Bill Clinton's Adventures in the Jungle of Foreign Policy

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IN THE 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton sharply distanced himself from the foreign policies of the Bush Administration and offered the voters a leadership of "vision, values, and conviction." He told the Milwaukee Council on Foreign Affairs, "The cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute."

Draping himself in the mantle of Woodrow Wilson, Clinton told his audience that "Simple reliance on old balance of power strategies can not bring the same practical success as a foreign policy that draws more generously from American democratic experience and ideals, and lights fires in the hearts of millions of freedom-loving people around the world....

"Mr. Bush's ambivalence about supporting democracy, his eagerness to defend potentates and dictators, has shown itself time and again. It has been a disservice not only to our democratic values, but also to our national interest."

For Clinton, the campaigner, a foreign policy grounded in the recognition of limited American power and limits to U.S. interests simply was unacceptable. "U.S. foreign policy can not be divorced from the moral principles most Americans share," he told a group at Georgetown University, adding that, "We can not disregard how other governments treat their own people, whether their domestic institutions are democratic or repressive, whether they help encourage or check illegal conduct beyond their borders." Moreover, "The defense of freedom and the promotion of democracy around the world aren't merely a reflection of our deepest values; they are vital to our national interests."

Given these axioms, Clinton distanced himself from Pres. George Bush's policies in regard to Haiti, China, Somalia, Bosnia, human rights, and the role of the United Nations in U.S. foreign policy and the post-Cold War international order. He castigated Bush's policy of returning Haitian boat people who were seeking to escape both grinding poverty and an oppressive dictatorship. If elected, he pledged, he would order a more liberal entry policy and deal with the root of the issue--the lack of democracy in Haiti. His rationale was simple: If American leadership could bring democracy back to Haiti, the flow of refugees would cease.

In regard to China, Clinton lashed out at Bush for coddling "aging rulers with undisguised contempt for democracy, human rights, and the need to control the spread of dangerous weapons." He also criticized Bush's policy of "constructive engagement," which sought to change China's policies by inducements, rather than threats and punishments. In contrast, Clinton pledged to link China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) privileges to its human rights record, trading policies, and weapons sales to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and North Korea.

In addressing Somalia, Clinton criticized the limited mission that Bush had set for American forces--merely ensuring that food supplies were delivered to starving people. In two statements issued by his campaign headquarters, Clinton urged Bush "to take the lead in galvanizing the United Nations to find ways to end the tragic civil war that is the principal cause of the crisis in Somalia.... We can not allow the fate of innocent Somalis to be held hostage to personal ambitions of ruthless faction leaders and gangs."

Concerning Bosnia, Clinton told the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles that "We will make the U.S. the catalyst for a collective stand against aggression, the action I have urged in response to Serbian aggression in Bosnia which, thankfully, the Bush Administration now agrees [with] after first calling it reckless." While reminding his audience that "power is the basis for successful diplomacy, and military power has always been fundamental to international relationships," he asserted that the nation could rely upon multilateral, rather than unilateral, uses of military force.

"We will stand up for our interests, but we will share burdens, where possible, through multilateral efforts to secure the peace, such as NATO and a new, voluntary UN Rapid Deployment Force. …