- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Uncompromising, cantankerous, principled, imperious are all words that have been used to describe Sen. Jesse Helms. It is fair to say that the senator's retirement in 2003, announced this week, will leave the U.S. Senate a far duller and more predictable place. History has validated many of the highly controversial positions he has held during his 30 years of service in the Senate. Indeed, many of Mr. Helms' so-called extremists positions have gained mainstream momentum, thanks to his unrelenting crusades.
Mr. Helms has been a formidable presence in the foreign policy arena. He has staked out independent positions on issues such as U.S. policy toward China, Russia and Cuba. Both in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and in its aftermath, he has been an unrelenting opponent of enemies of this country. During the Cold War, Mr. Helms provided staunch support for President Reagan, by urging the administration to resist increasing pressure to make arms-control concessions to the Soviets. During the Clinton administration, Mr. Helms' insistence that foreign policy must place principles above pragmatism was labeled retrograde by supporters of unqualified engagement. Today, the Bush White House finds this approach more to its liking.
Mr. Helms has functioned as America's financial bulldog. His campaign to tie U.S. funding of the United Nations to reform has helped put in motion notable improvements in that institution's transparency and efficiency. And his unyielding calls for IMF reform have produced results. "The IMF, as it now functions, is a destructive institution which usually does more harm than good to the countries it is purporting to help," Mr. Helms said memorably in March 2000. Today, criticism of the IMF is accepted as humanitarian and instructive.
At the same, Mr. Helms' support for a compassionate foreign policy has been consistent, and he has been a supporter of debt relief for poor countries. In March, Mr. Helms extended the concept of grassroots, faith-based charity to the international arena and said he would support doubling U.S. aid to foreign countries as long as the money was disbursed by private and faith-based charities rather than the public bureaucracy.
Although it is sad to see Mr. Helms go, it is also satisfying to see how well his efforts have paid off. As Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard put it in a Aug. 11, 1997 feature of Mr. Helms: "The point here is that Helms has gained strange, new respect not as many conservatives have by moving left. Helms has earned it the hard way by not moving at all." Now, the Republican administration must take up the causes Mr. Helms held dear with equal tenacity. In 2003, when the 79-year-old senator's term expires, Mr. Helms can go home to North Carolina and take pride in a long and accomplished career.


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