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Jewish World Review June 23, 1999/ 9 Tamuz 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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GOP must lead
in foreign policy -- ONE IMPORTANT LESSON to be learned in the wake of the Serbian conflict is this: Since the Cold War ended, with a few brief exceptions, the United States has been on an intellectual vacation concerning foreign-policy issues.

That's why we were caught with our intellectual pants down as General Clinton was preparing to bomb Serbia.

Now's the time for Republicans to pick up the ball.

During the Gulf War, we had a national mini-debate on the proper role of the U.S. military in international affairs, but it didn't take long until we resumed our foreign-policy sabbatical. Ironically, our nearly supernatural victory against Saddam just fueled our apathy.

All but the isolationist wing of the Republican Party believed that preserving the free flow of oil at market prices was sufficiently important to our national interests to warrant repelling Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Though there were compelling humanitarian reasons to justify U.S. intervention, most Democrats initially opposed Desert Storm, presumably because humanitarian concerns must take a back seat to politics -- we had a Republican commander in chief then.

Clinton has dispatched our armed forces on so many missions that an unschooled observer might erroneously conclude that he has an affinity for the military he loathes. But most of Clinton's deployments have been for social purposes, not military. To him, the military is little more than a glorified Peace Corps.

Indeed, for Clinton and his ilk there is rarely a moral dilemma over military deployment anywhere on the planet. If there is a humanitarian reason to intervene, most other concerns are utterly irrelevant, such as our military readiness, our other obligations around the world, our war aims and our exit strategy.

If there is enough emotional energy triggering our humanitarian impulses, then Commander Clinton will intervene. This explains why he has intervened in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Serbia. It does not and cannot explain why he has chosen not to in equally pressing humanitarian situations like Rwanda. But liberals don't have to reconcile such inconsistencies -- their motives are beyond reproach.

So for liberals, there is no intellectual vacation from such questions because there is so little intellectual engagement on them in the first place. It's largely an emotional matter.

Republicans must seize this moment to lead the national debate on these issues before we find ourselves at the doorstep of another Slobo. We simply cannot wait for the next foreign crisis to develop a coherent, post-Cold War foreign policy.

Republicans, though, are in the midst of a civil war over whether and when the United States should use its military force. Just like all civil wars, it is very bitter -- name-calling and finger pointing are the rule rather than the exception.

One Republican hawk said that Republican doves opposed the war because of their obsessive hatred of Bill Clinton. Another referred to them pejoratively as the "Little Buchanans" (meaning selfish isolationists).

But conservative columnists opposed to the intervention have also impugned the motives of Republican hawks. Some, they say, are globalists who believe that nation-states are obsolete. Others are determined to prove their compassion and virtue. I agree that there is an abundance of those who would forfeit our sovereignty at the drop of a hat, but not many of them are in the Republican Party.

My belief is that Republican hawks and doves ought to get off their judgmental high horses with each other. This continuing stridency and pettiness is divisive and destructive.

There is every reason to bring this debate to the forefront of our party. But there is no justification to fall into this liberal mode of demonizing those, especially our usual ideological soul mates, who disagree with us. Let's talk about the issue, not the conservative credentials of those espousing either side.

We should begin the discussion with our shared ideas and from there explore our differences. The common denominator among Republican hawks and doves is their conviction that our national interests should guide our foreign policy. Defining the national interests, though, will be the tricky part.

I believe that Republican doves have been carrying the day. They have made clear their intellectual arguments against the intervention. The hawks have largely refused to enter the fray, choosing instead to rely on platitudes like "European stability is vitally important to the United States." Yes, say the doves, but what does that have to do with Serbia? Let's have some answers.

Let the debate begin. If we make headway, we can move on to other issues and maybe eventually reunite this fragmented, self-defeating party.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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06/10/99: Victory in Kosovo? Now What?