Clinton 'Doctrine:' Is It Substance or Spin? President Outlines New Tenet on When to Intervene Abroad, but Critics

By Francine Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 1999 | Go to article overview

Clinton 'Doctrine:' Is It Substance or Spin? President Outlines New Tenet on When to Intervene Abroad, but Critics


Francine Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


For a president to get the word "doctrine" attached to his name, he's got to do something big, something lasting, in the area of foreign affairs.

Remember the Truman Doctrine? That was the cold war strategy to contain communism. The Monroe Doctrine? That was the 1823 policy to keep Europe out of the Americas, a guideline that influenced presidents into this century.

Now, in the aftermath of Kosovo, there's the "Clinton doctrine." As recently explained by the president, the international community should stop ethnic cleansing and genocide whether it's within, or beyond, a country's borders. "If the world community has the power to stop it," it should, he said. But does this post-cold-war tenet have staying power? Will it influence future leaders? Or is it, as former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta worries, just another "message of the day" churned out by the White House spin machine? According to an administration official, the White House plans to flesh out the concept beyond the paragraph-sized sound bite of a June 20 television interview with CNN. Over the next couple weeks, the National Security Council staff will work on the subject, which the president will then likely amplify in a speech. What's distinctive about Clinton's principle is that, for the first time, a president is saying "genocide is in and of itself a national interest where we should act," the administration official says. In framing the issue this way, the president is going well beyond the traditional interpretations of "national interest" as security or economic stakes. President Bush, for instance, made the case that the Gulf War was necessary because of its economic threat to oil supplies. Clinton tried to make a similar case with Kosovo, referring to America's diplomatic and economic ties with Europe. But it was a stretch for him to connect a tiny Yugoslav province unknown to many Americans with the danger it posed to our relationship with Europe. Whether the president's more altruistic concept of national interest could influence future leaders, or even the next presidential election, depends to a certain extent on its soundness. From what's been said so far, there's no "meat on the bones" of this doctrine, says Mr. Panetta. It raises the question: Of all the hot spots in the world, how do you determine which ones rate intervention? …

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