WASHINGTON -- If there were any danger Bob Dole could use foreign policy as a campaign issue, President Clinton squelched it last week with his pledge to expand the Atlantic alliance by the turn of the century.
Deciding to risk offending Russia, Clinton moved toward a long-held Republican position in laying out a timetable for bringing Eastern European states into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He also stood to gain votes from Republicans with roots in the Cold War's captive nations, much as he won support among Florida's Cuban exiles by adopting new sanctions against Fidel Castro.
Clinton is "an elusive target," says Peter Rodman, a Republican foreign affairs expert at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.
But behind the similarities between the two candidates on NATO expansion, Cuba and free trade lurk subtle but important differences between them and their parties on an approach to world affairs.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in policy toward Haiti.
In October 1993, rather than confront an angry mob at Port-au-Prince harbor, President Clinton abruptly withdrew an American ship carrying military trainers to help carry out a United Nations-brokered agreement.
This was one of a series of flip-flops by the former Arkansas governor that persuaded a majority of Americans that he lacked competence and steadfastness in world affairs.
A year later, Clinton deftly used a show of military power to achieve the bloodless removal of Haiti's dictatorship and the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while stemming the flow of refugees who risked their lives to flee the nation.
Though still wracked by violence and appalling poverty, Haiti is cited with pride by Democrats as a nation where American military presence, development aid and high-level attention have made a dramatic difference.
"We're the only great power that doesn't just play realpolitik foreign policy," says Clinton campaign spokesman James P. Rubin, referring to the practice of conducting foreign affairs solely on the basis of a nation's military might and economic interests. "We do things around the world because they're right."
Republicans point to Haiti as a dramatic waste of U.S. military energy and tax dollars on a country in which the United States has no vital interest.
"The Haiti policy is fraudulent," says Paul Wolfowitz, dean of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, a top Dole adviser. "Aristide is just a different kind of dictator."
Wolfowitz says that these kinds of missions seem to be the extent of the Democrats' vision on the use of American power. "I don't think they know what real war is about," he said, adding that Dole, because he has witnessed combat as an infantry officer in World War II, is better equipped to prevent a major conflict.
Differences on foreign aid
On foreign aid, the administration and Republicans differ sharply. Although Dole has said little on the subject, congressional Republicans generally see it as unnecessary unless it serves a larger purpose, like helping a strategic ally.
By contrast, the Clinton team believes firmly in helping poor countries build self-sustaining economies and civil societies. The administration sees this as an investment that will prevent the need for huge sums to respond to future humanitarian crises.
Rather than the effort spent on Haiti, Dole advisers say a more appropriate use of superpower pressure would have been to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The senator has criticized the Clinton-brokered deal in which North Korea agreed to freeze nuclear-weapons development in exchange for a less-threatening nuclear-energy plant.
Rubin retorts: "In Dole's view, if you don't get everything you want, you take your marbles and go home."
Likewise, Dole persuaded the Senate not to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. Wolfowitz argues that it wouldn't remove the worst threat: that posed by rogue states. Says Rubin: "They would rather make the best the enemy of the good."
Over the past two years, Clinton has moved closer to the GOP's United Nations-bashing. The administration announced last summer it would veto re-election of Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, a favorite Dole target.
Campaign pressures aside, however, Democrats are more comfortable with the world body, while Republicans view it as pulsing with anti-Americanism. In an overwhelming number of RTC situations, argues Rubin, a former U.N. diplomat, the United States gets its way.
Dole puts more stock in strategic alliances, such as NATO, where the United States is the unquestioned leader. His advisers want the United States to brace for the possibility of a future threat from Russia or China.
They fault Clinton for emphasizing trade at the expense of the strategically important U.S.-Japanese security relationship. And a number of Republicans were appalled at Clinton's entry into Northern Ireland peacemaking, which infuriated Britain.
"The biggest single difference -- it's huge and not just style -- is that Dole is someone who keeps his promises, whose word means something. He would be feared by our enemies and trusted by our friends," says Wolfowitz.
But if some of America's European friends once felt betrayed, they've gotten over it, according to Philip Gordon of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. In the past two years, Clinton has "taken the wind out of that argument," bombing Serbs, firing missiles at Iraq and sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait as a warning to China to stop threatening the island, he said.
Challenge to the winner
Whoever wins Nov. 5 has a major challenge: completing a post-Cold War world security structure that leaves the United States safer a decade from now.
One of the biggest areas of uncertainty is the Middle East. Clinton inherited an ongoing peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and Arab states. But he lost his strongest regional partner with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was determined to end the violence in Palestinian territories strike a deal on the Golan Heights with Syria.
With the election of a conservative Likud leader as prime minister of Israel, the peace process is stalled on all fronts.
Whether Dole would approach the region differently is unclear. Many congressional Republicans seem to have an affinity for Likud, while Clinton clearly prefers the Labor Party. Dole has sought Jewish support by adopting Israel's claim to Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital. But his pro-Israel record is mixed; in the past, he proposed cutting aid to Israel.
"NATO, the Mideast and Asia will require much more substantial leadership from and engagement by the United States," says John Steinbruner of the Brookings Institution, who plans to vote for Clinton. He says there's a "plausible hope" that Clinton has the inherent statesmanship to do this. "It's hard to believe Dole would even attempt it."
Pub Date: 10/29/96