Foreign Policy: Republicans vs. Democrats? Controversy between the Two Parties Looms, but Congress Has a Unique Opportunity to Shape a More Effective Plan

Article excerpt

FOREIGN policy will likely continue to be a point of contention between the new Republican Congress and the Clinton administration.

In the past month, various Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have advocated lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, withdrawing United Nations peacekeeping forces, arming and training the Bosnians, and bombing the Serbs. They also have promoted shifting foreign aid from Africa to former republics of the Soviet Union, using foreign aid (or the threat of withholding it) to collect debts owed to American citizens in Central America, hastening economic reform in Russia, and encouraging the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe.

These proposals have three common characteristics. First, they will relieve frustration. Second, they are unlikely to do anything else that is positive. Third, they deal with important issues but at the same time avoid more profound questions, such as whether NATO or a foreign aid program should even exist. They will allow Republicans to talk to a domestic audience, simplifying a complicated matter.

This will give Republicans the luxury of not having to make foreign policy work. They will not have to take into account the fact that effective diplomacy requires recognition of the other party's point of view, motives, and objectives. The Democratic administration, meanwhile, will be left to deal with intransigent foreigners.

At the same time, Republicans have been willing to deal with foreigners directly. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the new majority leader, went to Brussels to discuss Bosnia with the NATO Council. A Republican member of the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already been to Europe propagating a new foreign-policy doctrine to "encircle Russia with democracy and free markets."

Foreigners must be wondering whether they should deal with the Senate or the State Department.

Democrats, meanwhile, will likely wrap themselves in the mantle of bipartisanship. Presidents typically do not like infringements on what they perceive to be their prerogative to make foreign policy.

There is no reason to suppose that Bill Clinton will be different from his predecessors. In talking about foreign-policy bipartisanship, presidents usually mean they should get to do it their way.

If this is how the looming controversy over foreign policy plays out, the country will be ill-served. …

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