As chairman of the sub-committee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments, Senator Dole organized the 1970 Appeal for International Justice. This one day event, held at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. was aimed at attracting national attention to the plight of American soldiers who were taken prisoner or missing in action in Southeast Asia.
In planning the tribute, Dole said, “I resolved that Constitution Hall would be filled to give voice to a ringing tribute that would draw the attention of all men of conscience and compassion to the plight of these valiant Americans.”
Vice President Spiro Agnew, Captain James Lovell, Jr., commander of the Apollo 13 crew, and Dallas industrialist (and future Presidential rival), H. Ross Perot, were among the speakers.
In his introduction to the evening’s events, Dole spoke of his indignation towards the treatment of American soldiers in Vietnam and issued a call to action. “As patriots, we owe these 1,500 soldiers our hands as well as our hearts. We shall more than hearken to their needs. We shall answer them. We shall act.”
One of Senator Dole’s most dramatic encounters was with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Dole first spoke out against Ortega in 1986, accusing the leader of working with the Soviets and urging support for democratic resistance against the Sandanista regime.
In late August of 1987, Dole traveled with four other Senators to meet with President Ortega. The meeting quickly devolved into a public spectacle between Dole and Ortega as the debate was broadcast live over government-controlled radio station, Voice of Nicaragua. Ortega refused Dole’s request for three-way negotiations with the United States and the Contras.
Dole was successful in negotiating the release of two Nicaraguan human rights activists who were jailed after organizing a protest march against Ortega. Dole continued his adamant support for the full restoration of democracy in Nicaragua, saying, “Freedom is our natural heritage, and a very important part of our international responsibility. We—the United States of America—we are the leaders of the free world. That is not just rhetoric. It is a very hard reality.”
The sanctions and military aid supported by Dole paid off. The following year Ortega was ousted in democratic elections and President Bush moved quickly to establish full diplomatic relations with the new government.
Senator Dole traveled with his wife Secretary Elizabeth Dole to communist-controlled Poland in 1989 just one day before the first democratic elections in 45 years. In his report back to Congress, he said, “We arrived in Warsaw on a historic and exciting day – the day that a great nation elected its first democratically-chosen leader in more than half a century.”
In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Mazowiecki and top leaders of the Solidarity movement, Senator and Secretary Dole had the opportunity to meet with newly elected President Lech Walesa, whom Senator Dole called, “truly a hero, not only to Poles but to freedom loving people around the world.” During their meeting, Walesa pleaded with Dole for assistance from the United States to prevent a communist overthrow of the infant democracy, saying, “We have lifted the Iron Curtain, but it is getting heavy. We need help.”
Dole supported aid initiatives for Poland that had been proposed by the Bush administrations, but urged additional aid. “I believe it is in our best interest, America’s interest, to take some additional steps now on behalf of freedom in Poland. I believe we should send some additional, immediate signal of American support for the Mazowiecki government.”
In 2005, Walesa accepted the Dole Leadership Prize given by the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. This annual award is given to a group or individual whose leadership through honorable service in our democracy has served to inspire others.
On the 75th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, April 24, 1990, Senator Dole issued a strong rebuke to the United States Senate for its refusal to declare a day of remembrance for the victims of that massacre. Boldly questioning the motives of his colleagues he said, “We have been taken in by the bluster and blandishments of Turkey’s high priced lobbyists. And we have caved into threats from large American companies who do lots of business in Turkey.”
The Armenian genocide occurred between 1915 and 1920. More than 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed in a campaign by the Ottoman Empire. To date, more than 20 countries around the world have formally recognized the genocide. America still has not.
As a tribute to Dole’s long standing dedication to ensure recognition of the Armenian genocide, he was given the 2001 Freedom Award by the Armenian National Committee of America.
In 1991, Senator Dole opposed the United Nations arms embargo against Bosnia-Herzegovina and all of the republics comprising the former Yugoslavia, despite President George H. W. Bush’s support for the measure. This opposition continued during the Presidency of Bill Clinton, with Dole condemning the aggression of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and stating that the United States should support Bosnia in order to send a clear message to other would-be aggressors “lurking in the shadows of the former Soviet Union.”
In 1995, Bosnian Serb troops committed a series of massacres in the Bosnian cities of Sarajevo and Srebrenica. In response, President Clinton wanted to authorize a series of air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces and asked Dole, the Majority Leader of the Senate, to rally Congressional support for NATO military action. In the midst of his presidential campaign, Dole assembled a small group of advisors to discuss the issue of supporting Clinton. The Republican Party did not want to support the President, both on principle and because polling data demonstrated that many Americans were against any U.S. intervention in the Bosnian War.
Despite this, Dole felt a great responsibility for Bosnia and a responsibility to demonstrate that the United States was willing to take action on behalf of oppressed groups. Dole informed the president that he would support the action, making the NATO involvement a bipartisan issue. These air strikes increased pressure on President Milosevic to participate in peace negotiations that eventually resulted in the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war between Bosnia-Herzegovina and its neighbors: the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia.
Dole continued to express his support for Bosnia. In his October 23, 2009 Wall Street Journal article, Dole worried that the current administration’s support for multilateralism and diplomacy would replace U.S. leadership, saying, “Bosnia is in dire need of another principled commitment to its survival and prosperity as a
Republican leader Bob Dole played pivotal roles in the months leading up to the Gulf War, both as a voice of reason in the Senate and as a trusted ally to President Bush.
On April 12, 1990, Republican leader Bob Dole led a delegation of U.S. Senators to meet with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The purpose of the meeting, arranged by President Bush, was to discuss allegations that Iraq was developing new chemical and biological weapons systems. Although Hussein insisted that his country was engaged in “pure scientific research,” he rebuffed Senator Dole’s suggestion to allow Western journalists access to sites that were potentially involved in biological weapons production.
As chances for a peaceful resolution faded, Senator Dole issued clear and deliberate statements of his support for President Bush. He urged Congress to join him in sending a clear message to Saddam Hussein—that Congress stands firmly in unity with the President and will support his decisions.
“No one wants war. And no one abhors war more than those of us who have fought one,” said Dole on January 11, 1991, six days before the beginning of Operation
Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Dole introduced a resolution authorizing the President to use military force. Still hoping to avoid war, both Senators hoped that the resolution would help to enforce sanctions that seemed to be of little use. “There is only one thing that is going to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, short of throwing him out. And that is if he believes we are going to throw him out.”
“When Americans go to war, we go to war together.” – Senator Dole, Washington Post, January 18, 1991
Dole worked closely with Democratic leader Senator George Mitchell to craft a resolution that would satisfy the differing viewpoints in the Senate regarding the president and the use of military force in Iraq. After nearly two days of debate, the Senate was able to reach unanimous agreement to the Desert Storm Reauthorization Resolution which stated that “Congress commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President” and “unequivocally supports the men and women of our armed forces.”
Dole later worked to achieve tax relief for troops overseas and led the fight to provide support for veterans suffering from Persian Gulf War Syndrome.
As part of his continued support for Bosnia, Senator Dole served as chair of the International Commission of Missing Persons from 1997-2001. Originally established as part of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the commission has surpassed its original scope of work in the countries of former Yugoslavia and is now involved in issues related to missing persons throughout the world.
In the years after the war in Bosnia ended, more than 27,000 people remained missing. Comparing the experience to that of Americans following the Vietnam War, Dole recognized the importance of being able to identify missing relatives and finally put them to rest.
“No project is as essential to reconciliation and peace as this one, which can bring closure to thousands of families who have been locked in the torment of the past and unable to move towards the promise of the future,” he said.
In 2004, Senator Dole received the Golden Medal of Freedom from the president of Kosovo for his support of the protection, freedom, independence and democracy of Kosovo.