Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton, Dole Spar over Foreign Policy but the Two Share Many Views, with the Exception of Defense Spending and Use of Force Abroad

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton, Dole Spar over Foreign Policy but the Two Share Many Views, with the Exception of Defense Spending and Use of Force Abroad

Article excerpt

In an hour-long broadside last week, Sen. Bob Dole admonished President Clinton for "inconsistency, confusion, and incoherence" in managing US foreign policy, then pronounced his differences with Mr. Clinton "vast and fundamental."

Afterward, the Kansas Republican and presumed GOP presidential nominee closed ranks with Clinton - and broke ranks with many fellow Republicans - on one of the most important foreign policy issues of the year: granting preferential trade status to China.

All of which raises this unlikely question: Rhetoric aside, are the foreign-policy views of the main contenders for the White House really all that different?

Assessing the upcoming election, some foreign-policy experts describe the two candidates as peas in a pod: internationalists who favor free trade and continued active - if selective - United States engagement in world affairs.

"Both are trying to straddle the fence between unilateralism and multilateralism, with Dole more clearly on the unilateral end of that spectrum and Clinton more clearly on the multilateral end," says Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the US Business and Industrial Council in Washington. "It's not quite splitting hairs, but it's awfully close."

Case in point: trade policy. As supporters of major international trade agreements like GATT and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - and, now "most favored nation" trade status for China - the two, in Mr. Tonelson's words, "are like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum."

Other analysts challenge that view, insisting that Dole and Clinton would bring to the White House substantially different outlooks on the world.

"They share common ground against the {Pat} Buchanans and {Ross} Perots, but there are still major differences between them having to do with maturity, self-confidence, and a strategic view of the world," says Peter Rodman, director of National Security Programs at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom in Washington.

Case in point: policy toward Russia. The GOP and Dole have a much less sentimental view of Russia "as a major power whose interests don't always coincide with our own," says Mr. Rodman, adding that such views translate into a greater sense of urgency about bringing the states of central Europe under NATO's protective umbrella.

Dole's proximity to the political center highlights his distance from the relatively small but vocal contingent of hardline conservatives in his own party.

The broad coincidence of views between the two candidates, plus a string of Clinton foreign-policy successes from Haiti to Bosnia, also means that Dole may have a harder time assailing Clinton's record, which has won relatively high public approval ratings. That means Dole may need to spend more time stressing the character and experience he would bring to the job of managing US foreign policy, analysts say. …

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