WASHINGTON — In the first major policy address of her unannounced presidential campaign, Elizabeth Hanford Dole on Wednesday night called for the U.S "to build up and deploy the forces necessary to win the war" in Kosovo, even if that means the use of ground troops to reverse the Serbian gains.
In a speech delivered to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Dole said flatly she would support the deployment of U.S. ground troops in Kosovo "if the NATO commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that . . . [they] are required to accomplish our goals."
"In Kosovo," she continued, "we are the only power capable of stopping an immense threat to peace and progress throughout that region. We and our allies should carry out that mission in the swiftest and most effective way possible."
Dole, who resigned as president of the American Red Cross in January, also announced that she will leave today for a weekend tour of refugee camps and meetings with government officials in Macedonia and Albania.
In her speech, Dole seemed to anticipate that as a candidate, she will face questions about her foreign policy experience. She stressed her work in Red Cross relief efforts in Bosnia and Rwanda and trips to Poland and Beijing as a Cabinet official for Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Dole's remarks came one day after two rivals for the GOP nomination--Sen. John McCain of Arizona and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan--underscored the widening division in Republican ranks over foreign policy in general and Kosovo in particular.
In a speech to a Washington foreign policy group Tuesday, McCain escalated his criticism of President Clinton's handling of the war in Kosovo and called on the administration to immediately begin mobilizing "infantry and armored divisions for a possible ground war" in the region.
Buchanan, defining the opposite pole of the debate, argued in a commentary piece for an end to U.S. involvement in Kosovo--and a broader reduction of U.S. commitments worldwide. With his customary flourish, Buchanan reduced the resurgent "Fortress America" thinking inside the GOP to a five-word rallying cry: "America must retrench and rearm."
Buchanan's words offered a striking counterpoint to Dole's. Like Buchanan--and all the other GOP presidential contenders--Dole called for a sharp (though unspecified) increase in defense spending. In particular, she called for the deployment of a missile defense system, an idea also backed by almost every GOP contender.
"Military budget cuts have turned the Pentagon into a triangle," she said. "I want to build it back up."
But although Buchanan--like a growing chorus of Republicans in Congress--called for the U.S. to reduce its foreign commitments while increasing its defense spending, Dole insisted that the U.S. has an obligation to play an assertive role abroad. "We protect our freedom best when America leads--and when that leadership is clear, credible and capable," she said.
With her speech, Dole offered more unqualified support for ground troops in Kosovo than any of the GOP contenders except McCain. With somewhat more hesitation, Texas Gov. George W. Bush also has said he would support ground troops if requested by the military. The rest of the Republican field has opposed such an escalation.
Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, McCain charged that Clinton had erred by ruling out ground troops and had "excessively restricted" the air campaign, partly out of inordinate fear of civilian casualties.
"I am not haunted by memories of Vietnam," said McCain, a POW in that war, "but I must admit I never thought we would again witness in my lifetime the specter of politicians picking targets and ruling out offensive measures in the absurd hope that the enemy would respond to our restraint by yielding to our demands."
Buchanan, pushing in the opposite direction, called for a negotiated peace that would partition the former Yugoslavia so that "Serbs rule Serbs, Croats rule Croats and Albanians Albanians."