Bob Dole's difficulties reflect, in part, the fact that few Americans can say why this election matters. Indeed, when historians assess 1996, they may conclude that America's election was only the fourth-most or perhaps even the fifth-most-important election of the year. But Dole's campaign can acquire derivative drama from developments abroad.
Taiwan's election produced the first democratically elected head of government in four millennia of Chinese civilization.Israel's election suspended the process of betting that nation's survival on the trading of something tangible and unrecoverable (land) for something intangible and repudiatable (promises of peace).
At issue in Russia's June 16 election, notes Harvard historian Richard Pipes, are the essential components of modernity - democracy and a market economy. The election will test, and perhaps refute, what Peter Rodman of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom calls "the Wilsonian assumption that a democratic Russia would automatically be a friendly Russia."
The United States may not have had a strategic interest in Bosnia merely because international norms of decency were being trampled. But as Rodman says, the United States acquired a strategic interest when it invested its prestige, and NATO's, in the Dayton Accords, which include a commitment to holding elections in Bosnia by mid-September. The future of "humanitarian interventionism," of NATO and of south-central European stability are now implicated in Bosnia's elections, if they occur, and even more if they do not.
Now, Americans should not envy the drama of other people's elections. Boring can be beautiful in politics. It is an unhappy nation where elemental social arrangements, including such rudiments of happiness as personal property and safety, are put at risk at the polls. But Dole's campaign can acquire momentum by saying this election matters because President Clinton's foreign policy puts at risk the nation's values and vital interests.
Dole should read what his boon companion John McCain has written for Foreign Policy quarterly. The Arizona senator comprehensively indicts Clinton's conduct of foreign policy, saying it is characterized by "self-doubt" arising from "the mindset of a culture formed in opposition to the Vietnam War."
McCain says Clinton's badgering of Japan in pursuit of "managed trade" with numerical goals, and Clinton's equally ineffectual hectoring of China about human rights, squandered U.S. influence in Asia just as Clinton was vowing to prevent North Korea from retaining any nuclear weapons. Then, says McCain, "Into this disarray slipped former president Jimmy Carter." Due in part to what McCain calls Carter's "acquisition of American diplomacy," North Korea now gets to keep its weapons-grade plutonium and gets state-of-the-art nuclear reactors and gives only an unverifiable pledge of good faith.
McCain demonstrates how to criticize Clinton's performance on foreign policy, the subject most pertinent to presidential power. McCain also demonstrates how America's election can be infused with drama by connecting it with dramatic developments, including elections abroad.