Dole to the rescue

January 16, 1995|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- CRITICS AROUND town are whispering these days that "Bob Dole is trying to be the new secretary of state." Personally, I don't see what's wrong with that: When a position is empty, somebody's got to fill it.

Moreover, Senator Dole at 71 seems to be enjoying his resurrection like some frolicsome boy with all kinds of things to say (he's got "Newtie" pushing him from the side). Whereas the Clinton administration has not been able to delineate a foreign policy in two years, Senator Dole got one out in two days.

And so it is instructive to look at what the Senate majority leader is suggesting in foreign policy not only because the Republicans are in power but also because, compared with the Clinton administration, at least there is somebody home.

The Dole suggestions might seem disconnected upon first perusal. He wants a "peace powers act" to curb the commitment of U.S. troops and dollars to post-Cold War trouble spots; he would curtail foreign aid and also substantially reduce American contributions to the United Nations for peacekeeping forces. Immediately after the Republican victory, Mr. Dole introduced legislation to lift the arms embargo in Bosnia, and also pledged that the Senate would block economic aid to North Korea.

These Dole proposals reflect a comprehensive approach to the world from the viewpoint of American interests. Elements of this policy not only fit American needs -- and capacities (a rather basic, though recently forgotten, lesson in the formulation of any foreign policy) -- but also fit into a coherent view of power and how to use it. And that comes as a welcome relief in an administration that often seems more like a teen-aged ingenue searching for truth in the world than a serious superpower.

The key to foreign policy today is U.N. "peacekeeping." Everyone except the U.N. officials on the spot in Bosnia (who have invested too much in that sorry tragedy of errors to turn back) knows that the U.N. policies have failed terribly there -- and, indeed, everywhere, because they are based upon the utopian thinking that aggressors and marauders can be restrained by demonstrations of goodwill.

Despite this abundant and disgraceful failure, nobody is remotely ready to change the policies. Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali this month, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, averred that 1) the only real problem with peacekeeping was the Security Council's micromanaging of it at the expense of his authority and that of the ground commanders, and 2) the United Nations should have, in effect, a standing army so it could do more peacekeeping.

So, rather than seeing what has gone wrong and changing it, the United Nations is barging full-steam ahead. For instance, disputes and conflicts in which the United Nations has been actively involved in preventive diplomacy or peacemaking went from 11 in 1988 to 28 in 1994. Military personnel deployed went from 9,570 to 73,393 in that same period, while the budget for such operations went from $230 million to $3.61 billion. There is little real talk of cutting back.

The Dole stratagems would not be necessary if the White House were seriously reviewing the peacekeeping doctrines; despite halfhearted attempts, it is not. The Dole pronouncements would not be necessary were there a working secretary of state. (By the way has anyone seen Warren Christopher recently? Since Jimmy Carter took over diplomacy across the world, Christopher has disappeared -- and now Jimmy is resting, too. It must be the seventh day.)

Basically, as Robert Dole steps into the foreign policy spotlight, he has focused our attention on the fact that we really do have before us two totally antithetical versions of how to conduct our nation's business in the world.

The Clinton administration introduced an entirely new vision of power: The transformation of American power into the basically humanitarian works typified by U.N. peacekeeping. Underlying it was the idea that the end of the Cold War had marked not only the end of still another transitory political system but also of human nature itself. No more threat; no more force needed.

What Bob Dole, with his common sense, is introducing in foreign policy is parallel to what Newt Gingrich wants to do domestically. Both wish to devolve power to the appropriate bodies (Mr. Dole to the traditional military, Mr. Gingrich to the states) and both intend to mark the end of yet another of the American utopian eras. It couldn't happen soon enough.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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