Washington -- WITH THE consistent incoherence of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, many of us have only been able to hope that salvation lay in the New Republicans. But their first two impassioned planks don't bode well for the future.
First, you have their thoughtless (but, still, impassioned!) intention to drastically reduce the number of employees at the U.S. Information Agency and put the agency under the State Department. Now, we all know serious cuts in the budget need to be made, but this one seems to be more the result of Sen. Jesse Helms' desire to cut foreign aid than a move to save money. In fact, no one knows how much money would be saved.
What we do know is that such a move would successfully destroy the USIA's effectiveness in its singular role in public diplomacy as the representative voice of America in the world; it would just become another layer in a big bureaucracy. (Just what the Republicans oppose.)
I have personally watched the workings of USIA and its uniformly excellent communicators and educators for some 30 years throughout the world. Theirs is a coherent, professional, coordinated effort on behalf of all U.S. agencies overseas, to spread a comprehensive message about what America is. This is done through the agency's excellent libraries (situated at easily available sites, always away from the embassies), through cultural and educational exchange programs, and through the broadcasts of the Voice of America, the TV Worldnet and other media.
President Eisenhower created the independent agency to streamline U.S. government overseas programs in 1953. It has been greatly strengthened under other Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan. Today, in a world where the war against the forces of anarchy and disintegration cries out for a clarification, attempts to reduce the USIA's effectiveness speak of a special kind of provincial madness.
If the USIA is put inside the State Department, it will be overcome by the diplomatic prerogatives of the department itself. As USIA's excellent director, Dr. Joseph Duffey, constantly points out, "It is necessary to have an agency related to the
State Department but at arm's length."
Most important is the fact that the USIA is separate and can therefore do many things that it could not do under the State Department, which of course is open to pressures from foreign ambassadors. Foreign policy considerations should not hamper communications with the largest possible audience.
Just as bad would be the threat, should these changes take place, of eliminating cultural and educational exchanges. In a world in which influence often is immensely more important than force, to cite only two examples of hundreds, such men as Anwar Sadat and F.W. de Klerk both credit their early exchange visits to America with forging their later actions for peaceful change. Would we really be willing to give up such power in the world -- all in the name of one senator's dislike of foreign aid?
(Note: I have gone on several USIA-sponsored speaking tours on journalism in Africa and Asia. I also appear occasionally on a Voice of America news radio show. But anyone who might wish to accuse me of personal interest could look at the pay: $75 a day for 16 hours of work. I consider such work a public service.)
The second disaster in the making is the Republican-controlled congressional attempt to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This has gone as far as the presentation of a proposed law, pushed by Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, and it would actually call for breaking ground for a Jerusalem embassy by Dec. 31, 1996, with an official opening by May 31, 1999.
Such a move, which is vehemently opposed not only by all the Arab states (yes, friends, the same ones we need for the peace process to continue), but also by the present Israeli Labor government, would stop the peace process. We should never underestimate the importance of Jerusalem in the struggle for peace in the region. That is why sensible people, including those who wrote the Oslo accords, left it for last.
What would come out of it? Already, Muslim officials are saying that the land set aside for a new embassy building in Jerusalem actually belongs to the Islamic Waqf, which oversees Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Once Washington tried to start building there, it would be in an interminable and bitter fight with clergymen and believers all over the Islamic world. Furthermore, such an embassy would provide the 1990s equivalent of putting American Marines in such a totally exposed position in Beirut in 1982 that they were all blown up. A U.S. embassy in Jerusalem would be the target of many terrorists.
If there were a good reason for it, that would be another matter. But the only possible reason is that the Republicans are trying to pander to the Israeli lobby in this country -- at, again, the expense of the nation.
Personally, I think the Republicans are doing a lot of things right. I think Bob Dole is an honorable man and could make a good president. But to start out this way reminds many of his not at all dormant "honor" problem. Worse, on these issues, the Republicans are disturbingly wrong.
=1 Georgie Anne Geyer writes on foreign affairs.