Editor’s Column Summer 2000
July 1, 2000
Given the long lead times from which quarterly journals suffer, their editors must not only try to anticipate what subjects will still be of interest (or become of interest) three or four months down the road, but also occasionally go out on a limb with predictions that may be disproven before they even appear in print. Having anticipated that the two major candidates for president would be decided by the time the spring issue of Orbis appeared, we accordingly had a few nervous weeks during Senator John McCain’s surge in the early primaries. But having been vindicated on Super Tuesday, we are emboldened to augur again. By midsummer 2000, when you read this, the Bush camp will be making a major pitch for that large and growing block of voters known variously as Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Spanish-speaking, or Latin or Ibero-American. He will do so by indirection and implication, so as not to violate the speech codes of political correctness, but the message he will deliver is this: immigration is not a “problem,” but a badge of honor for the United States; Hispanics are not a threat to American values and unity, but a mighty potential source of support for them; if they fail to achieve their promise, the blame will lie with those who seek to make of Hispanics a welfare-dependent “victim group” rather than the self-reliant, entrepreneurial, family-based people they aspire to be; and finally (most subtle of all) the way in which mainstream America addresses the rising tide of Hispanic America will be one of a piece with U.S. foreign relations toward Latin America as a whole. In short, this domestic issue is also a serious foreign policy issue, and U.S. diplomacy toward Latin America will in turn go far to define the future of America’s multiethnic society in the century ahead.
But whether or not this prediction proves out, the assumptions underlying it seem unassailable. Unless and until a major strategic challenge to U.S. security and prosperity appears, Latin America will command more and more attention from Washington. The question is only whether that will be the result of shocks and crises “south of the border” or preemptive American initiatives to forge pan-American partnerships sufficient to forestall shocks and crises.
In These Pages
Accordingly, Orbis asked a squad of experts to report on current trends in Latin America and how they could impact on U.S. diplomacy. The most immediate variable, of course, is the fact that not only Yankees, but Mexicans choose a new president this year. George Grayson examines the political trends in Mexico and how that country’s painful struggle toward multiparty democracy may advance or perversely stymie cooperation with the United States. Juan L¢pez turns a steely eye on Cuba and argues, contrary to the cliches of American hawks and doves alike, that while the unilateral sanctions against Castro’s regime do in fact “work” quite effectively, they cannot bring the dictatorship down all by themselves. Michael Radu, a veteran observer of South American insurgencies, targets the most volatile nations of all, Colombia and Peru, beset by drug cartels and Marxist revolutionaries. William Perry explains where gigantic Brazil is headed, and whether the United States can do aught to turn its perennially promising past into a promising future. Last but not least, Marc Falcoff surveys Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, suggesting provocatively that the leaders in the Southern Cone may promote regional unity not in order to forge closer links to North America, but precisely to resist dependency on the “colossus of the north.”
Whatever regional or thematic issues the new U.S. president decides to push, he will have no choice but to overhaul the executive branch’s decision-making apparatus. That is because the table of organization established a half-century ago through the Military Establishment Act of 1947 is long of tooth and increasingly dysfunctional absent the Cold War that drove its evolution. President Clinton, to his credit, tried to elevate a National Economic Council to the rank of the National Security Council, but his experiment failed the tests of efficiency and bureaucratic survival of the fittest. In these pages, Carnes Lord goes back to first principles by asking how and why the White House policymaking structure for defense and foreign policy developed in the ways that it did, what in it needs fixing in light of the challenges of the century to come, and which fixes are the best bets to work. The camps of both George W. Bush and Al Gore would do well to “listen up” and test their own ideas against Lord’s. A critical and related subject is the performance of the All-Volunteer Force and whether the failure of the armed services to meet their targets for recruitment and retainment will eventuate in the deployment of women in combat or a return to a draft. Anna Simons says no to the first; Doug Bandow says no to the second.
Finally, our own Harvey Sicherman completes his cycle of reviews targeting books on recent presidential administrations with a stab at Edmund Morris’s notorious biography of Ronald Reagan. And Christopher Gray skillfully adumbrates the import of five books covering two thousand years of papal influence on culture and politics.
Night Thoughts of an I.R. Professor
For two weeks this February a small but determined group of student activists held a sit-in at the office of University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin. They protested on the grounds that apparel bearing the university logo was stitched in overseas sweatshops, and they demanded that the campus disaffiliate from its “labor watchdog” consortium and join another deemed to be tougher on foreign suppliers such as China. I observed the affair with bemusement, but also with sympathy for President Rodin, because I was one of just five people at Penn who knew that President Clinton would be coming on February 24 to deliver a speech on the global economy. And the last thing the two administrations the one in College Hall and the one in the White House desired was a “Seattle-type” protest against globalization and free trade. In the event, the activists were mollified and Clinton’s visit went without incident. As director of the International Relations Program at Penn, I was named a co-sponsor of the lecture and was proud to be able to provide tickets for two hundred undergraduates.
For security reasons we were all obliged to take our seats in the auditorium an hour before the scheduled start, and to make matters worse Clinton was forty minutes late. But when the Secret Servicemen at the exits suddenly tripled in number, an aide attached the presidential seal to the podium, and the sound system struck up “Hail to the Chief,” the impatient kvetching and wry jokes were swept away by the electric field that surrounds the American presidency (whatever one may think of the president). The speech itself was not newsworthy, save for a predictable appeal on behalf of the upcoming legislation to admit China to the World Trade Organization. It was mostly a rehash of the economic portions of the State of the Union address delivered in January, and the only moment of humor was unintentional. Wanting to make a local reference, Clinton joked that he was disappointed about not being able to stay for dinner because he had looked forward to gorging on Philly cheesesteak only it came out “cheesecake.” Talk about a Freudian slip.
The dry and mostly self-congratulatory text notwithstanding, Clinton’s speech was a success. He does radiate a certain charisma, his command of facts is impressive, and he knows how to work a crowd, which is to say he would shake seven or eight hands without even making eye contact, and then zero in on one eager admirer (always a student, in this setting) to offer idealistic exhortation, avuncular counsel, or “feel your pain” empathy. Thus does a president connect with the masses and spread thrills and good will while preserving an air of unapproachable distance and dignity. I know that because David Eisenhower, seated next to me, told me that’s how it’s done.
I doubt many students can recall anything specific that Clinton said, but all came away with “positive vibes.” Foreign policy speeches, however, are another matter entirely, for the reason that foreign governments hang on every phrase an American president utters. They may assume that he says what he means, and so pore over his text to discern U.S. policy, or they may judge 90 percent of his remarks to be boilerplate, but look closely for “signals” of a new tilt or twist. After all, a president must have some reason for making a speech in the first place.
What can foreigners and Americans alike conclude about the Clinton foreign policy legacy from what he has said over the years? To be sure, it is far too early to render an historical judgment about this administration’s diplomacy. But it is not too early to parse the president’s words and render a pundit’s judgment, if only because Clinton himself is in full “legacy mode.” And I am happy to say we are able to do so thanks to the appearance of an extraordinarily useful volume edited by veteran political scientist and Russia specialist Al Rubinstein and his colleagues. In it they have compiled the most pertinent excerpts from no less than fifty key speeches delivered by Clinton (or, in a few cases, his chief foreign policy advisers), divided thematically into eight sections covering overall strategy, relations with Russia, NATO enlargement, relations with China and Taiwan, the United Nations and multilateralism, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What is more, each section is introduced by a narrative and pithy, insightful, nonpartisan commentary. It should prove a valuable reference work for foreign policy analysts, teachers, and students of American foreign policy and presidential rhetoric.
So let’s take a first stab at deconstructing the words of this administration in world affairs, and ask whether Clinton and his advisers have been as rudderless as their critics have claimed, or whether they kept to their course, however much it became necessary to tack with the wind.
Rubinstein’s preface asserts that “President Clinton has set in motion a pattern of U.S. policy initiatives and responses that will affect U.S. foreign policy for years to come,” in large part because the issues he faced were “new, unresolved, troublesome, far-reaching, and present challenging moral and political dilemmas” (p. xi). The first assertion remains to be seen, but the second is already clear: for instance, it has proven more difficult to help Russia than it was to contest and harm the Soviet Union, and more difficult to change China’s regime than it was to align with it to balance Soviet power in Asia. Winning the Cold War may in the fullness of time prove to have been easier than winning the peace. Rubinstein accordingly compares the international environment inherited by Clinton to that of the 1920s, and the comparison may be more apt that he realizes. For far from lurching into “isolationism” as the mythmakers would have it, the Republican administrations of the 1920s pursued vigorous diplomatic agendas in Europe and Asia, invoked Wilsonian principles such as collective security, disarmament, free markets, and democracy, and did so largely through economic and financial means. What is more, Charles Evans Hughes, Herbert Hoover, Frank B. Kellogg, and the others acted in the firm belief that America’s domestic prosperity depended in good part on a stable and open world.
Clinton was unaware of that history, and in his first major foreign policy speech he began by asserting that “Twice before in this century, history has asked the United States and other great powers to provide leadership for a world ravaged by war. After World War I that call went unheeded. Britain was too weakened to lead the world to reconstruction. The United States was too unwilling. . . . And the result was instability, inflation, then depression and ultimately a second World War.” But if engagement was needed then, he continued, how much more is that true today when trade, capital, services, and information (“the king of the world economy”) have all become global. “And so I say to you in the face of all the pressures to do the reverse, we must compete, not retreat.” Finally, not only prosperity, but democracy, freedom, and peace are at stake in such places as Somalia and Bosnia. “If we could make a garden of democracy and prosperity and free enterprise in every part of this globe, the world would be a safer and a better and a more prosperous place for the United States and for all of you to raise your children in.” Clinton concluded by listing the five steps America must take to grow that global garden: put our own economic house in order; make trade a security priority; coordinate the leading financial powers; promote growth in the developing world; and help democracy succeed in Russia and the other new states.
Rubinstein reminds us, however, that as “smart, articulate, impressively informed, and energetically involved as Clinton could be in domestic matters, he seemed unfocused, almost unengaged, and ad hoc in his response to foreign policy issues” (p. 4). So Clinton, Warren Christopher, Anthony Lake, and Madeleine Albright sought to demonstrate that they had “vision,” unlike George Bush, through a series of speeches in the autumn of 1993 that named enlargement of the zones of democracy and the market economy the goal of American strategy, and free trade, engagement, and assertive multilateralism the means. Lake boldly insisted that Americans’ values were universal and that “we should not oppose using our military forces for humanitarian purposes” (p. 5). And Clinton, before the U.N. General Assembly, said in effect that U.S. foreign policy was an expression of the nation’s own inner nature: “In a new era of peril and opportunity, our overriding purpose must be to expand and strengthen the world’s community of market-based democracies. . . . As a country that has over 150 different racial, ethnic, and religious groups within our borders, our policy is and must be rooted in a profound respect for all the world’s religions and cultures.”
Finally, in July 1994 the White House codified the new strategy (now tempered by the debacle in Somalia) according to four principles: national interests would determine the pace and extent of military engagements; the United States would seek the help of its allies or multilateral institutions; no military commitments would be made before consideration of whether peaceful options were exhausted, force was suited to our political goals, domestic support was assured, and an exit strategy was identified; and all engagements would “meet reasonable cost and feasibility thresholds.”
Assertive multilateralism had a short and unhappy run, and after the Republican takeover of the Congress the administration hedged its bets. The White House’s annual report for 1995 read: “When our national security interests are threatened, we will, as America always has, use diplomacy when we can, but force if we must. We will act with others when we can, but alone when we must. We recognize, however, that while force can defeat an aggressor, it cannot solve underlying problems. Democracy and economic prosperity can take root in a struggling society only through local solutions carried out by the society itself. We therefore will send American troops abroad only when our interests are sufficiently at stake” (p. 6).
The country where American interests were most glaringly at stake, but where “sending troops” was no option, was Russia. As Rubinstein recalls, the Bush administration seemed indifferent to the challenge of post-Communist Russia until former president Nixon warned that “if Yeltsin fails, the alternative is not going to be somebody better it’s going to be somebody infinitely worse” (p. 43Û44). But not only was Clinton’s own package of aid insubstantial, his drift toward a policy aimed at NATO expansion made a mockery in Russian eyes of the president’s claim of “strategic partnership.” The first step, a Partnership for Peace to include all the states of the former Soviet bloc, was announced in January 1994 just a month after the red/brown parties won the Duma elections. Yeltsin turned testy, warned of a Cold Peace, and then attacked his own province of Chechnya in December. Clinton in turn angered the Russians with the NATO air strikes in Bosnia in August 1995 and his election-driven announcement of NATO expansion in October 1996. Yelstin later agreed to the NATO-Russian Founding Act of May 27, 1997; what Clinton called “a voice not a veto” in NATO affairs was the best he could get prior to the NATO summit in Madrid that voted to induct Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The Duma, having deferred ratification of the START II arms control treaty, used the expansion as yet another reason for delay. Then, on August 17, 1998, the ruble was devalued 80 percent, exposing the failure of Russia’s economic reforms, and in March 1999 NATO’s bombing of Serbia commenced. Yeltsin denounced this “NATO aggression,” whereupon U.S.-Russian relations “reached an impasse” (p. 50).
Needless to say, none of this was what Clinton intended. At the start of his first term it is safe to say that he took Russian democratization and economic progress for granted, for how else could he justify an overarching priority on domestic policy and sharp reductions in the defense budget? And yet upon taking office he solemnly confessed, “I know and you know that ultimately the history of Russia will be written by Russians.” Likewise, his spin on NATO expansion was that “this new NATO will work with Russia, not against it. . . . We are determined to create a future in which European security is not a zero-sum game.” Yet it remained so as far as the struggling Yeltsin administration was concerned, because the latter had nothing to show for its accommodation of the West except a shaky and corrupt democracy, a central government that barely functioned beyond Moscow, diplomatic humiliations, and economic catastrophe. To be sure, if Clinton was correct that Russians had to work out their own destiny, they had only themselves to blame. But that hardly demonstrated the robustness of Clinton’s campaign for enlargement. Either U.S. policy toward Russia was an abysmal failure, or else enlargement was irrelevant in the country where it mattered most.
What, after all, was the purported justification for NATO enlargement (beyond the winning of East European ethnic votes)? It was, Clinton told a campaign rally in Michigan, because, “As we enter the twenty-first century, we must make a commitment to remain true to the legacy of America’s leadership, to make sure America remains the indispensable nation, not only for ourselves, but for what we believe in and for all the people in the world. That is our burden. That is our opportunity. And it must be our future.” Albright had first referred to the United States as “the indispensable nation”; now the president declared it imperative that it remain soremain, that is, the sole superpower, the hegemon. What is more, the Pentagon’s own long-range plan underscored the priority of working to prevent any other nation from challenging American dominance. That hardly sounded like non-“zero-sum” thinking in Moscow (or Beijing or Paris). Rather, Clinton’s assertion that NATO must expand eastward “to meet the security challenges of the next century” (to contain Russia again?), secure democracy in Eastern Europe (while it falters in Russia?), encourage the new members to resolve differences peacefully (absent Russian influence?), and “erase the line that Stalin drew” (to make room for the one Clinton drew?) played into the hands of Russia’s nationalists and Communists.
That is not to say that Clinton was wrong when he named NATO expansion “the right thing to do,” but the fact that American-Russian relations descended by 1999 to their lowest level since the pre-Gorbachev years does call into question Clinton’s assertion that “the success of Russia’s renewal must be a first-order concern to our country” (p. 52).
A similar story is told, in the president’s own words, about China. Hopeful of building a strategic partnership with Beijing (for the usual four to six reasons: almost every Clinton speech has a list of bullets), Clinton soon throttled back his human rights crusade begun in the 1992 campaign against President Bush, stressed the importance of trade and engagement, and in Rubinstein’s words “dealt with the Taiwan problem cautiously but flexibly” (p. 106). Hence Clinton’s policies were crafted with two domestic constituencies in mind: big corporations with investments in the China trade whom Clinton hoped to peel off from the Republican camp, and Congress, which perversely fell under the control of Republicans eager to hoist Clinton on his own petard for softening U.S. support for Taiwan and human rights on the mainland. The result has been a series of apparent flip-flops aggravated by equally maladroit flip-flops by the Chinese themselves.
As in the Russian case, the Clinton administration’s posture toward China may faute de mieux have been the most prudent. But it also seems as if the United States and China, after the Cold War, are still feeling each other out, bobbing and weaving, testing each other’s flexibility, probing for weakness, and attempting to gauge how willing the other may be to sacrifice values and interests on the altar of greed (read trade and investment). In short, neither of them can decide whether the other really prefers to dance or to box.
That said, the themes of a genuine strategy toward China come across clearly in Clinton’s public rhetoric. In 1994, for instance, he granted that human rights abuses continued in China, not least in Tibet. But he concluded that “extending MFN will avoid isolating China and instead permit us to engage the Chinese with not only economic contacts but with cultural, educational, and other contacts and with a continuing aggressive effort in human rights. . . . I am moving, therefore, to delink human rights from the annual extension of most-favored-nation trading status for China.” He warned of “isolation” repeatedly: “But we cannot walk backward into the future. We must not seek to isolate ourselves from China. We will engage with China, without illusion.” And again: “Most important, choosing isolation over engagement would not make the world safer.” And again: “We will not change our policy in a way that isolates China from the global forces that have begun to empower the Chinese people to change their society and build a better future.” So it is clear that Clinton believes in the same tactics of d‚tente embraced by Nixon and Carter (he even invokes them by name), specifically, that open commercial and cultural exchanges and constant diplomatic “jawboning” are more effective than confrontation in bringing around, or bringing down, a Communist system. And yet, when the Chinese are listening, he is careful to say, “Of course, China will choose its own destiny.”
The bottom line is that Sino-American relations are certainly no better than they were when President Bush left office, and may be worse for the missed opportunities. Again, that is not to say that Clinton’s efforts to cooperate with Beijing were misguided, or that the Chinese do not bear much of the blame for the serial crises and tensions. The Communist hierarchs must know, or perhaps just fear, that Clinton is right about the power of global contacts to undermine their authority. But there’s the rub. If Clinton believes his own talking points (as candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore seem to do), then engagement is precisely what was known during the Cold War as a rollback strategy, albeit through the medium of “soft” commercial and cultural power rather than “hard” military might, and Beijing can be expected to resist it. If, on the other hand, Clinton does not believe his own rhetoric, but is acting from domestic political and economic motives, then engagement may well amount to appeasement.
One theme that dominated the first measures of Clinton’s foreign policy sonata, but which has enjoyed no reprise, is multilateralism, specifically where the United Nations is concerned. It was central to his 1993-94 strategy documents, and in 1995 he implored Americans not to “reject decades of bipartisan support for international cooperation. Those who would do so, these new isolationists, dismiss fifty years of hard evidence.” There followed the customary six-point list of things the U.N. must do to make a more perfect world. But the administration distanced itself from the U.N. after Somalia and Bosnia, maneuvered to oust Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and was loath to consult the Security Council at all on Haiti and Kosovo, wherein the Organization of American States and NATO, respectively (with Washington at the controls), exercised a less universal brand of multilateralism. Rubinstein concludes that the long-term effect of Clinton’s choices “may be the marginalization of the United Nations itself” (p. 144).
The Balkans, indeed, may be recorded as the scene of the Clinton administration’s most egregious and enduring blunders: “egregious” because there the United States whether for humanitarian reasons or the national interest did not lead, entered the fray reluctantly and too late to prevent the worst suffering, and reverted to the same sort of utopian state building the administration swore off after Somalia; and “enduring” because the commanding generals in Bosnia and Kosovo are now on record predicting that NATO forces will remain there for at least a decade. How did Clinton justify his shifting strategy regarding the violence in the former Yugoslavia? In 1995, at the time of the Dayton accords, he boasted of having resisted those who “were urging immediate intervention in the conflict” because “I decided that American ground troops should not fight a war in Bosnia because the United States cannot force peace on Bosnia’s warring groups, the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims.” But now that an accord had been reached, he would contribute 20,000 American troops to serve as peacekeepers (“In the choice between peace and war, Americans must choose peace”) with a promise that they would stay only eighteen months and cost no more than $1.5 billion per year. In fact, the cost would be twice that, and by the end of 1997 it was already clear that so far as “forcing peace” on the Bosnians was concerned, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Accordingly, Clinton began his confession to that effect with an echo of Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam speeches: “I want to speak with you today about the progress we have made toward a lasting peace in Bosnia,” followed by a list of six criteria he claimed to have met in deciding to prolong the occupation.
When the Serbs’ “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo became intolerable in late winter 1999, however, the administration offered the opposite spin. Addressing the nation on television to announce the commencement of NATO air strikes against Serbian targets, Clinton spoke of the need for swift action precisely to stop the killing before it escalated, and to impose peace on the bleeding province: “Sarajevo, the capital of neighboring Bosnia, is where World War I began. World War II and the Holocaust engulfed this region. In both wars, Europe was slow to recognize the dangers, and the United States waited even longer to enter the conflicts. Just imagine if leaders back then had acted wisely and early enough, how many lives could have been saved, how many Americans would not have had to die. We learned some of the same lessons in Bosnia just a few years ago. . . . This was genocide in the heart of Europe, not in 1945 but in 1995. . . .”
Leaving aside his historical analogies, which were judged inaccurate and irrelevant by many critics (Milosevic does not equal Hitler, Serbia does not equal Germany, the Europe of 1999 does not equal the armed camps of 1914, and far more Americans would have died in the world wars had the United States entered at once), the president explicitly admitted that his dilatory response to the previous Bosnian crisis was in error and went on to list three initiatives whereby the NATO powers would “put in place a plan for lasting peace and stability in Kosovo.” But as of mid-2000, the ethnic hatreds there appear to be as intractable as ever, the Kosovo Liberation Army (once damned as a terrorist organization by Washington) is still determined to purge the province of Serbs and attach it to Albania, and Slobodan Milosevic continues to rule in Belgrade. Rubinstein’s epitaph for U.S. policy in the Balkans is a quotation from the strategist Karl von Clausewitz: “War can never be separated from political intercourse, and if, in the consideration of the matter, this occurs anywhere, all the threads of the different relations are in a certain sense broken, and we have before us a senseless thing without an object” (p. 173).
There is much more rich material in this volume. But let us venture some tentative conclusions. First, Clinton’s foreign policy speeches have been formulaic to a striking degree. Almost invariably he identifies a grave problem that Americans would ignore at their peril (thereby invoking fear), exhorts Americans to lead the world toward a solution because only they can do it (thereby invoking shame), cites historical “lessons” proving the need to act (thereby invoking deference), demonizes the enemy (thereby invoking righteous indignation), disparages domestic opponents of his initiative (thereby invoking contempt), offers a vision of perpetual peace and prosperity (thereby invoking hope), and concludes with a four-, five-, or six-point program for the realization of a dream he knows his audience shares (thereby invoking trust). It is an extraordinarily effective template, and Clinton’s speech writers have skillfully captured the temperament, cadence, and themes that have served the president so well in domestic campaigns and policy. What is more, all “great communicators” from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan practiced similar techniques in their public addresses.
Secondly, Clinton’s foreign policies, and the rhetoric used to sell them at home and abroad, seem beset by myriad contradictions. He has said over and over again that the strategic aim of American policy is to enlarge the global sphere of democracy and markets, and yet he has also said repeatedly (with reference to Russia and China, but also to Iraq, Iran, Serbia, and Cuba) that societies cannot be changed from without and must write their own history. He has called with pathos for intervention to stop humanitarian disasters, and yet he has often said that force cannot solve the underlying issues that spawn such disasters. He has called for humanitarian missions, but only when the national interest is at stake. He has implied that the U.S. national interest is always at stake, because the spread of democracy is the best way to secure and prosper America, and because peace and freedom are indivisible, and yet he has repeatedly promised to subject decisions about intervening abroad to severe, multipoint checklists. He insists that the United States must remain “the indispensable nation,” and yet he says that America’s goal is to work toward a world of cooperative democratic partners in which the culture and interests of all are respected and burdens equally shared. He has rued isolation of all sorts as the roadblock to peace and freedom, yet he told the U.N. that its “first and foremost” task is “to isolate states and people who traffic in terror” (p. 158). Above all, he insists that the United States respects all religions and cultures, but repeatedly expresses the hope and expectation that forces of globalization will overcome cultural divides until people everywhere embrace the universal values upheld by Americans.
That brings us to a third observation, which I believe allows Clinton to indulge in such apparent contradictions in matters of tactics. For all his alleged tergiversation in foreign policy, Clinton does exhibit a solid core of conviction, to be read in the lines, or between the lines, of almost all his addresses. He believes that foreign and domestic policy are inseparable, that America and the world are functionally coterminous, and that Americans’ moral and material interests are functionally identical. We face, he said last year, many dangers ranging from regional wars to terrorism to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to global environmental crises and deadly diseases to global financial turmoil, any one of which “will undermine open markets, overwhelm open societies, and undercut our own prosperity.” Some Americans would prefer to batten down the hatches rather than confront such dangers, but such isolationism is impossible. Hence, “we must work hard with the world to defeat the dangers we face together and to build this hopeful moment together, into a generation of peace, prosperity, and freedom.”
Some Americans insist that the United States lead only when its national interests are engaged. “It’s easy, for example, to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread? We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and interests are at stake, and where we can make a real difference, we must be prepared to do so. And we must remember that the real challenge of foreign policy is to deal with problems before they harm our national interests” (italics added). In sum, America must lead everywhere, either because her interests are at risk, or because they soon will be if a given conflict is permitted to metastasize.
Clinton also believes that while the United States cannot, even with the help of its allies, solve the root causes of every problem on earth, it can, with the help of like-minded nations, create the conditions under which the causes of conflict can be rooted out by ordinary people empowered by globalization. Speaking at the U.N. in 1997 he did not say that the world organization was the hope of the future. He said this instead: “Armed with photocopiers and fax machines, e-mail and the Internet, supported by an increasingly important community of nongovernmental organizations, [people denied human rights] will make their demands known, spreading the spirit of freedom, which as the history of the last ten years has shown us, ultimately will prevail.” Half the ambassadors seated in the General Assembly, not to mention the governments that credentialed them, must have shuddered when they heard that threat. Add to the Information Revolution the global marketplace of goods and ideas and the “soft power” of American culture and you arrive at Clinton’s formula for “the destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere” (to borrow a phrase from Woodrow Wilson). Just open up China and Russia, the Muslim world, and rogue states everywhere to the spirit of freedom soaring on the wings of technology, and sooner or later the people will triumph. In short, human rights as well as peace and prosperity will take care of themselves, if only “isolation” and “isolationism” of all sorts can be purged.
The next president, even (perhaps especially) if it is Gore, will have cause to rue the fact that Bill Clinton inherited numerous post-Cold War problems and solved none, be it the future of Russia’s democracy, nuclear arsenal, and pathetic economy, relations with China and Taiwan, the survival of Castro and Kim Jong-il, the wasting stalemate with Iran and Iraq, the Indian-Pakistani conflict, the drug cartels and insurgencies in Colombia, illegal immigration from Mexico and elsewhere, the correct size and posture of the U.S. military, and the quagmire of humanitarian interventions (when, where, for what, and by whom?). But if Clinton is right, the way to manage such issues is precisely to temporize in the belief that a crisis that neither sparks a war nor wrecks the economy is a crisis surmounted, because, thanks to globalization, the days of all bad guys are numbered.