Foreign Policy Lurks in Campaign: Bosnia, Middle East, N. Ireland Are Potential Land Mines

Article excerpt

For President Clinton, the good news on the foreign policy front is that there are no dead American soldiers lying in the mud and mountains of Bosnia.

Barring a grinding, inconclusive war of the type that pushed Lyndon Baines Johnson from office, foreign policy is likely to play its usual back-bench role in the 1996 presidential election.

The bad news is that two weeks of terrorist bombings in the Middle East and Northern Ireland have robbed Mr. Clinton of achievements he hoped to use to round out his credentials as he asks for four more years.

The collapse of peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, coupled with the crisis sparked by Cuba's shooting down of two U.S. civilian planes, illustrates how unexpected foreign events can knock a president "off message," divert his attention and arm his political enemies.

"What we're seeing is that diplomatic gains can be pretty ephemeral. Four months ago, Northern Ireland looked like a big breakthrough, and now is a big problem," said Jeremy Rosner, who served on the National Security Council early in Mr. Clinton's term.

Mr. Rosner, now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added: "Most of these things, like Ireland, are not going to be a very potent issue, plus or minus, in the campaign. At worst, he is deprived of what looks like a big success. At best, he gets to use some file footage from a trip to Northern Ireland."

Republican criticism of Mr. Clinton's policies in the troubled areas so far has been muted. That could change if Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole - who sports strong defense and foreign policy credentials - quickly sews up the GOP presidential nomination.

Congress, too, has begun to stir on such foreign policy issues as aid to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, sanctions on Cuba and veiled Chinese threats to Taiwan.

Foreign policy challenges can cut both ways, however. If handled skillfully, they can serve to remind Americans - who tend to give presidents fairly wide leeway on foreign questions - whom the commander in chief is. …