Attitude Is No Sub for Foreign Policy

By William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

Attitude Is No Sub for Foreign Policy


William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


When President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Anthony Lake, recently characterized the administration's foreign policy as "pragmatic neo-Wilsonianism," it was clear what has gone wrong. Neo-Wilsonianism is an attitude, not a program. It means that the goal is to "expand democracy" but "through a determined pragmatism" that takes account of practical obstacles.

Consider what this actually has meant since Clinton became president. First came the Somalia imbroglio, President George Bush's poisoned parting gift to Clinton. Then Bosnia. Then Iraq and retaliation for the supposed assassination attempt on Bush. Then Haiti. Then the problem posed by North Korea's nuclear arms programs.

In every case "expanding democracy" ran into practical obstacles and was, for reasons of pragmatism, abandoned. The administration's policy in Somalia now is simply to get out of the country as inconspicuously as possible by March, without further American casualties. Democracy will not expand to Somalia.

In Haiti, the return of the elected president, Jean- Bertrand Aristide, as agreed in negotiations with Haiti's military rulers, was meant to advance democracy (even if his return would have been unlikely to advance it very far). However, practical obstacles in the form of Gen. Raoul Cedras and military police commander Michel Francois Fhave made that impossible. The United States has yielded.

Practical obstacles have turned American policy toward the Bosnian war into a farcical series of threats, retreats and embarrassed silences. No Washington-sponsored advance of democracy there.

Baghdad was bombarded by American missiles, but no consequent advance in democracy is apparent. North Korea has been threatened. There is, in fact, nothing within the practical power of Clinton and his government that will change the regime in either country.

This is the reason the administration is accused of hypocrisy and indecision. It has announced a principle of action that in each practical case has had to be abandoned. The Clinton people see this as a problem of communications.

First of all, Woodrow Wilson had a program. The 28th president believed that it would be possible to organize the nations of the world into a form of parliamentary government, and he used the power of the United States to bring into being this League of Nations. …

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