Q U I C K T A K E
GEORGE BUSH'S LEGACY may be a consensus that American foreign policy should be internationalist: that the United States is uniquely suited to confront aggressive rogues like Saddam Hussein as Bush did in the Persian Gulf War.
When President Bill Clinton launched missile attacks against Iraq on Sept. 3, 1996, after Saddam violated United Nations accords by moving troops into Kurdish areas, hardly a voice (save Ross Perot) was heard in protest. Congressional Democrats, many of whom had voted against Desert Storm, were practically unanimous in their toughness. Republicans, fearful of triggering a political backlash should they publicly criticize the president during an international crisis, were left to mumble that the president was basically on track, although some suggested Clinton needed to better define U.S. objectives.
If the need to keep Saddam in check is uncontroversial, important arguments over America's global role remain, especially with regards to countries like Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti, where it's much harder to argue that America's national interests are at stake. In those places, U.S. troops were deployed to advance democracy and humanitarian goals over the loud protests of the GOP.
Republicans generally favor aggressive, unilateral action where U.S. interests are clearly at stake (as in the Persian Gulf War) but want diminished involvement in multilateral actions. Under this approach, the U.S. would cut foreign aid, reduce contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations, ban the deployment of U.S. troops under foreign command, and possibly withdraw from NATO.
A different policy, favored by many Democrats, embraces participation in U.N. peacekeeping efforts (as in Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia), favors an expanded NATO as well as efforts to promote economic development, human rights, and democracy through foreign aid.
A more isolationist line of thinking (showing up in speeches by conservative pundit Pat Buchanan and Reform Party nominee Ross Perot, among others) opposes the internationalist sentiment that led to Desert Storm and favors maintaining strict neutrality in foreign conflicts.
The Bosnia conflict may present the seminal dilemma in American foreign policy. Should American lives be put at stake in an attempt to quell a centuries-old ethnic conflict in Europe where U.S. interests are not immediately threatened? Faced with enormous pressure to stop the marauding Serbs, Clinton effectively answered "yes" to that question, deploying U.S. troops as part of an international force that put an end to the Bosnian slaughter.
Many Republicans, including GOP nominee Bob Dole, were harshly critical of Clinton's policy, preferring to arm the Bosnians and let them take on the Serbs. Republicans strenuously opposed sending U.S. troops, saying the one-year mission would be a mere Band-Aid on a wound that would only flare up again when the troops were brought home. Bosnia fell out of the headlines, but its upcoming elections and the approaching deadline for the U.S. mission are a reminder of hurdles to come.
Also posing thorny issues for American foreign policy have been the Pacific Rim nations. China's saber-rattling troop exercises earlier this year, coinciding with Taiwan's election, were a grim reminder that dealing with China's totalitarian government, which presides over a nuclear arsenal and one of the fastest growing economies, is both unpredictable and crucial. GOP nominee Bob Dole criticized President Bill Clinton earlier this year for not taking a harder line against China's rulers, though both agree on extending most-favored-nation trading status to China.
Another local bully, North Korea, poses challenges to American troops stationed in and defending South Korea.
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P U B L I C O P I N I O N
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