August 8, 2000

August 8, 2000 | News Releases on Political Thought

Time to Revive the 'Laxalt Doctrine,' Former State Dept. Official Says

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2000-It's a problem the United States faces more and more often these days: how to handle troublesome foreign leaders such as Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic. Ignoring them appears irresponsible. Full-scale military intervention seems like overkill. Is there no middle ground?

There is, says former assistant Secretary of State John Bolton: the Laxalt Doctrine, otherwise known as the "graceful exit." Named after former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, who successfully negotiated the removal of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Laxalt Doctrine provides a formula for removing certain despots and troublemakers from the world stage without resorting to force, Bolton writes in Policy Review, the Heritage Foundation magazine.

Bolton briefly recounts the Marcos episode, which featured a highly unpopular president (Marcos) refusing to turn over power to his democratically elected successor amid threats of civil war. Unwilling to let the situation fester, but opposed to calling in U.S. troops, President Reagan authorized Laxalt to tell Marcos "he would be welcome in the United States if he saw fit to come here." Shortly thereafter, Marcos arrived in Hawaii.

The Laxalt Doctrine will likely be rejected by the "human rights" advocates who dominate U.S. policy today, many of whom want to apply "international criminal law" against friend and foe alike, Bolton writes. But the idea that any one standard can be enforced globally is unrealistic and open to political abuse. "These 'international standards' typically turn out to be a collection of smoke and mirrors that can shift with miraculous speed depending on the underlying political agenda being pursued at the moment by the righteous," he writes.

Moreover, a one-size-fits-all criminal standard is unnecessarily short-sighted, Bolton writes. Its supporters recoil at the thought of allowing a Marcos or a Milosevic to escape without penalty. But they often fail to consider the larger issues, such as whether the situation justifies our interfering in the affairs of another country, whether our pursuit of the leader in question will lead to more violence, or whether quieter, more diplomatic means will work.

If nothing else, the Laxalt Doctrine has the practical advantage of being more likely to succeed, Bolton says. Consider, for example, the immunity that former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was given in return for stepping down from power. Was the deal fair by "international standards"? Probably not, he says, but many Chileans concluded that an immune Pinochet was a relatively small price to pay for the promise of peace and a return to democracy.

Perhaps best of all, the Laxalt Doctrine can be adapted to the needs of any presidential administration. "It is the prospect of that very flexibility and the necessity to craft case-by-case judgments that make it such a potentially important and useful tool of a realistic American foreign policy," Bolton writes. "The Laxalt Doctrine is a quinessentially Ameican response to an imperfect world filled with irritatingly imperfect humans, and its revival in a new administration would be a most welcome development."

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