gov. Douglas Wilder of Virginia from the left. As long as the country remains slumped in recession, the White House should make the economy its top priority, this mixed chorus shouts. Forget Russia, put America first.

The harangues by neo-isolationists are ill-conceived, however, and President Bush has his top priority correct. But he has been neglecting what should be his second priority -- ending the nation's recession -- and there is no excuse for that. He must work hard at both.

Eastern Europe and western Asia are in turmoil, breaking up and coming together unpredictable fashion. No one knows how the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviety Union will be controlled, and no one knows how many millions of its citizens will be fed this winter. Robert M. Gates, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has called the situation "dangerously unstable."

As a Herblock cartoon warned this week, there might be a disquieting similarity between America's hands-off attitude in 1931 toward Germany's food lines and our indifference in 1991 toward the economic disarray in former Soviet republics. But the new America Firsters cry, "It's not our problem."

It is our problem. Mr. Bush must work to avoid international conflict, for American economic recovery will seem unimportant if a serious war breaks out among the former Soviet republics.

The question is not, Does Washington care more about Kazakhstan than it cares about Kansas? There are really two questions. First, does Mr. Bush have his priorities straight? And second, beyond priorities, is Mr. Bush working as effectively as he should on all important fronts? Answers: Yes and definitely no.

Mr. Bush appears to be good at some things and not at others. He has earned good marks in international affairs, but he has flunked economics.

More precisely, he has flunked ethics, for he knew Ronald Reagan's program was "voodoo economics," but he accepted it. Now he is paying the price for this wimpish political bargain, and he has little room to maneuver.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush must now work to solve domestic economic problems for the sake of the cities and states, the unemployed, the new gross domestic product, and America's productivity, savings rate, and standard of living -- and his continued employment in Washington, if he's interested.

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