The mood of American introspection and fatigue with the tiresome world is growing fast
THE UNITED STATES IS ENDING THE AMERICAN CENTURY with a striking and ambitious drive to renew and extend the internationalism which has directed its foreign policy since 1941. It is broadening its commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to new allies in eastern Europe while also pledging a new partnership with Russia. It is determined to secure a Middle East peace settlement and to retain its troop deployments and bases in the Pacific to help build a stable and sustainable commercial and security system in Asia. President Bill Clinton and his senior officials, growing comfortable and even familiar with the uses of America's unrivaled military power, appear determined to start the post-cold war period with the same commitment to global strategic and commercial leadership with which the generation of Dean Acheson and General George Marshall launched America's cold war strategy in 1947.
But the Clinton administration also promises to pay the $1.4 billion it is in arrears to the United Nations, as a way to start afresh its long-troubled relations with a world body that has not always proved compliant with American presumptions or American policy. And it is with the problematic fate of the Clinton plan for the United Nations that the real paradox of the Clinton administration's global ambitions becomes manifest. Clinton has secured the support of the Republican speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and the rather more lukewarm backing of the Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott. But this accord between Democratic and Republican leaders has run into trouble, in the person of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a highly conservative and nationalist critic of free trade, who as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is perfectly placed to slow and block the administration's foreign policy.
Assistant Editor, the Guardian based in Washington, DC. In October 1997 the author will become the European Editor of the Guardian.
Deeply sceptical of Clinton's attempt to clear the financial books with the United Nations, of his determination to extend the free trade agenda into Latin America and his hope to include China in the World Trade Organization, Senator Helms is but the most prominent figure of an enduring isolationist sentiment in the United States. His power is clear, from the way that he has delayed, if not blocked, ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, even though Republican worthies from former general Colin Powell to the former secretary of state, James Baker, have rallied to the treaty's support.
As co-author with Congressman Dan Burton of the Helms-Burton act, which makes foreign companies who presume to operate in Cuba liable to sweeping damages in American courts, Helms has engineered serious difficulties in United States relations with its closesr allies in Europe and in Canada. The extraterritorial implications of the Helms-Burton act are based on combined assumptions of legislative arrogance and American predominance which are the hallmarks of Helms's world view. Its roots are at once isolationist and superior: political introspection with a superiority complex.
This bodes ill for much of the foreign policy of the Clinton administration. First at risk is its dealings with Russia, from the move to a third Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START III) to extended financial support, to the tricky prospects for NATO enlargement. The second threat is to the efforts of the White House to cajole China into a cooperative role in Asia, where again the fund-raising embarrassments of the Clinton campaign give Helms a striking prospect of adding Republican support to those Democratic liberals who do not want to renew China's most-favoured-nation trading status in 1997. Helms stands on suspicious guard against each one. He has already blocked an array of ambassadorial appointments and is holding the State Department's budget hostage to his demands for a streamlining for the Agency for International Development (AID) which threatens to emasculate what remains of the Agency.
In a sensible and healthy Congress, this would not matter. Republican leaders like Robert Dole could in the past find ways around, or even through, the portly figure of Jesse Helms. The current Congress is far from healthy and is seldom sensible. Gingrich is far too worried about his critics on the right to rake on Helms, and in the Senate Lott has never shown much interest in foreign policy. Traditionally, rank-and-file Republican congressmen would have deferred to their party's foreign policy (and internationalist) elders like Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia. In the new Congress, in which more than half of the legislators have been elected since 1992, the traditional respect for the foreign policy experts no longer applies. The mood of partisanship means that many Republicans tend to see foreign policy as just another way to bash the administration.
Take, for example, the way in which Gingrich and his nominal deputy, the Republican majority leader, Dick Armey, a very conservative congressman from Texas, have sidestepped their own deepest instincts and convictions. Both were enthusiastic free traders, who helped President Clinton enact his first-term agenda of free trade pacts. Now they threaten to torpedo the enlargement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by refusing to renew the president's 'fast-track' authority, the specially accelerated procedure under which Congress agrees to waive its constitutional right to micro-manage any new trade agreement and allows the administration to negotiate the whole accord. Only then does Congress vote yes or no on the entire package. Helms's committee does not have authority over trade matters or over the Clinton administration's attempts to win 'fast-track' authority from Congress to permit it to negotiate extensions to NAFTA. But his stubborn opposition to the broad range of Clintonian foreign policy makes Helms, who voted against NAFTA, a rallying point for protectionist sentiment.
The White House needs a new congressional authorization for a fast-track negotiation to bring Chile into NAFTA. But it is not easy to defend NAFTA today with the same blithe assumptions of booming trade and convergent interests which helped enact it in 1993. A modest United States trade surplus with Mexico has become a $15 billion deficit. Mexico itself was devastated by the change NAFTA brought. The collapse of the peso intensified its social and political crises and left the country desperately vulnerable to the booming industry of narco-traffickers. In a country whose gross domestic product (GDP) was barely $400 billion last year, the drug trade is reckoned to be worth $40 billion - which pays for a lot of corruption. Drugs, corruption, and trade deficits have made NAFTA a useful whipping boy for the growing coalition of labour unions, right-wing nationalists like Pat Buchanan, and Democrats who are starting to worry about the direction in which Clinton's global economy is heading. And as the current fund-raising scandals tarnish vice-president A1 Gore, as well as Clinton, Helms and the anti-NAFTA forces are finding allies among such Democrats as House minority leader, Dick Gephardt, who thinks he has a chance of beating Gore for the presidential nomination in 2000.
The politics of Washington thus contend to an almost unprecedented degree with the internationalist ambitions of the White House. The president cannot rely on his party, and his free trading strategy confronts that important Democratic constituency-the labour unions. The Republican leaders are increasingly tempted, for tactical reasons, to make their internationalist convictions defer to immediate political advantage. Perhaps most ominously, and certainly in sharpest contrast to the late 1940s when Acheson and Marshall were able to rally bipartisan support for cold war internationalism, Clinton cannot count on the foreign policy establishment of the think-tanks, the universities, and the serious media.
The central ambition of Clinton's second term - to construct (as he said at the Helsinki summit with Boris Yeltsin in March 1997) 'a Europe that is stable, whole, and free - remains deeply contentious.(f.1) Michael Mandelbaum, a leading adviser in the 1992 Clinton campaign, has condemned NATO enlargement as 'a dangerous delusion which will dilute NATO if it does not destroy it.'(f.2) George F. Kennan, the father of the cold war containment strategy, has called NATO enlargement 'the most fateful error of American foreign policy in the post-cold war era.'(f.3) The Council on Foreign Relations has issued a testily critical report, and, despite Clinton's success at winning Yeltsin's reluctant and sullen acquiescence at the Helsinki summit, the arguments over an enlarged NATO simply lie in wait until the next round of enlargement debates bring the critical Baltic states into the fray.
This is doubtless premature, but the last rites have already been pronounced over NATO by Irving Kristol, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and the most formidable of the former leftist intellectuals who became the neo-conservatives. Kristol is not turning to isolation, but he is changing the geography and priorities of American concern. 'The cold war is over and with it a phase of world history, the European phase. The nations of Europe are still of great technological, economic and cultural importance, but their foreign policies no longer count for much,' he argues. 'Europe is no longer the cockpit of the world, and NATO is an organization without a mission, a relic of the cold war. The major foreign policy problems that the United States will be facing henceforth are trans-European. There are three such problems. First, there is Mexico. Second, there is the rise of fundamentalist Islam in north Africa and the Middle East. Third, there is the near inevitable rise of China as the dominant Asian power. Reinventing NATO is a vast irrelevance. Let it slide into obsolescence.(f.4)
Clinton and his national security team appear to be heading into that same dangerous territory which the European Union has explored with its post-Maastricht efforts to deepen Europe's proto-federal institutions and to establish a common currency. The leaders are running ahead of their public and even ahead of those independent foreign policy thinkers who now give theoretical weight to Clinton's critics. They are, in the process, kicking awake a dog which has long slept: the American isolationist tradition.
For nearly fifty years, the one constant consensus among the American public, more than any other measurable political or social issue, has been that the United States 'should take an active part in world affairs.' Back in 1947, as the cold war was getting under way, 68 per cent of Americans said that the United States should play an active international role, while 25 per cent said it should not play much of an international role. Last year, the figures were almost identical, with 67 per cent saying yes to an active international role and 28 per cent saying no. These figures, from the archives of the National Opinion Research Center, reveal a highly durable consensus. The proportion of those calling for an active role has never fallen below 65 per cent (in 1986) nor risen above 73 per cent (in 1991). The proportion wanting to stay out of world affairs has never risen above 32 per cent (in 1976 and 1986) nor dropped below 24 per cent (in 1991).
But something has started to change. Opinion polls taken by the United States Information Agency, by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, and by Newt Gingrich's favourite pollster, Frank Luntz, all suggest that the mood of American introspection and fatigue with the tiresome world is growing fast. 'The end of the cold war spawned fears that the U.S. would return to isolationism. Evidence to support those fears is growing,' according to Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George Bush and to President Gerald Ford before him. An eminence of the foreign policy establishment, Scowcroft is worried. 'American foreign policy not only has become passive and diminished but has also become more narrow-minded, short-sighted, and increasingly go-it-alone. In a word, U.S. foreign policy is becoming increasingly "unilateralist" as well as "isolationist.'"(f.5)
These political arguments between Americans seem beside the point to foreign observers, who see a more fundamental change taking place in the way the United States relates to the world. Wolfgang Pordzik of the Adenauer Institute in Washington, part think-tank and part political embassy in the United States for Germany's Christian Democrats, is 'not in the least concerned about isolationism in the traditional sense of the 1920s.'(f.6)
Hardly anybody seriously thinks that is an option for a U.S. that is so locked into the international economy. But the nature of U.S. leadership has changed from the military and alliance form of the cold war to an economic leadership where the U.S. is no longer so dominant, more first among equals. This means in turn that the American political class is much more concerned about the costs and benefits of involvement or intervention. This is partly a question of resources, which are constrained by budget deficits, and partly a question of alarm about U.S. casualties. Perhaps the easy victory of the Gulf war gave a misleading image of the costs of military operations, because even President Bush said that the Vietnam syndrome of nervousness about casualties was finally buried. It wasn't. This became acute in the Somalia operation when 18 U.S. Rangers were killed in a single day, and the TV screens broadcast the appalling pictures of the corpse of an American helicopter pilot being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. To be in America that week was to be aware of a state of shock, the whole country taking a big breath and shaking its head and demanding to know what had gone wrong and what was the point of this.
Edward Luttwak, the author of Coup d'Etats: A Practical Handbook, a seminal work on the nature of coups, is a consultant to the National Security Council and a genuinely original, iconoclastic thinker at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He sees the change as demographic, a result of smaller families where the loss of one son means a much deeper emotional shock. 'The definition of a superpower is one that does not only intervene when its vital national interests are at stake, but has the luxury of choice to intervene and take casualties in the case of marginal interests, to indulge its preferences as well as its strategic needs,' Luttwak explains. 'To be deterred by fear of losses is to force a superpower into the strategic profile of a petty principality.' Luttwak points to a deeper argument; that for fifty years the experience of the cold war accustomed the United States to the comforting delusion that a great strategic campaign could be sustained and won without war. The cold war's two serious military campaigns, in Korea and in Vietnam, were deeply unpopular and controversial and led to the toppling of two Democratic presidencies.
What is taking place in America today is a retreat from internationalism because it is seen as costing too much in money and in lives and promiscuously committed to causes which may not be clearly in American interests nor under American command. That is why the United Nations is the focus of so much resentment. The UN gets the blame and gives internationalism a bad name,' suggests James Chace of Bard College, another member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 'This retreat from internationalism was very tightly focussed, resenting U.S. intervention in marginal causes, like Somalia or Haiti, or in places like Bosnia which were seen as a European responsibility. But the suspicion about internationalism is now starting to widen ominously, to include economic matters like the attempt to rescue the Mexican peso even as concern about narco-corruption and drug trafficking takes over the debate, and this feeds on the long-standing complaints about foreign aid,' Chace goes on.
Chace's argument is taken a stage further by David Calleo of the School of Advanced International Studies. A scholar who pioneered the study of the global economy and the United States role in building it, Calleo fears that the retreat from internationalism could grow as the American public comes to understand that the global economy increases the American commitment overseas.
We may be having a debate about isolationism, but the fact is that we are extending our international obligations. We are seeking to expand NATO into eastern Europe. Put the Haiti operation to one side, our Mexican policy and plans to extend NAFTA show the degree to which we are extending our obligations in the Western Hemisphere. In the name of nuclear non-proliferation, we are deepening our involvement in Asia. This is most visible in North Korea, where we are arranging compensation in energy supplies for their dismantling of nuclear reactors. But we are also compensating Kazakhstan for giving up the nuclear capability they inherited from the Soviet Union. And these precedents have not been lost on India and Pakistan. We also seem to be taking the lead in establishing a wider Pacific security area, based on our commitment to an Asia-Pacific free trade community.
The argument that America's free trade strategy carries with it a more extensive security commitment, rather in the way that Britain's economic dominance of the 19th century required a Pax Britannica to police and protect it, is made most bluntly by Ben Schwarz in his work at the Rand Corporation. This is the think-tank that made its name by thinking about the unthinkable of nuclear war, and its new focus on trade issues is indicative of the shifting grounds of the United States strategic debate.
'Underpinning U.S. world order strategy is the belief that America must maintain what is in essence a military protectorate in economically critical regions to ensure that America's vital trade and financial relations will not be disrupted by political upheaval,' Schwarz suggests. He cites former Secretary of State Dean Rusk who argued during the Vietnam era that 'the U.S. is safe only to the extent that its total environment is safe.' Schwarz quotes the ] 992 draft of the Pentagon's 'Defense Planning Guidance,' which says the United States 'will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests but those of our allies and friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations.'
This way lies not only overstretch, Schwarz argues, but also the collapse of an American-run world order because 'the worldwide economic system that the U.S. has protected and fostered has itself largely determined the country's relative economic decline. Economic power has diffused from the U.S. to new centres of growth. American hegemony, perforce, has been undermined.'(f.7)
If the United States public is only dimly beginning to perceive this, those on the receiving end of the Pax Americana believe that there is no American drift to isolationism. Quite the reverse. The United States defence budget of just over $250 billion a year exceeds that of the next nine military powers combined. It endows the United States of America with a unique military capacity and global reach, which combines the military superiority of the Roman legions in their time with the oceanic sway of the Royal Navy at the height of Pax Britannica. With its twelve aircraft carrier task forces, its Stealth warplanes, its capacity for sea and airlift mobility, and its global network of military bases, the United States currently enjoys a status as close to ultimate military invulnerability as may be possible in a ballistic missile age. And the technology which could allow the United States mainland to fend off missile bombardment is now far advanced. Not Queen Victoria, not Napoleon or the Sun King or even Tamerlane and Ghengis Khan enjoyed military dominance on this scale.(f.8)
All this military power accompanies an economic vigour which makes a mockery of the phrase which the late Senator Paul Tsongas made briefly fashionable during the 1992 presidential campaign: that 'the cold war is over, and Japan won.' Since then, the Japanese recession has left that economy static, if not slightly shrunken. The United States economy has enjoyed striking productivity and output growth, until today it is 25-per-cent larger in GDP and has created 11 million more jobs since Clinton began his run for the White House.
The most startling contradiction in world affairs is that having triumphed in its 60-year campaign for global hegemony, the world's last superpower has never been so utterly integrated into the global economy it fashioned or so reluctant about its implications. The United States is now the world's leading exporter, with almost a quarter of its GDP from trade, with a more export-dependent economy than Japan A Clinton doctrine is emerging which locks the country into the new building-blocks of the global economy in North America, the Pacific rim, and the entire Western Hemisphere.
But not since the 1930s has the United States appeared so ready to turn inwards again, back to that isolationism which President Franklin Roosevelt said had finally been sunk at Pearl Harbor. The Republican party, which retained its majority in Congress and increased it in the Senate, has pledged to forbid any future American participation in United Nations operations without its permission. It has vowed to build those anti-missile defences whose promise of an impregnable Fortess America so gripped the imagination of Ronald Reagan.
The new Republicans have little time for the traditions of party discipline. Gingrich, their fiery new Speaker, made common cause with Clinton and Alan Greenspan, the chair of the Federal Reserve Board, to support the rescue plan for the Mexican economy, a key partner in the North American Free Trade Area which the Republicans had helped devise. But Clinton could not deliver the Democratic congressmen and Gingrich could not deliver his Republicans.
'Not since Senate rejection of the League of Nations in 1919 has our Power Elite suffered such a rout as it has on the $40 billion Mexican bailout,' crowed Pat Buchanan, the conservative and unabashed isolationist who challenged George Bush in the 1992 presidential primaries. 'The Mexican crisis should be a warning as to what lies at the end of the big highway marked with the signs NAFTA and GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]. We are linking our economic security, indeed our economic survival, to regimes like Japan that use spies to steal our industrial secrets and non-tariff barriers to keep out our products. To regimes like China that steal our intellectual property and use slave labour to earn the capital to challenge the U.S. for world dominance. To regimes like Mexico that devalue their currency to rob investors and drive U.S. out of their markets.'(f.9)
Buchanan's words are echoed by Democratic congressmen, in trade union halls around the country, and by that veteran progressive, Raiph Nader, who joined Buchanan to campaign against the GATT. The resentment against the free trade system is a bi-partisan phenomenon, a populist revolt which startled Gingrich as much as it cheered Buchanan. Gingrich, after all, believes that American power has a global purpose. When he drafted the 10-point Contract with America as the 1994 Republican election manifesto, he deliberately included one promise of deeper international engagement. And that was the first part of the contract that his foot soldiers abandoned. Warned in congressional committee that an expanded NATO would require spreading the United States nuclear guarantee over eastern Europe, they backed away from the demand that NATO membership be extended by 1999 to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics.
What is left of the foreign affairs section of the contract is so much red meat to the isolationist wing. The Republicans call for abolition of aid and for submerging John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps into a bureau of a slimmed-down State Department. And forgetting that United States troops stormed ashore on D-Day and fought at the Battle of the Bulge under the command of Britain's General Bernard Montgomery, they demand that United States soldiers should never come under foreign command.
Jesse Helms has never voted for a foreign aid bill and insists that the American people 'are tired of pouring hard-earned money down those ratholes.' The chair of the foreign operations committee, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of those who wants to abolish aid, has almost complete control over United States spending overseas. 'We ought not to be using our money or our troops in places where we have no interests. We have to exercise some restraint' was his explanation for why he opposed the successful United States operation to restore democratic rule to Haiti. 'Why in the world would we spend a billion and a half dollars picking sides in a banana republic?' 'One might get the impression from the election that Republicans as a group are isolationist,' McConnell went on. 'Not so. I'm an internationalist, and my goal is to see that our party not be isolationist. But you have to put yourself on a diet when it comes to intervention and devise a meticulous approach to the use of the military, and target foreign aid to areas where U.S. interests lie.'
In a way, the word 'isolationist' lets the Republicans off the hook, evoking as it does a 1920s-style retreat from an entangling world. The term they prefer to describe for themselves these days is unilateralist, coined in response to the Clinton administration's early flailings with 'muscular multilateralism' in Somalia and Haiti. Some Republicans of a more historical bent, like Pat Buchanan, use the 1930s phrase 'America Firsters.'
Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute, has been the most prominent intellectual advocate of a minimalist foreign policy which is influential among congressional Republicans. 'It's not isolationism. Unilateralism is the major feature. It is a more nationalist foreign policy, a much more selective use of military engagement, asking the automatic question, what is the U.S. interest here? What's in it for us?' Carpenter has asked. 'There are some interesting parallels with Gaullism, that America is a special kind of nation, with a special role and special obligations, all stemming from a unique identity that other countries have to respect. We want to benefit from our engagement in world affairs and from our leadership, but at the same time we are reluctant to pay the costs in the way we once did.'
The advocates of traditional internationalist foreign policy are still trying to understand the speed with which the American political scene has shifted under their feet and have sounded the warnings that the new Republican approach is much more dangerous than it might look. Charles William Maynes, just retired as editor of the quarterly, Foreign Policy, and a former assistant secretary of state for international affairs in the Carter administration, is more than worried.
'There is now more danger of the U.S. returning to the pure isolationism of 1920-25 than I have ever seen. At the moment, the current is unilateralist rather than isolationist, but it will lead to isolationism because we will not be able to carry the allies with us,' he argues, which explains his concern about enlarging NATO. 'There is a presumption that U.S. leadership will be indefinitely sustained because of the automatic followership of our allies. But our allies followed because they were frightened of the Soviet Union. Now they aren't. They are frightened of other things, like Muslim fundamentalism in north Africa,which are far less compelling to us.'
Maynes points to the clear divergence of United States and European interests in the way that France and Germany complain of the American policy of 'double containment' of both Iraq and Iran. This issue is complicated by the D'Amato act, which threatens further extraterritorial United Nations sanctions against foreign companies which invest in Iran's energy industries. In one sense, this reflects age-old commercial rivalries for raw materials and markets. But it adds a theme of nationalist self-interest to a foreign policy debate which Maynes sees reflecting the long-standing isolationist currents in the Republican party, based in the geographic heartland of the mid-west. But it was traditionally balanced and usually overcome by the New England Republicans, representing a Europhile and maritime trading region whose influence in the party has steadily dwindled, even as America's role in the global economy expands.
'If the U.S. based foreign policy solely on our vital national interests, we wouldn't have one, because in a sense, we don't need one. Protected by two ocean moats, self-reliant in food and raw materials, with a rich continent and markets to the south, this country faces no real security threat. No-one could conquer us or destroy us without embarking on a suicide mission,' Maynes continues. 'So to have a foreign policy, you have to go beyond these core interests and make the case that stability in Europe and in Asia and the Persian Gulf is also a part of our vital interests. When we had the great Soviet enemy, that case was clear. It is much less clear now.'
Sherle Schwenninger, a senior fellow and former director of the World Policy Institute in New York, is regularly asked by the White House to help draft the foreign policy section of President Clinton's State of the Union speech. What worries him is the speed with which the interests of the U.S. and Europe are diverging. The argument over Bosnia was where this divergence began. It has since become much sharper.
'The West as a security system is fragmenting because the unity provided by the single Soviet threat is being replaced by separate regional threats. The U.S. feels threatened by an economic crisis in Mexico which has little resonance for Europe. The Europeans feel threatened by Islamic fundamentalism in north Africa, which is far less an issue in the U.S.,' Schwenninger said. 'In the past, this kind of split between the U.S. and the European allies could be resolved, not just because of NATO and the Soviet threat but because there was a bi-partisan foreign policy elite which tended to speak with a single voice. But now we see a fragmentation of the American foreign policy community, with separate constituencies rallying around Bosnia, or Haiti, or China, and no unifying paradigm like the cold war to bind them together. The most serious disjunction is the embrace of a global free-market trading system as the dominant policy of the governing class. But there is no consensus that the U.S. should assume the responsibility for ensuring the global stability required for that free trade system, nor for building the institutions it requires.'
People like Maynes and Schwenninger, with their think-tanks and foreign policy journals and White House seminars, are starting to resemble decayed aristocrats of an ancien regime. They are trying to maintain a traditional style of life as the old chateau is dismantled around them, their tapestries ripped down to become cloaks for the rebellious peasants who now control Congress.
Consider Madeleine Albright, who learned the force of uprising as ambassador to the United Nations, as she strove to stem the tide against the Republican congressmen's loathing for the United Nations and all its works. She tried quoting their own party leaders, starting with George Bush in 1992, that the United Nations 'is emerging as a central instrument for the prevention and resolution of conflicts and the preservation of peace.' When that did not work, she raised her bet and in the same year started quoting Ronald Reagan, when he called for 'a standing UN force - an army of conscience - equipped and prepared to carve out humanitarian sanctuaries through force if necessary.' That did not work either. She tried a desperate appeal to logic. If the Republican bill to take America out of the United Nations peace-keeping business went through, it would mean an America that could not mount a new Desert Storm operation, an America that could nor legally have fought the Korean war. 'The rationale is bewildering,' Albright complained. 'The irony is that if we put the UN out of business, our costs will go up, not down, for our interests will require that we act on our own more often, and the wear and tear on our military will be greater, not less.'
Finally, she was reduced to defiance: 'This Administration will not allow the hullabaloo over a more recent contract to cause the Charter of the UN - the contract of Truman and Dulles and FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt and the generation that triumphed over the Nazis - to be ripped to shreds.'(f.10) As Albright learned, that line does not bring them to their feet anymore. The line that does is the one that won Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole standing ovations whenever he delivered it to electoral audiences: 'When we recapture the White House, no American boys are gonna be serving under the command of Field Marshal Boutros Boutros-Ghali.'(f.11)
The good news for supporters of American internationalism is that Dole lost the election, and Albright has become the first female secretary of state, the custodian of an activist agenda of more international engagement and American leadership of a broader alliance of nations committed to free trade, free markets, and free institutions. The bad news is that this ambition rests on an uncertain base of flimsy political support. Even those Republicans who count themselves internationalist do so in specifically nationalist ways.
'There has always been a receptive gene in the American character that is isolationist,' Senator Phil Gramm, the Texan conservative, said in an interview. 'That gene had been recessive for over a generation because our leaders were willing to stand up and say No to it. Today there are elements in both parties, bur more in the Democrats, who are not prepared to say No. There is nobody in our party more committed to free trade than me, or more committed to fulfilling our leadership role in the world. Beyond trade, this need for U.S. leadership is so important you cannot weigh the politics of it. Now the lion and the lamb may be lying down together all over the world, but even in that world, we Republicans are committed to being the lion.'
To understand how the concept of foreign policy is changing in the American mind, consider the experience of Frances Brackett. For seven years she has run the World Affairs Council in Charlotte, North Carolina, a place where within living memory the definition of foreigner used to be someone from north of New Jersey. 'There is no isolationism here,' she insists. 'On the contrary. We used to have 300 members, who were mainly retired people, interested in classic foreign policy, and we did maybe ten programmes a year, lunch meetings and lectures. Now we have 800 members, who are younger and younger and increasingly business-oriented. For them, foreign affairs means exports and the global economy and, to a degree, population and environment issues. Our membership just keeps expanding and we now do 36 programmes a year. This is a real growth industry.'
Brackett's version of America's global engagement echoes the bipartisan claims of the last and current United States governments. For James Baker, former secretary of state, 'the creation of a global, liberal economic regime is America's greatest post-war achievement.' For Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser in his first term, United States strategy today is to build 'a global civil society through enlargement of the core of major market democracies.'(f.12)
There is a Clinton Doctrine, although Clinton is too wary of the protectionists in his own party to trumpet it aloud. It is plain in his readiness to split his party to enact NAFTA and to ratify the Uruguay Round of the GATT. It is plainer still in his cajoling the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation conference to endorse his grandiose plan for a Pacific Rim free trade zone by 2020 and at last December's Miami summit where the nations of the Western Hemisphere agreed to their own free trade area from Alaska to Argentina by 2010.
The Clinton Doctrine is trade. Clinton's problem is that most Americans think of foreign trade as a constant deficit of more than $100 billion a year. That is true for manufactured trade, but the surplus on services, from banking to royalties and license fees, was almost exactly $80 billion in 1996. And the fact that factories owned by the United States overseas command a greater share of global manufacturing exports than factories on American soil means that the United States runs a modest profit on its dealings with a global economy. Those dealings now account for about a quarter of America's GDP'. Clinton has already bid for history's mantle as the free trade president, the first world leader who understood that the geostrategic old world of the cold war had become a new age of geo-economics. Or, at least, he was until the Mexican financial crisis and the looming trade war with China undermined the promise of the free trading doctrine.
Sidney Blumenthal can claim to have predicted the new drift to American isolation in Pledging Allegiance, his book on the 1988 presidential election.(f.13) Blumenthal now worries about the political implications of Clinton's free trade enthusiasms. 'A regime of free trade that at the same time is widening class divisions cannot sustain internationalism It is seen as the property of the privileged, those insulated from the buffeting of the global market. We reduce foreign policy to raw economic rewards and oppose international commitments because they siphon resources away from home,' he argues. 'Internationalism in the postwar era was fitted onto the society made by the New Deal, a society that was becoming both richer and more equal and could, therefore, act and think as one. Social harmony at home, achieved by reform, provided the bedrock for the active internationalism of the cold war. That bedrock has now gone. We are now a polarized society, breeding new class conflicts through divisive politics and social resentment.'
Free trade boosts imports and exports and leads to a larger economic pie, but it divides that pie in ways that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, the educated, the skilled, and the adaptable. It exacerbates that growing disparity, which has been marked in the United States statistics since 1972, between the incomes of those with a high school graduation diploma or less and those with college degrees. Free trade, without accompanying government measures to protect its less-equipped citizens with the education and training skills to cope with its competitive challenges, carries some ominous political baggage in its commercial wake.
A system of global free trade puts the who-whom question with new force. It is likely to intensify the trend towards a global class system, eerily Victorian in its contours of a large and prosperous middle and upper class, a much larger group of working poor, and a wretched group which Marx called the lumpenproletariat and which we now call the underclass. The widening inequalities of class and incomes that free trade brings even to advanced economies like those of the United States and Europe are starting to spell out a socio-political crisis which could imperil the arid theologies of 'growth.'
The West, including the United States, prevailed in the cold war because it developed a series of social democracies which provided guns and butter, welfare systems and aircraft carriers, and did so with steeply progressive taxation and egalitarian social policies. By abandoning them and committing its economic fate to the caprices of the global markets and the search for ever lower labour costs as a part of unrestrained free trade, the West imperils its own social cohesion and calls into question the legitimacy of its governing system for many of the governed.
If American society is fragmenting, so is the world it wants to deal with. Europeans fear a diminished American involvement. Asians fear they are being pressed to swallow too much. The desperately poor fear the end of foreign aid, while free trade partners like Mexico gasp at the price of an American bailout which demands their oil production as collateral. A polls-driven president seeks to maintain America's global influence on the cheap, scaling back the military budgets while turning a bigger profit through ever more free trade. The model looks familiar: Britain's Splendid Isolation of the 19th century. But that depended on a political will to enforce a Pax Britannica - a political will which has proved spasmodic in the Clinton era. In a recent interview which covered a broad range of topics, Clinton pledged to do better.
Historically, the United States has been much more, if not isolationist, uninvolved. Now we see that ironically we have all this influence, all this military and economic power, that amounts to something only if we are willing to acknowledge our interdependence with others. My own biggest challenge is to create a political climate within this country to meet that challenge. I believe we have an opportunity and a responsibility just as great as that of the Marshall Plan generation, and in some ways more difficult in that we are not coming out of the ashes of war, and no one can speak with the authority that victors in a war can. But this is a moment to create a structure that will carry us for the next fifty years.
Trying to create something as profound as this requires, I believe, a level of American leadership and engagement that basically runs against the historical grain in the United States, except for the past fifty years. But then we needed the searing experience of the Great Depression, the war, and the stark reality of Stalin to coalesce the forces in our country that made it possible for us to create the world we did fifty years ago. This is the moment to create a new structure that will carry us through the next fifty years, just as General Marshall and the Marshall Plan generation created the structure that carried us through the cold war.
That structure, he hoped, would eventually include the great powers of Asia, both India and China, in the G-7 process, just as Russia was included in the 1997 meeting of the G-7 in Denver, Colorado. But the key to the process was changing the traditional rivalries and military threats of great-power relations, beginning with the transformed relationship among the United States, Europe, and Russia.
What we have done is to create a balance of power that restrains and empowers all those that come within the framework of the agreement. We have the capacity to create a new reality, to define our greatness in ways that do not entail the necessity of dominating our neighbours. What we are trying to do is to ensure that the dogs of the 21st century do not bark -- and that is worth a hell of a lot. It will reduce the chances that Americans have to die in Europe in the 21st century, as they did in the 20th. We are much closer now to transforming NATO from a military alliance aimed at Russia into a transatlantic system that includes it. This is a huge step towards redefining the strategic realities of the 21st century. The great-power politics of Europe in the 20th century have bedeviled the lives of ordinary people and destroyed states. It is a fundamental departure from the way geopolitics has been practised by nation states. We are trying to write a future for Europe that will be different from its past.
The tension is plain between the internationalist ambitions of the Clinton administration and the ability to rally a political consensus which could help achieve it. Clinton seeks a new source of American internationalism, rooted in geo-economics rather than traditional geopolitics, to make the shift from the cold war model of American leadership of a global military alliance to a new role as linchpin and guarantor of a global economic system. But in failing to make the case for that role, and in repeatedly ducking the political battles against those who want to impose the old nationalist and mercantilist priorities upon the new model, and in doing so little to protect and prepare low-wage and low-skilled Americans from the furious competition of the global economy, he dilutes the new internationalist identity even as he fails to sustain the old one. The result is an America that is economically internationalist, militarily self-reliant, politically arrogant, and intellectually vulnerable to Senator Gramm's 'recessive gene' of isolationism.
(f.1) Interview with President Bill Clinton, White House, Washington, DC, 23 May 1997.
(f.2) Michael Mandelbaum, 'Foreign policy as social work,' Foreign Policy 75 (January/February 1996). Senior officials in the administration attribute Mandelbaum's critique to the fact that he was not offered a sufficiently senior post in the administration. After helping to co-ordinate foreign policy positions for the 1992 Clinton campaign, he was offered George Kennan's old job as head of policy planning at the Department of State. He turned it down.
(f.3) New York Times, 11 March 1997, A15.
(f.4) Irving Kristol, 'Who now cares about NATO?' Wall Street Journal, 6 February 1995.
(f.5) Guardian, 20 February 1995.
(f.6) Except where otherwise noted, all quotations are from interviews conducted by the author.
(f.7) Interview with Benjamin Schwarz. See also Schwarz, 'Imperial overstretch revisited,' paper delivered to United States foreign policy conference, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, January 1996.
(f.8) For a fuller analysis of this theme see Martin Walker, 'The new American hege-mony,' World Policy Journal 13(summer 1996), 13-21.
(f.9) The author was present at Buchanan's speech in the Littleton theatre, Littleton, New Hampshire, 11 February 1996.
(f.10) Madeleine Albright, 'The United States and the United Nations: confrontation or consensus?' Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC, 26 January 1995; reproduced in Department of State Bulletin 6(6 February 1995), 79-83.
(f.11) Dole campaign rally, Manchester, New Hampshire, 21 February 1996.
(f.12) Anthony Lake, speech, George Washington University, Washington, DC, 7 March 1996.
(f.13) Sidney Blumenthal, Pledging Allegiance: The Lost Campaign of the Cold War (New York: Harper Collins 1991). Blumenthal is now assistant to the president in the White House, the same title that Harry Hopkins carried when he worked for FDR.…