Restless Foreign Policy It's Hard for US Presidents to Make World Safe for Domestic Issues

By Robert J. Lieber. Robert J. Lieber is chairman of the government department , of which he is co-editor and contributing, is "Eagle World: American Grand Strategy . " | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1994 | Go to article overview

Restless Foreign Policy It's Hard for US Presidents to Make World Safe for Domestic Issues


Robert J. Lieber. Robert J. Lieber is chairman of the government department , of which he is co-editor and contributing, is "Eagle World: American Grand Strategy . ", The Christian Science Monitor


DURING the first year of the Clinton administration, both the president and the American public have preferred to give priority to domestic affairs. However, recent high-level changes at the State Department and Pentagon suggest that the Clinton administration is seeking to strengthen its capacity for dealing with foreign policy. Efforts such as these are likely to become increasingly important and, if the past is any guide, it will be surprising if foreign policy does not intrude or even come to dominate the national agenda during the course of the Clinton presidency. In fact, without exception, all Democratic presidents in this century (and most post-World War II Republicans) have found their administrations eventually overshadowed or even consumed by external crisis or war. Consider the record:

* Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned for reelection in 1916 on keeping America out of the conflict in Europe, ultimately took the country into World War I in 1917.

* Franklin Roosevelt, elected to fight the depression, found the last half of his presidency dominated by the menace of fascism and then World War II.

* Harry Truman, while presiding over postwar recovery, found himself increasingly absorbed in dealing with the start of the cold war and then, from June 1950 onward, fighting the Korean War.

* John Kennedy was faced with the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the mounting escalation of conflict in Indochina.

* Lyndon Johnson, who sought to implement the most far-reaching program of reform in a generation, was ultimately destroyed by the Vietnam War.

* Jimmy Carter, elected in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, found himself drawn into the historic - and time consuming - Camp David process to make peace between Israel and Egypt. Then in rapid succession he suffered a series of political body blows from the revolution in Iran, the second oil shock of the decade, and the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua. Ultimately, the hostage crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran dominated the final 444 days of his presidency.

To be sure, international affairs have by no means been absent from the Clinton agenda. There have been successes: the Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization accord, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. There have been troubles: United States casualties in Somalia, uncertainties over policy in Bosnia, inability to restore democracy in Haiti. And other issues have gained a measure of attention: North Korea's nuclear program, events in Russia, the conduct of Saddam Hussein, terrorism, United Nations peacekeeping, and recession in Europe and Japan. …

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