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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Warns on 'Isolationism'

WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole have sketched out competing visions of U.S. foreign policy at a conference on America's role in world affairs, with Dole accusing the Democrats of failing to grasp grim global realities and Clinton sternly warning of the dangers of "a new American isolationism."

Dole, in remarks built around the theme of "global realities," says that the United States must see clearly with a "new vision" and sharply questioned the administration's "misguided devotion" to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He accused it of having a "Russia first" attitude and chipped away at Clinton policies toward Iran, Iraq and North Korea among others.

Although congressional Republicans have begun drawing lines with the Clinton administration over foreign policy, particularly UN peacekeeping operations and foreign aid, Dole's address was the first from a senior party leader and a 1996 presidential candidate to critique the administration's foreign policies.

Of the two Republican presidential candidates who have formally announced, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, foreign policy has barely rated a paragraph in their announcement speeches.

The setting for Clinton and Dole on Wednesday was a conference at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom on "Defining An American Role in an Uncertain World." Clinton struck what historically has been a presidential theme of the need for American leadership and resistance to the impulse by Americans to withdraw from that burden.

In a barely concealed reference to the Republicans, Clinton said the "new isolationists" would "eliminate any meaningful role for the United Nations...would deny resources to peacekeepers and even to our troops, and squander them on Star Wars. And they would refuse aid to fledgling democracies." House Republican leaders have pushed legislation on all those fronts.

"New isolationists, some of them being hypocritical, say we must trumpet the rhetoric of American strength but then argue against the resources we need to bring stability to the Persian Gulf, restore democracy to Haiti, control the spread of drugs and organized crime and meet our most elemental obligations to United Nations peacekeeping," Clinton said.

"We must not let the ripple of isolationism they have generated build into a tidal wave," Clinton added. "If we withdraw from the world today, we will have to contend with the consequences of our neglect tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."

Clinton used the administration's nuclear nonproliferation efforts as the prime example of the need and rewards of engagement abroad. Clinton's speech coincided with the start of an administration push to win an indefinite extension of the 25-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at a 172-nation conference that opens in New York next month.

To underscore his commitment to curb nuclear weaponry, the president announced that the United States would remove 200 tons of bomb-grade material -- enriched uranium and plutonium -- from its nuclear stockpiles.

Dole ignored the peacekeeping and other immediate battles with Congress to concentrate on how America should respond to "a resurgent Russia, asserting its position around the globe." And even though several members of the defeated George Bush administration team sat stoically in the audience, Dole did not flinch from criticizing the Russia policy of the former president.

"Just as it was wrong to place too much focus on [then-Soviet president Mikhail] Gorbachev in 1991, it is wrong in 1995 to ignore the fact that President Yeltsin has made serious errors, has moved toward authoritarian rule and has lost the political support of virtually all reform-minded Russians," Dole said.

Dole has shown consistency in having criticized former president George Bush for embracing Gorbachev too closely, and now in criticizing Clinton for embracing Yeltsin too closely.

Today Russia's foreign policy, Dole said, "is often in conflict with American interests." Yet Clinton, captive of a "misguided devotion to a Russia first policy, which has turned into a Yeltsin first policy," runs an administration that has "excused, ignored and minimized" Yeltsin's errors, he said.