Clinton and the global pork barrel

June 06, 1996|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON -- Bob Dole's difficulties reflect, in part, the fact that few Americans can say why this election matters. Indeed, when historians assess 1996, they may conclude that America's election was only the fourth-most -- perhaps even the fifth-most -- important election of the year.

But the Dole campaign can acquire derivative drama from developments abroad.

Taiwan's election produced the first democratically elected head government in four millennia of Chinese civilization. With Asia's fourth-largest economy (after Japan, China and South Korea) and the world's second-largest foreign-exchange reserves, Taiwan is acquiring through democratization an influence to which the mainland will not be immune.

A Palestinian Sakharov

Israel's election suspended the process of betting that nation's survival on the trading of something tangible and unrecoverable (land) for something intangible and repudiatable (promises of peace). Benjamin Netanyahu believes that real peace in the region presupposes social change in Israel's adversaries. He says advocates of complete withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights should ''at least wait for the appearance of a Syrian Lech Walesa or a Palestinian Andrei Sakharov.''

At issue in Russia's June 16 election, notes Harvard historian Richard Pipes, are the essential components of modernity -- democracy and a market economy. The election will test, and perhaps refute, what Peter Rodman of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom calls ''the Wilsonian assumption that a democratic Russia would automatically be a friendly Russia.''

The United States may not have had a strategic interest in Bosnia merely because international norms of decency were being trampled. But as Mr. Rodman says, the United States acquired a strategic interest when it invested its prestige, and NATO's, in the Dayton Accords, which include a commitment to holding elections in Bosnia by mid-September.

The future of ''humanitarian interventionism,'' of NATO and of south-central European stability are now implicated in Bosnia's elections, if they occur, and even more if they do not occur.

Now, Americans should not envy the drama of other peoples' elections. Boring can be beautiful in politics. It is an unhappy nation where elemental social arrangements, including such rudiments of happiness as personal property and safety, are put at risk at the polls.

But Senator Dole's campaign can acquire momentum by saying that this election matters because President Clinton's foreign policy puts at risk the nation's values and vital interests.

The opposition mindset

Mr. Dole should read what his boon companion John McCain has written for Foreign Policy quarterly. The Arizona senator comprehensively indicts Mr. Clinton's conduct of foreign policy, saying it is characterized by ''self-doubt'' arising from ''the mindset of a culture formed in opposition to the Vietnam War.''

He says the president's badgering of Japan in pursuit of ''managed trade'' with numerical goals, and the equally ineffectual hectoring of China about human rights, squandered U.S. influence in Asia just as Mr. Clinton was vowing to prevent North Korea from retaining any nuclear weapons.

Then, says Senator McCain, ''Into this disarray slipped former president Jimmy Carter.'' Due in part to what he calls Mr. Carter's ''acquisition of American diplomacy,'' North Korea now gets to keep its weapons-grade plutonium, and gets state-of-the-art nuclear reactors, and gives only an unverifiable pledge of good faith.

Mr. Clinton's secretary of state, pursuing the chimera of a peace agreement, has visited Syria 24 times, but has visited China only once. And as Senator McCain says, when China warned the United States not to send carriers into the Taiwan Strait, the carriers stayed out, thereby undermining a principle -- freedom of navigation -- considered vital to this country since the Washington administration. President Clinton, Mr. McCain charges, has compared Russia's brutal interventions in its ''near abroad,'' such as Chechnya, to U.S. interventions in Grenada and Panama, ''a spectacular display of misplaced moral equivalence and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Monroe Doctrine.''

International pork barrel

The president, says Mr. McCain, has practiced ''an international variant of pork-barrel politics'' by being assertive in Haiti and Northern Ireland in order to please Democratic Party constituencies. But having been, as a candidate, critical of the unjust arms embargo imposed on the Bosnian government, in office he ceded to Europe, Russia and the U.N. authority over the Bosnian war. Rather than assert leadership to get the embargo lifted, as Mr. Dole favored, President Clinton ''silently acquiesced to Iran's arming of the Bosnian government,'' thereby creating ''a European redoubt for an advanced guard of militant Islamic fundamentalism.''

Senator McCain demonstrates how to criticize the president's performance on foreign policy, the subject most pertinent to presidential power. He also demonstrates how America's election can be infused with drama by connecting it with dramatic developments, including elections abroad.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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