The Clinton Doctrine: A New Foreign Policy the White House Bosnia Retreat Shows a New Approach to the US World Role - Balancing US Power and Commitment. the New Doctrine Is a Mixed Blessing

By Heinz A. J. Kern. Heinz A. J. Kern is assistant professor of international relations director of The Center . | The Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

The Clinton Doctrine: A New Foreign Policy the White House Bosnia Retreat Shows a New Approach to the US World Role - Balancing US Power and Commitment. the New Doctrine Is a Mixed Blessing


Heinz A. J. Kern. Heinz A. J. Kern is assistant professor of international relations director of The Center ., The Christian Science Monitor


AS administration officials reveal their decision not to intervene in Bosnia, a new foreign policy strategy of limited engagement has emerged - the "Clinton Doctrine."

Peter Tarnoff, undersecretary of state for political affairs, spelled out the grand strategy to reporters off-the-record on May 25. The approach is based on the idea that "our economic interests are paramount." The US must "define the extent of its commitment and make a commitment commensurate with those realities. This may on occasion fall short of what some Americans would like and others would hope for." Hence the White House decision not to intervene in Bosnia foreshadows some disengagement: "We simply don't have the leverage, we don't have the influence ... to bring to bear the kind of pressure that will produce positive results...."

Mr. Tarnoff conceded that such an approach will be "difficult" for allies to understand but that a new division of labor must be initiated: "We're talking about new rules of engagement for the United States. There will have to be genuine power-sharing and responsibility sharing."

Only threats against the continental US and those that can be dealt with effectively will be worth countering: "There may be occasions in the future where the United States acts unilaterally - if we perceive an imminent danger very close to home...."

Tarnoff admitted these limitations would undercut the ability of the US to champion human rights and democracy. On the question, "Are people dying because the United States could do a lot more if we wanted to?" he said yes. He then made the case for a lesser US role:"I am perfectly able to withstand criticism that we are abdicating power on this issue because I believe, and more importantly the President and the Secretary believe, that for more major international issues of this sort, where other regional players have a great stake, we should make very clear that we will play a role, we will have a leadership role, but we are not going to be so far out in front as to allow them to defer to the United States when it comes to making the very hard decisions on the commitment of men and women and resources."

Tarnoff's comments reflected President Clinton's campaign dictum that a successful foreign policy has to be based on a healthy economy. But the White House and Secretary of State Warren Christopher quickly downplayed Tarnoff's remarks. Mr. Christopher tried to counter the impression of a scaled-back US role by demanding more international engagement. He used the words "leadership" and "lead" 23 times in a speech in Minneapolis two days later. But this seemed more like damage control than a firm denial.

Actually, Christopher hinted of a new Clinton Doctrine on "Nightline" after Tarnoff gave his speech: "No, I think we're undertaking the role of the world's most prominent power. If we were really threatened by something, if our national interests were at stake ... of course we'd act alone.... A hierarchy of interests are involved ... in this kind of situation {Bosnia}, a humanitarian crisis a long way from home, in the middle of another continent, I think our actions here are proportionate to what our responsibilities are ... in this post-cold-war period. We can't do it all; we have to measure our ability to act in the interests of the United States.... "

The similarity between the two men's remarks is striking. What Christopher himself enunciated as the Clinton Doctrine on the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour June 1 is an attempt to bring - in Walter Lippmann's words - commitments and power into balance. Its most remarkable feature is that it reduces the US role as sole arbiter of international stability to "normal" great-power status. The retreat from global preeminence will include the US's disengagement from economic and political spheres of interest and from its universal commitments to human rights and democracy. …

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