Standing before 4,000 future military leaders at the Naval Academy last night, Republican presidential contender Elizabeth Hanford Dole said her world travels during eight years as president of the American Red Cross gave her the sense that America's military might has not only atrophied under dwindling defense budgets, but has been misused by President Clinton.
In a speech to midshipmen, Dole portrayed herself as a staunch defender of the U.S. military at a time when the nation is conflicted over how to use force in the Balkans.
"If the NATO commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that ground troops are required to accomplish our goals, then my answer is yes," Dole said.
Responding to a midshipman who asked if the childless Dole would be "willing to send your own sons and daughters to bleed in Kosovo," Dole said, "Yes."
The 30-minute speech kicked off the Naval Academy's 39th Foreign Affairs Conference, a four-day series of seminars attended by college students from around the world. With the Kosovo crisis as a backdrop, this year's theme is "Keeping Peace," a look at the role of the military and other organizations, such as NATO, the United Nations and the Red Cross.
Waves of applause greeted Dole's criticisms of Clinton, whose commitment to an air-only assault against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic she called "caged in hesitation." She called Milosevic "the personification of evil" and urged Clinton to "win the war."
Dole said Americans had been "let down by people we should have been able to look up to." She accused Clinton of postponing deadlines and accepting "half-promises" from foes.
"Categorical refusals to employ ground forces or vows that the United States won't ever go it alone -- this kind of thing simply encourages adversaries to shift strategies, wait it out or attempt to break our alliances," she said.
Dole also announced she was leaving today for a weekend tour of Kosovar refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania. She plans to travel as a private citizen at the invitation of human-rights groups.
Dole, wife of former Senate majority leader and unsuccessful 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole, was President Ronald Reagan's transportation secretary and President George Bush's labor secretary before leaving to head the American Red Cross. She resigned that post in January to establish an exploratory committee and begin holding fund-raisers for a presidential bid.
She attempted last night to make a case for her experience in foreign affairs by walking midshipmen through her resume: "I went to the Croatian-Bosnian border. I found myself in Poland meeting with Solidarity labor leaders. I represented the United States in tough aviation and maritime negotiations in Beijing."
Dole said she is "not yet an announced candidate." Her Internet page -- www.e-dole2000.org -- says she believes in reducing government bureaucracy, lowering taxes, offering school choice and increased drug control. Dole also calls Pentagon plans for a defense system that can destroy incoming missiles an "absolute requirement."
Dole, who has raised at least $640,000, recently announced a 10-city fund-raising tour beginning April 27. She apparently lags financially behind an increasingly crowded field.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle announced his candidacy yesterday. Former Education Secretary and Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, Patrick J. Buchanan and Steve Forbes have all announced candidacies.
Other probable candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 include Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Rep. John Kasich of Ohio.
Among Democrats, Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey have established campaign offices, hired staffers and are expected to make formal announcements soon.
Pub Date: 4/15/99