PRESIDENTIAL DEBATEOctober 6, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, Senator Dole said the other day that you practiced a photo op foreign policy that has lessened the credibility of the United States throughout the world.
Is he wrong about that?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: If that's what he said, he's not right about that. Look at where we are today. The United States is still the indispensable nation in the aftermath of the Cold War and on the brink of the 21st century. I have worked to support our country as the world's strongest force for peace and freedom, prosperity and security.
We have done the following things: Number one, we've managed the aftermath of the Cold War supporting a big drop in nuclear weapons in Russia; the removal of Russian troops from the Baltics; the integration of Central and Eastern European democracies into a new partnership with NATO and, I might add, with a democratic Russia. There are no nuclear missiles pointed at the children of the United States tonight and have not been in our administration for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age.
We have worked hard for peace and freedom. When I took office, Haiti was governed by a dictator that had defied the United States. When I took office, the worst war in Europe was waging in Bosnia.
Now there is a democratically-elected president in Haiti, peace in Bosnia -- we've just had elections there. We made progress in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
We've also stood up to the new threats of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, and we have worked hard to expand America's economic presence around the world with the biggest increase in trade, with the largest number of new trade agreements in history. That's one of the reasons America is number one in auto production again.
JIM LEHRER: Senator?
MR. DOLE: Well, I have a different view. Again, I've supported the president on Bosnia, and I think we were told the troops would be out in a year. Now I understand it's been extended until sometime next year.
But let's start with Somalia, where they dragged Americans through the streets and where 18 Americans were killed one day because they didn't have -- they were pinned down for eight hours, the Rangers. They didn't have the weapons, they didn't have the tanks. They asked for the tanks, they didn't get the tanks from this administration, because we were nation building. It's called mission creep. We turned it over to the United Nations, the president didn't have much to do about it.
Look at Haiti, where we spent about $3 billion and we got an alarm call there about two weeks ago: You've got to send down some more people because the president's found out there are death squads on his -- in his own property, so we need more protection from America.
Bosnia, Northern Ireland. There's no cease-fire in Bosnia. I think there's still lots of problems in Bosnia. We agreed to train and arm the Muslims so they could defend themselves -- the policy you had when you ran in 1992. We haven't done that. We're way behind, which means Americans can't come home. Americans shouldn't have gone there in the first place, had we let them defend themselves, as they have a right to do under Article 57 of the United Nations Charter.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I take full responsibility for what happened at Somalia. But the American people must remember that those soldiers were under an American commander when that happened. I believe they did the best they could under the circumstances. And let's not forget that hundreds of thousands of lives were saved there.
Secondly, in Haiti, political violence is much, much smaller than it was.
Thirdly, in Bosnia, it's a virtual miracle that there has been no return to war, and at least there has now been an election, and the institutions are beginning to function.
In Northern Ireland and the Middle East, we are better off than we were four years ago.
There will always be problems in this old world, but if we're moving in the right direction, and America is leading, we're better off.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dole, if elected president, what criteria would you use to decide when to send U.S. troops into harm's way?
MR. DOLE: Well, after World War I, we had, you know, a policy of disengagement. Then from World War I to World War II, we had sort of a compulsory encagement policy. Now, I think we have to have a selective engagement policy. We have to determine when our interests are involved, not the United Nations' interest. And many of the things the president talked about he's turned over to the United Nations. They decided. He's deployed more troops than any president in history around the world It's costs us billions and billions of dollars for peacekeeping operations. These are facts.
And it seems to me that when you make a decision, the decision is made by the president of the United States, by the commander in chief. He makes that decision when he commits young men or young women who are going to go around and defend our liberty and our freedom.
That would be my position.
Then I'm going to have a top-down review at the Pentagon -- not a bottom-up review where you all fight over how money is there. I want a top-down review to determine what our priorities are and what we should do in defense, and then follow that policy instead of this bottom-up review with all of the services fighting for the money.
You know, the president said he was going to cut defense $60 billion. He cut defense $112 billion, devastated states like California and others, and I think now we've got a problem. We've got to go back and look. It's just like you said in Texas one day -- you know, you raise taxes too much -- and you did -- and you cut defense too much, Mr. President -- and you did -- and you may have said that, too.
But the bottom line is we are the strongest nation in the world, we provide the leadership, and we're going to have continue to provide the leadership. But let's do it on our terms, when our interests are involved, and not when somebody blows the whistle at the United Nations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our military is the strongest military in the world.
It is the strongest, best prepared, best equipped it has ever been. There is very little difference in the budget that I propose and the Republican budget over the six-year period. We are spending a lot of money to modernize our weapons systems. I have proposed a lot of new investments to improve the quality of life for our soldiers, for our men and women in uniform, for their families, for their training. That is my solemn obligation.
You ask when do you decide to deploy them? The interests of the American people must be at stake. Our values must be at stake. We have to be able to make a difference. And frankly, we have to consider what the risks are to our young men and women in uniform.
But I believe the evidence is that our deployments have been successful in Haiti, in Bosnia, when we moved to Kuwait to repel Saddam Hussein's threatened invasion of Kuwait, when I have sent the fleet into the Taiwan Straits, when we worked hard to end the North Korean nuclear threat. I believe the United States is at peace tonight in part because of the disciplined, careful, effective deployment of our military resources.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dole?
MR. DOLE: Well, I failed to mention North Korea and Cuba a while ago. You look at North Korea, where they have enough plutonium to build six nuclear bombs, where we have sort of distanced ourself from our ally, South Korea. They lost about a million people in the war, the Korean War, the Forgotten War. We lost 53,000 Americans. We shouldn't be doing any favors for North Korea. It's a closed society, we don't have any inspection, we don't know whether it's going to work or not. But we keep giving them these incentives -- some would call them something else -- incentives. We don't know what's going to happen.
Here we have Cuba, 90 miles from our shores, and what have we done? We passed a law that gave people a right to sue, and the president postponed it for six months. And it seemed to me if you want to send a signal, you've got to send a signal, Mr. President. The sooner -- the better off we'll be if you put tougher sanctions on Castro, not try to make it easier for him.
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