GOP Rivals Attack Clinton's Plan to Send Troops to BosniaBy Dan Balz
The Washington Post
With Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) equivocating on whether to support President Clinton's decision to send U.S. troops to Bosnia, many of his rivals for the Republican nomination have staked out positions strongly opposing the deployment of ground forces there.
Dole said Monday he spoke with Clinton over the weekend about the plan to send 20,000 U.S. troops to enforce the new peace agreement in Bosnia. "I think he's got a big challenge ahead of him," Dole said Monday morning in advance of Clinton's nationally televised speech outlining the reasons why U.S. troops are needed.
"I told him ... that he hasn't yet persuaded the American people," Dole added. "If he can't persuade the American people, it will be very difficult to persuade the Congress." But Dole added that he wants "to be able to support the president" on the decision, if possible.
Dole finds himself in a difficult position. He has consistently called for a more muscular U.S. policy with regard to the conflict in Bosnia, particularly in lifting the arms embargo, while resisting the introduction of U.S. ground forces into the conflict. But he may be unwilling to oppose the deployment fearing that it would undermine the credibility of the United States or possibly scuttle the agreement -- or deny a president the right to conduct foreign policy.
That could set up a clear contrast with his rivals in the fight for the nomination, although it is not clear the issue will become central to the GOP nomination fight, unless U.S. forces sent to Bosnia incur heavy casualties.
Eddie Mahe, a Republican strategist, said Dole could leave himself vulnerable in the event of a U.S. debacle. "If it blows up over there and if Dole has even seemed to have given qualified support for what Clinton is doing, on whatever basis he provides support, I think the likes of (Patrick J.) Buchanan, (Texas Sen. Phil) Gramm and (publisher Malcolm "Steve") Forbes would swing real hard."
Buchanan, the conservative commentator who has positioned himself as the most isolationist candidate in the GOP field, sharply criticized Dole's posture at a news conference hours before Clinton's speech.
Buchanan said he does not believe Clinton has the constitutional authority to deploy the troops and called on Republican leaders in Congress not to duck the issue. But he called Clinton more principled than the GOP leadership. "While I disagree with the president ... he is leading," Buchanan said. "I think the Republican Party should stand up and say we oppose American troops in Bosnia."
Buchanan said that if Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who also has said he wants to give Clinton an opportunity to make his case, believe the deployment is justified, they should state that now at the beginning of the debate. "What I think would be deplorable would be for Congress to sit back, not take a stand, let the American troops be put into Bosnia and that, if some disaster occurs, say it's Clinton's fault, it's Clinton's war (and) we're not responsible."
Gramm and Forbes also strongly oppose the deployment. On the day the peace accord was signed in Dayton, Ohio, the Texas senator accused Clinton of mishandling Bosnia for three years and predicted that the peace agreement will fail. "I have no confidence in the Clinton-brokered peace deal and I will oppose sending American troops into Bosnia," Gramm said.
Forbes, interviewed on CNN's "Inside Politics Weekend," said the peace agreement has "the makings of a fiasco" and said Clinton's "casually made" commitment to send troops to help enforce it did not represent a long-term solution to the problem. Forbes said he feared that the "nebulous" nature of the agreement invited another Lebanon or Somalia -- two incidents where U.S. forces deployed as peacekeepers suffered casualties that cut short their mission.
Former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander has expressed skepticism about Clinton's decision to send U.S. troops, saying if he had been president, he would never have made such a commitment. In a statement issued before Clinton's speech Monday, Alexander said Clinton needed to answer three questions: why the U.S. has a vital interest in enforcing the agreement; how Americans can be sure that the peace agreement is working before U.S. troops reach Bosnia; and clear terms for ending the U.S. mission.
"The president is our commander-in-chief and he has the right to make his case to the Congress and to the American people," Alexander said in the statement. "But he has not yet done that -- and he must before our troops are sent into an open-ended peacekeeping mission."