WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, confronting Congress on key foreign policy issues, asserted yesterday the need for American global leadership, condemned "the forces of isolation" and called for support for sending U.S. troops to Bosnia.
The president -- in what was billed as a major foreign policy address -- also denounced Republican-led efforts on Capitol Hill to "gut" foreign assistance, "hack" the State Department's budget, "slash" arms control spending and "shirk" United Nations obligations.
His rebuke provoked a sharp response from Sen. Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader and the leading GOP presidential candidate. He agreed that isolationism was "wrong," but insisted that it is "misguided interventionism that strengthens American isolationism."
Mr. Dole, a leading critic of the administration's policy in Bosnia, told a press conference that Mr. Clinton had failed as yet to make a convincing argument for deploying as many as 25,000 U.S. troops with a NATO peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia.
Mr. Clinton, for his part, signaled that he would consult with Congress but might deploy troops without its approval.
"We welcome congressional support," he said. "But in Bosnia, as elsewhere, if the United States does not lead, the job will not be done. The United States will not be sending our forces into combat in Bosnia. We will not be sending them into a peace that cannot be maintained. But we must use our power to secure that peace."
With peace agreements being negotiated in Bosnia, broadened in the Middle East, and shaped in Northern Ireland, with democracy being restored in Haiti, the president presented himself as the man to lead both the nation and the world toward the 21st century.
"We must continue to bear the responsibility of the world's leadership," he said, voicing a central message he is likely to carry to the voters next year. "The once bright line between domestic and foreign policy is blurring."
Acknowledging that the United States has "to get our own house in order," reviving its economy and creating new opportunities, reforming social programs and strengthening its families, he said: "But we cannot do any of these things in isolation from the world which we have done so much to make and which we must continue to lead.
"We must work and work and work on the basic values and interests and arguments until we beat back the forces of isolation with both intense passion and reason."
He portrayed a world free of tyranny, fear and war, a world of peace and plenty, and declared: "If we want the kind of future I described, we have to assume the burden of leadership. There is simply not another alternative."
The foreign policy budget, he said, represented 2 percent of the $1.5 trillion federal budget but was still under attack.
"No agency in this era, when we're trying to balance the budget, can be exempt from conscientious cost-cutting," he said. "But we must have the tools of diplomacy." He told his audience at BTC Freedom House, a nonpartisan Washington foreign policy and human rights organization, that he would like to deliver the same speech to the United Nations but would be told by international delegates: "Thank you very much, Mr. President. Where's your billion dollars: Why is the United States the biggest piker in the U.N.?"
The United States came under broad criticism this week over its unpaid bills of about $1.4 billion, making it the organization's largest debtor.
The administration is seeking ways of funding the overdue payments. Mr. Clinton added: "Those who really would have us walk away from the U.N., not to mention the international financial institutions, they would really threaten our ability to lead."
Republicans countered that their legislation was aimed at streamlining the conduct of foreign policy, strengthening the president's control and cutting bureaucratic duplication.
The key bill, introduced by Sen. Jesse A. Helms, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has been endorsed by five former secretaries of state -- James A. Baker III, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, George P. Shultz, Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Henry A. Kissinger. All served under Republicans .
"There is no great movement toward isolationism coming from Congress," said Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for Mr. Helms.
"This is a straw man the president and his advisers have pulled out to tear down, to cast themselves as the defenders of American engagement in the world. The Republicans in Congress are all for an active U.S. engagement in the world."
Mr. Clinton, however, said the traditional bipartisan consensus on the need for U.S. international leadership in what he called "the American century" was "truly in danger."
"Voices from the left and the right are calling on us to step back from, instead of stepping up to, the challenges of the present day," he said. "They threaten to reverse the bipartisan support for our leadership that has been essential to our strength for 50 years."