Dole: a Turncoat on Trade

September 09, 1994

Et tu, Bob Dole? Is the Republican leader of the Senate, long a champion of open world markets for Kansas grain, about to delay and possibly torpedo the most important global trade pact in history? Is he about to make common cause with organized labor, environmentalists, ultra-nationalists, isolationists, protectionists and others in the strange melange opposing a treaty that promises a $750 billion bonanza for the lagging world economy?

The answers, alas, appear to be yes -- and for reasons that diminish Mr. Dole's presidential credentials. The Sun was unstinting in admiring Mr. Dole's support for ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Without the backing of free-trade Republicans, President Clinton would have been defeated by his fellow Democrats.

Why then, at this late hour, is Mr. Dole defecting from a cause in the grandest traditions of modern Republicanism? Though he may deny it, the GOP leader wants to block any Clinton legislative victories from here to the Nov. 8 elections. Note his unsuccessful opposition to the crime bill and his steady retreat from health care and welfare reform during the present Congress.

Mr. Dole might be at heart very much in favor of a World Trade Organization designed to lower tariffs and other barriers to international commerce. After all, the pending Uruguay Round agreement signed by 117 nations, including this one, would for the first time extend freer trading rules to agriculture -- long a cherished objective of the Kansas senator. But Mr. Dole has to worry about being outflanked on the right by Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, also a seeming turncoat on free trade, and by House GOP leader Newt Gingrich, now leading the charge among hair-splitters and ideologues who say the proposed WTO would impinge on U.S. sovereignty and (horrors!) lead to world government.

Of course, it would do no such thing. It would merely be more effective than the current General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in enforcing global rules that in most cases conform with U.S. objectives. And in those instances where the WTO balks at the pesky habit of U.S. unilateralism, the U.S. would not have to change its laws, despite allegations to the contrary. It would merely have to pay the price of sanctions -- sanctions of a kind that would likely be applied far more often to nations with more protectionist habits. With U.S. products now at the top of the heap in competitive advantage, Americans have much to gain in freer trade.

Granted, it is a shame the Clinton administration gave its conservative foes an opening by catering to a labor-environmental lobby trying to impose U.S. standards on BTC the rest of the world (another example of American unilateralism). But the president's manifest mistakes are no reason Mr. Dole should be taking a stand inimical to U.S. interests.

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