Posted on February 26, 1996 in Washington Watch

Indiana Senator Richard Lugar’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination faced difficulties from the outset. The announcement of his candidacy received virtually no press coverage because it was held on April 19, 1995: the day of the terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

His efforts to gain national attention since then have fared no better because an issue on which Lugar pegged his candidacy – the need for Republicans to present a strong and coherent U.S. foreign policy – has been virtually ignored as a serious issue in this presidential race. Yet the measure of the candidacy is far from the measure of the man.

Lugar’s record of public service is impressive. Before winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1976, he served for eight years as Mayor of Indianapolis. Now in his fourth term in the Senate, Lugar serves as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee (which he chaired for two years in the mid-1980s). Despite voting this year in support of Senator Dole’s controversial bill mandating a move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Lugar has one of the more balanced Middle East records in the Senate.

While Lugar has been modestly successful in raising funds and securing endorsements, his message that America needs to be engaged in the world because “there is no domestic policy without a national security policy…and there is no economic growth without an international trade policy that promotes exports”; and that the post-Cold War world “still has dangers that require U.S. leadership and diplomacy” – have not caught hold in this year’s political climate. In many ways, Lugar’s inability to attract the spotlight is symptomatic of the strange nature of the 1996 Republican campaign.

Things were not always this way. Since the end of the World War Two, Republican presidential campaigns traditionally focused heavily on foreign policy. Throughout the Cold War, Republicans consistently sought a leader who would defend U.S. security interests and project American values. Republicans frequently fought their battles with Democrats over these issues.

The end of the Cold War seems to have left some Republicans in a tail-spin. No longer facing an external threat, this year the candidates have focused their attention on conservative social issues, tax policy and the inane debate over who is the biggest “outsider” – that is, who is the least tied to the political culture of Washington and who, therefore, is the most in contact with the everyday needs of average Americans.

With few exceptions, the Republican candidates have said little that is serious or substantial about foreign policy. Senator Dole, the only Republican with a longer record of public service than Senator Lugar’s , has waded into the foreign policy debate on only a few occasions. His record in those forays is a mixture of principle and its absence.

Early in 1995 Dole published a manifesto on American foreign policy in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy. In this article Dole attempted to develop a post-Cold War internationalist approach to foreign policy that would address the same principles that proved victorious for the U.S. in the Cold War.

A severe critic of the Clinton Administration’s Bosnia policy, Dole led the Senate effort to end the arms embargo on Bosnia. But he is also a pragmatist; and after the signing of the Dayton Accords, despite strong Republican opposition (including some of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination), Dole fought hard to win Senate support for Clinton’s plan to send U.S. soldiers as part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

While Dole showed his commitment to principle in the case of Bosnia, his handling of the Middle East peace process can only be characterized as pandering. His infamous Jerusalem bill, harsh and unbalanced criticism of U.S. assistance to Palestinians and his selection of former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick as a key foreign policy advisor have all been designed to win support from the American Jewish community.

The only other Republican candidates to speak about foreign affairs with any regularity has been former CNN commentator Pat Buchanan. And it is Buchanan’s strong articulation of an isolationist and protectionalist trade policy that is now forcing the other candidates to respond.

While Lugar was ignored and the other candidates (including Dole) remained largely silent on foreign policy issues, Buchanan charged into New Hampshire with his anti-immigration, anti-free trade, anti-intervention and anti-foreign aid message. Playing to a constituency that is suffering from economic anxiety, Buchanan called for a five year ban on all immigration, an end to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization, and on end to U.S. involvement in multi-national peacekeeping efforts. To those fearing a loss of jobs or stagnant wages, Buchanan had a simple message; the reason “we” are suffering is that we have surrendered American sovereignty to “them” (meaning immigrants, other nations, and the U.N.)

It was only when Buchanan’s poll numbers began to rise that some of his Republican challengers began to respond in opposition to his calls for protectionism and isolation. On one day in New Hampshire, for example, while Buchanan appeared at a lumber mill that has been losing jobs due to the lower costs of imported lumber allowed in under the NAFTA legislation, Senator Dole countered by appearing at a New Hampshire-based high technology company that has created jobs based on rising exports. Dole’s message was that “We can’t build a wall around America and succeed” – a clear reference to Buchanan’s protectionist rhetoric. Candidates Alexander and Forbes and former candidate Graham also joined in this criticism of Buchanan’s trade policy.

But even with this narrow economic debate, there is still no substantive discussion of broader foreign policy issues. A review of the candidates’ positions papers reveals very little about their intentions. Once again, with the exceptions of Dole and Lugar, the presentations of the other Republicans are limited and at times confusing.

Alexander, for example, limits his entire foreign policy presentation to 250 words, in which he says the following: “World stability depends upon an active and vigorous U.S. presence.” But he then turns immediately to a denunciation of the U.S. presence in Bosnia on the grounds that “we are not the world’s policemen.”

Forbes, too, argues that after the Cold War the U.S. “must have a presence in Europe and Asia” and that “we can’t go back to the isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s.” But he, too, argues against the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia. Texas Senator Phil Graham also shared this inherently contradictory position, before he dropped out of the race. Buchanan and Dornan vigorously oppose U.S. participation in Bosnian peacekeeping because U.S. troops were to be under N.A.T.O. or U.N. command.

Only Lugar and Dole have attempted to support President Clinton’s backing of the Dayton accords, and only Lugar has been supportive of the Middle East peace process.

In a speech before the National Jewish Coalition, a Jewish Republican organization, some of whose leaders have pro-Likud leanings, Lugar gave credit to the Clinton Administration’s efforts to provide continuity to the Middle East peace efforts of the Bush Administration began in Madrid by then-Secretary of State Baker. The other Republican candidates (all except Buchanan, who did not attend) who appeared at the same forum made wild and, to some extent, irresponsibly pandering comments.

Alexander, for example, praised what he called “the importance that Israel plays for the security of the United States” and then went on to berate Syria for not making peace with Israel. The U.S. message to the Syrians, Alexander said, ought to be “end the anti-Israel rhetoric, end the game-playing and end drug trafficking.”

Dole, who still feels that he needs to prove his credentials to the pro-Israel community, went even further than Alexander. After praising the U.S.-Israel relationship, he made the strange observation that “the entire world has benefited from our relationship.” Speaking of the post-Cold War challenges of “terrorism, proliferation and radical fundamentalism, Dole stated “the U.S. should face those challenges with an even closer relationship with Israel.” Dole further proposed a “full-fledged alliance – that would consist of a comprehensive and concrete strategic partnership” and a “greater integration of U.S.-Israel Middle East defense planning.”

It is not uncommon for candidates to pander before a Jewish audience – in fact, the only time that Middle East issues are ever discussed is before Jewish audiences. What is exceptional, however, is that in an election year in which foreign policy is only rarely discussed, that the candidates would go to such lengths in their pandering.

This situation is also surprising because in 1992, in the midst of the Madrid peace talks, most of candidates – including the Democrats – displayed temperance in their discussion of Middle East issues. In 1996, with only Lugar responsibly addressing foreign policy issues, it appears that the situation has changed in a negative way. Foreign policy, to these candidates, is not about America responsibly projecting its values and leadership in the world; it is rather a campaign tactic, employed sparingly to enflame sentiments and pander for votes.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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