Dole's Dangerous Game


Senate minority leader Bob Dole's attempt to stop President Clinton from taking military action in Haiti is an affront to executive authority that he would strongly oppose should he ever make it to the White House. This is not our supposition; it is his own admission -- and a dismal one at that from an old Washington hand who has usually played a responsible role in foreign policy.

To observe an internationalist like Mr. Dole feeding red meat to the resurgent isolationists in the GOP cannot be excused on political grounds. Neither his own ambitions for the presidency nor his role as leader of the loyal opposition can justify such an unwise and unconstitutional limitation on presidential powers. Mr. Clinton is right in opposing the Dole initiative but is much to blame for the foreign policy blunders that encouraged it.

As Candidate Clinton a year ago, he criticized President Bush for failing to define U.S. strategic interests in the post-Cold War era and warned that this was "fueling isolationism here at home from both the left and the right." How these words come back to haunt. We see isolationism in the anti-NAFTA protectionism rampant in the Democratic Party. And just as ominous are the forces in the Republican Party that would push the GOP back to the Fortress America myopia that preceded World War II.

Starting with Sen. Arthur Vandenberg's epic conversion to internationalism during the course of that conflict and the 1944 nomination of Wendell Willkie for the presidency, Mr. Dole's party has produced a long line of leaders whose world view was essentially internationalist. What a shame it would be if the disappearance of the Soviet threat and the emergence of nasty ethnic wars would now induce the GOP to turn inward.

Senator Dole, who rightly helped defeat attempts by Democrats and Republicans alike to hamstring Mr. Clinton in Somalia, is undoubtedly trying to contain rather than join the xenophobic ultra-nationalists in his party. But it is a dangerous game that could undermine presidential leadership into the next century. Congress is institutionally incapable of acting as a collective commander-in-chief no matter how many War Powers Resolutions it passes or how much it tries to hobble the executive by exploiting the emotions of the moment.

President Clinton erred in allowing this country to be dragged into the clan warfare of Somalia. But his mistakes there at least have induced a much-needed element of caution in commiting U.S. forces to Bosnia or Haiti.

Surely Senator Dole knows that the U.S. must play a world role requiring a great deal of presidential discretion and authority. The answer to the present embarrassments is not a retreat to isolationism but wiser, more selective use of American power on the part of the Clinton administration. The best way Senator Dole could display his credentials for the White House would be to adhere to bipartisan Vandenberg-style internationalism.

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