Mideast Debate Creates Rift in O.C. Delegation : Policy: Dannemeyer is not sure Bush made right decision. Rohrabacher and Dornan are ambivalent.


The deep rift among conservatives over the Bush Administration’s massive military buildup in the Middle East has penetrated Orange County’s usually united congressional delegation, underscoring the national right-wing debate over America’s role in the post-Cold War world.

Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), echoing concerns raised by conservative columnists Patrick J. Buchanan and Robert Novak, is uneasy “about sending young Americans into a situation where they have little or no interests,” Dannemeyer spokesman Paul Mero said Thursday.

Mero added that Dannemeyer, who is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia today with a 22-member congressional delegation, is not certain that President Bush made the right decision when he dispatched 50,000 troops to Saudi Arabi after Iraqi troops overran neighboring Kuwait on Aug. 2.


“That is unclear in his mind,” Mero said, “given the budgetary considerations and the energy considerations. . . . There is a big question mark when we get about 10% of our oil from the Middle East and Japan gets 90%.”

Orange County’s four other congressmen--Reps. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach), all conservatives--said they support the President’s decision, as do nearly all of the conservatives in Congress. But Rohrabacher and Dornan also expressed some ambivalence about the military mission.

“I would have preferred that we change the law restricting assassinations,” said Rohrabacher, who represents the coastal section of northwestern Orange County, “and instead of sending tens of thousands of American troops to the Arabian peninsula, that we simply assassinate (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein.”

But, Rohrabacher added, “considering the limitations that Congress has put on the Central Intelligence Agency, I think (President Bush) has acted with courage and he’s acted very responsibly.”

Said Dornan: “Americans don’t die for sultans and emirs, and we shouldn’t be dying for foreign oil when we’re locking up our coastlines in Alaska.

“But we’re the only superpower left in the world, and when a little country, however flawed its government, is swallowed whole by an aggressor nation, that cannot go unanswered.”

The American response to Iraq’s invasion of oil-rich Kuwait has split the nation’s conservative movement like no other crisis in recent memory, conservative leaders said. In some cases, conservatives who support the military action find themselves agreeing with traditional liberal opponents and taking exception with fellow conservatives who question the buildup.

“I think that this is a watershed, and I think it may be that the conservative movement really may not quite ever look the same again,” said Tom Bethell, Washington editor of the American Spectator, a leading conservative journal.

On one side are conservatives such as Buchanan, former director of communications in the Ronald Reagan White House, who seemingly echo the “America First,” non-interventionist philosophy of the late Robert A. Taft, the conservative Republican senator from Ohio who died in 1953.

“My view is that Americans are not to be sent into battle unless America’s vital interests are engaged: not the interest of some vague new international order, or some Utopian democratist ideology,” Buchanan recently told the Washington Times.

On the other side are conservatives steeped in the “stop-Communism” brand of international interventionism championed since the early 1950s by right-wing stalwarts such as William F. Buckley Jr.

“For the 40 years of the Cold War, from 1947 until 1989, conservatives would say, ‘We know why we’re engaged in the world. We are there to defeat the Great Satan,’ ” said Burton Pines, senior vice president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center that strongly supports the military buildup in Saudi Arabia.

As the influence of the Soviet Union has diminished, “we are now in the stage as conservatives of asking, ‘What further justifies America intervening in the world?’ And this is a debate in its early stages.”

Pines added, “On the calculus that I have here, yes, it is appropriate for the United States to be involved in the Persian Gulf.”

Among those who agree is Cox, who represents central Orange County.

“If you take the view that we have no business there at all, then you’re ceding Saudi Arabia to Saddam Hussein,” Cox said. “Isolationism has always been a flawed world approach, and it is increasingly so as the world becomes more interdependent.”

Bush deserves “very high marks for marshaling the formal support of most of the world’s governments, as well as world public opinion, behind the defense of Saudi Arabia,” Cox added. But he said the final judgment of the President’s handling of the crisis must wait until it is resolved.

“His strategy remains to be seen, so it is certainly premature to be unqualifiedly praising the (military) exercise, or critical of it,” Cox said.

Packard, who represents southern Orange County, said: “I continue to be very supportive of Bush’s approach. I think he’s handled it very well. . . .

“I don’t believe the United States can withdraw and take an isolationist position. I think it would be a tragic mistake at this juncture, when the Soviet Union is becoming less and less of a superpower. It’s time for the United States to take the leadership.”

Dannemeyer leaves for Saudi Arabia today with a House delegation headed by majority leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). The only Californian in the group, Dannemeyer was chosen because of his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a Gephardt spokesman said.

The representatives will get a military briefing in Bahrain, a small island nation just off the Saudi Arabian coast, and then travel to nearby Dhahran in Saudi Arabia to inspect U.S. troops and meet with Saudi officials. Later, they will fly to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before returning to Washington on Monday afternoon.

Dannemeyer has expressed outrage that U.S. troops are protecting oil production facilities in the Middle East when, he said, environmentalists in the United States have blocked exploitation of offshore oil resources and contributed to a continuing dependence on foreign oil.

“I would much rather explain to a parent why we have offshore drilling expanding off our coasts than I would explain why we sent their child to a foreign land to defend oil largely consumed by Japan and Western Europe,” the Fullerton Republican said earlier this month.

Dornan also expressed exasperation with environmentalists, suggesting that more oil drilling should be authorized in Alaska. A former advocate of increased drilling off the California coast, Dornan has reversed that position in recent months.