Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

For Clinton, It's a Question of Decision

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

For Clinton, It's a Question of Decision

Article excerpt

For Clinton, It's a Question of Decision

In his first term, Bill Clinton showed little vision or even certainty in foreign policy. His second term may be different, but the emphasis must be on the word may.

A few promising factors can be cited.

He is relieved of concern about winning votes in his next candidacy.

Although in the prime of his life, Clinton is unlikely to seek elective office again. He shows no inclination to follow the example of John Quincy Adams, the president who returned to the U.S. House of Representatives after serving two terms in the White House.

That being the case, Clinton, inevitably, will be able to give greater attention to his place in history as he prepares for the next four years.

Undistinguished to Date

So far, Clinton's place in history is not distinguished. His first term was lackluster at best, the first two years focused on a liberal agenda capped by an ill-fated attempt at sweeping reform of the nation's medical system. In mid-term, the electorate rejected liberalism and, for the first time in many years, confronted a Democratic president with a Republican-led Congress.

In foreign policy, intervention in Haiti may eventually emerge as a plus for Clinton, but waffling and compromise typified most of his record elsewhere. Bosnia is a bloody and disgraceful chapter. It records the slaughter of over 200,000 Muslim civilians before the United States acted and negotiated a political settlement at Dayton, Ohio, that places Bosnia at the ultimate mercy of the Serb power structure that engineered the massacres and then tried to cover them up.

Israel is now led by Binyamin Netanyahu, a prime minister whose candidacy Clinton plainly opposed and who is intensifying Israel's anti-Palestinian apartheid system that had already been well advanced by his predecessors. Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu's cabinet minister in charge of settlements, has provided detailed plans for a shocking increase. His plans call for building two new cities in the occupied territories that will provide homes for more than 100,000 Jews. This is in addition to the steady expansion of settlements that is already underway elsewhere in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Officially, the United States opposes the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, but this opposition is paper thin. With the exception of a short-lived demand by George Bush, no president has ever tried to use the impressive leverage at his disposal to stop settlement construction. Bush had a showdown with Yitzhak Shamir that proved fatal to Shamir's candidacy for a new term as Israeli prime minister, but, within weeks after the return of Yitzhak Rabin to power, Bush dropped his opposition and settlement construction continued unabated.

Clinton can force showdowns with Netanyahu simply by suspending aid.

In his second term, Richard Nixon issued an order to Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, to draft papers suspending all aid until Israel cooperated in a comprehensive settlement of issues with its Arab neighbors. By then, Nixon was nearly overwhelmed by the Watergate scandal and did not sign the documents.

It is my belief that Jimmy Carter would have exerted pressure on Israel had he been re-elected, basing this partly on his early initiatives that I observed during my congressional service and also on his activities and statements since leaving office. …

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