WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, who hopes to run for president against Bill Clinton in 1996, has wasted no time raising his profile on foreign policy at the president's expense.
From Bosnia, where Mr. Dole wants to pull out peacekeepers, bomb the Serbs, and arm and train the Bosnian Muslims, to the U.S.-North Korean nuclear accord, for which he thinks the United States gave away too much, to Haiti, where he wants U.S. troops withdrawn promptly, Mr. Dole is using his coalition-building skills to make the administration squirm and bend, Senate Republican staffers say.
Mr. Dole says national security is "part of the job" of majority leader, his new position. But a former Dole adviser, Al Lehn, notes that "to the extent that Senator Dole can demonstrate his substantial capacity as a foreign policy practitioner, it will be instructive and provide a contrast [with the president] that voters are going to take note of."
His heightened role gives Mr. Dole a leg up on Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a probable 1996 Republican presidential contender who lacks foreign policy credentials. And it allows him to compete with three other potential rivals with strong foreign policy backgrounds: Dick Cheney, James A. Baker III and Colin L. Powell.
The prospect of having to fight or assuage a major new foreign policy player has set nerves on edge in the administration and overseas.
"At every meeting I go to . . . it's Dole, Dole, Dole, Dole," said an administration official who works on legislative strategy.
Unlike Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the incoming Foreign Relations Committee chairman, whom Mr. Dole already has supplanted as foreign policy point man for the new GOP congressional majority, the Kansan has crafted too many
bipartisan agreements to be demonized by the White House as just a dangerous conservative. The latest was a deal on the world trade agreement that paved the way for Senate passage -- and a triumph for the administration.
And, though not a weighty foreign policy thinker like colleague Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Mr. Dole has traveled widely and played a visible and at times pivotal role for more than a decade.
The United States' European allies don't yet have a clear fix on his power but are taking no chances. Last week in Brussels, Belgium, NATO's ambassadors gave Mr. Dole a reception due a statesman, then roughed him up in private. One after another warned of the dangers of his proposal to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia, a plan they say would escalate the war and endanger the Balkan region.
The senator listened politely until Britain's envoy, Sir John Weston, suggested that Mr. Dole had no right to criticize Europeans who were paying a price with their own peacekeeping troops on the ground.
"I know a little about sacrifice, and I know a little about the importance of the American presence in Europe," snapped Mr. Dole, who lost the use of his right arm during fighting in Italy in World War II.
By the time Mr. Dole reached London, the British had switched tactics. Prime Minister John Major tried eloquent persuasion. But their meeting at 10 Downing St. failed to dent Mr. Dole's view that NATO's ineffectiveness in Bosnia had rendered the alliance practically irrelevant.
The prospect that Mr. Dole, starting in January, will build a congressional majority to arm the Bosnians and launch air strikes against the Serbs has propelled U.S. and European diplomats to seek a deal -- "any deal" Mr. Dole charges.
Mr. Dole minimizes the potential consequences to U.S. forces of what he advocates. He is not convinced, he says, that U.S. troops would be needed to rescue United Nations peacekeepers. And he charges that the Pentagon is using scare tactics with its costly estimates of arming and training the Muslims if the arms embargo against them is lifted.
hTC Critics of Mr. Dole's plan fear that it could cause an even worse mess in Bosnia. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher says that "essentially, it's a war strategy" that could force U.S. troops into a ground war in Yugoslavia.
Mr. Dole's idea that air power and a lifting of the arms embargo can reverse Serbian aggression appeals to a widespread view that the Muslims are victims but that the United States shouldn't intervene directly to help them, says John Steinbruner of the Brookings Institution.
"It's a formula for disaster," Mr. Steinbruner said. "It may be successful partisan politics, but it's certainly not statesmanship."
Sympathy for underdog
The senator's aggressive views on Bosnia reveal a streak of sympathy for the underdog that sets him apart from some conservatives. From an Armenian-American doctor who operated on his war injury without pay in the 1940s, Mr. Dole developed an abiding interest in Armenia.