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  •   GOP Hopefuls Differ on Kosovo

    By William Branigin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, March 27, 1999; Page A23

    As the Clinton administration continued airstrikes in Serbia, Republican presidential candidates remained deeply divided over how their party should respond.

    While GOP leaders unanimously condemned President Clinton's foreign policy in general, they sounded discordant tones this week over whether the United States should be intervening in Kosovo. The views of the leading presidential contenders ranged from support for strong intervention and qualified backing for airstrikes to denunciation of any involvement and avoidance of the issue entirely.

    "They're all over the map, and certainly that reflects the fissure that exists in the Republican Party," said Thomas Moore, director of international studies at the Heritage Foundation. He described the split as essentially between "nationalists," who represent the party's more isolationist wing, and "globalists," who want to maintain a leading, active U.S. role in world affairs. "That great divide is certainly going to be accentuated by what we do in Kosovo," he said.

    A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the GOP favorite in early polls, said he believes "that if we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy." The spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, declined to say whether Bush thinks those conditions exist in Kosovo. "That's a decision that needs to be made by the commander-in-chief," she said.

    Elizabeth Dole said she supports Clinton's decision "because I believe this action can be instrumental in forging a peaceful solution to a dangerous, escalating military conflict." She added, "The atrocities carried out by Serbian nationalists must be halted."

    In a Senate speech, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is making his first bid for the GOP presidential nomination, also backed U.S. airstrikes in Kosovo. "We must not permit the genocide that [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic has in mind for Kosovo to continue," he said. "We must take action." He cited "a clear and present danger to our interests."

    But McCain, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam, joined other Republicans in denouncing what he called the administration's lack of an "exit strategy" in Kosovo and said he opposes deploying U.S. ground troops unless they are peacekeepers as part of a solid pact to end the fighting. "It's terribly frustrating that there's no endgame here," he said in a telephone interview. "If the bombing doesn't work, what then? The administration will not answer that question. There's no Plan B."

    Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), another Vietnam veteran and presidential candidate, argued strongly against airstrikes or ground action after trying unsuccessfully in the Senate to block any U.S. deployment to Kosovo. "I believe it's a civil war and we have no national interests there," he said in a telephone call with reporters. "This is something that's not worth risking one drop of American blood for."

    Former vice president Dan Quayle "is opposed to military intervention in this case" because the Kosovo operation lacks "a clear, defined objective," said a spokesman, Jonathan Baron. But with fighting underway, Quayle will "support the troops," Baron added.

    Patrick J. Buchanan, seeking the GOP nomination for the third time, accused Clinton of preparing to launch "an illegal, presidential war" as part of "an incoherent foreign policy." He added, "America has no vital interest in whose flag flies over Kosovo's capital, and no right to attack and kill Serb soldiers fighting on their own soil to preserve the territorial integrity of their own country."

    Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) said he also opposes any U.S. intervention and criticized the administration's "abysmal" handling of the crisis, but stressed that he and other Republicans were "not looking to score political points on this."

    Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and a presidential contender for the second time, said in a telephone interview while campaigning in Alabama, "We should join NATO in airstrikes, but we should put no ground forces in Kosovo under any circumstances except as an extraction force to help out other allied forces who get into trouble."

    He predicted that foreign policy would loom large in the upcoming campaign and that once Republicans unite behind a single candidate, "we will have an agenda" with which to confront Clinton and Vice President Gore, whose administration has "underequipped our military, overextended our forces and has brutal dictators thumbing their noses at us."

    Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes expressed similar views, saying he would support the use of U.S. air power in Kosovo, but not ground troops. For his part, Gary Bauer told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would be willing to send U.S. troops to Kosovo because "America needs to be involved in the world."

    "This is going to be a more divisive issue among the contending Republican candidates than might be presently realized," said Moore of the Heritage Foundation. "There's going to be a real struggle to arrive at an agreed-upon Republican position on foreign policy, because there certainly isn't one now."

    Gary Schmitt, director of Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank on foreign and defense policy, said GOP foreign policy positions "seem to be more a reaction against Clinton than a positive vision." He warned that the U.S. debate "only fuels the interest in the European Union to create its own foreign policy and defense institutions" apart from NATO.

    Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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