We have put our economic competitiveness at the heart of our foreign policy.
BILL CLINTON, 1994 BUDGET
MESSAGE TO CONGRESS
CAMPAIGNING FOR THE PRESIDENCY IN 1992 AS A SELF-STYLED “NEW Democrat,” forty-six-year-old Bill Clinton, a five-time governor of Arkansas, had articulated three foreign policy initiatives that would confront the next Commander in Chief: modernizing and restructuring American military and security capabilities; elevating the role of economics in international affairs; and promoting democracy abroad. Clinton was running at a time when America’s bedrock values—the rule of law, democracy, and free market economies—appeared to be in ascendancy worldwide. The image was of newly enfranchised global citizens bustling about drafting legal codes, casting votes, and buying stock. The reality was not quite so rosy. The collapse of the Soviet empire had left a vacuum equally amenable to being filled by ethnic animosities and regional conflicts. An even greater menace was the increased threat of “loose nukes” falling into the hands of rogue states or black marketeers. So the Clinton imperatives would play themselves out in an environment where the end of the Cold War had resolved certain international problems but had unleashed others that had not been anticipated, the knottiest being the precise role the United States should play as the world’s only remaining superpower.
Clinton possessed no post-Cold War grand design to unveil while on the campaign trail but, when pressed, stated his position on several controversial foreign policy issues, such as the war in Bosnia (pro-air strikes) and China (emphasize human rights). At the same time, Clinton constantly rebuked his main opponent, President George Bush, whom he tagged “the recession President,” for paying too much attention to global affairs at the expense of domestic renewal. And he criticized twelve years of Republican supply-side economics, which had resulted in a federal deficit of $290 billion by 1992, the highest in U.S. history. If the Cold War was dominated by foreign policy, Clinton vowed, the post-Cold War period would be dominated by domestic concerns. His campaign strategy emphasizing the domestic economy worked: In a three-way race Clinton was elected forty-second President with only 44 percent of the vote as against 37 percent for Bush and 19 percent for Texas billionaire Ross Perot. But as Clinton soon learned, defeating Bush and Perot was a cakewalk compared to coping with the many international problems that greeted him on Inauguration Day.
Clinton entered the White House with U.S. troops deployed all over the world: In January 1993, Bush had ordered U.S. Marines into Somalia; the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard had begun a quarantine of Haiti; and the U.S. Air Force, which had recently bombed Iraqi radar stations, was preparing for an airlift in Bosnia. Besides these military operations, Clinton faced an array of urgent foreign policy challenges: Russian democracy was in economic crisis; the Bosnian war was at its most brutal and was threatening to spread; North Korea was developing nuclear weapons; the Middle East peace process was at an impasse; thousands of Haitian refugees were fleeing to U.S. shores; and the survival of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was in serious doubt. Clinton, slow out of the gate in confronting these ongoing problems, chaffed at being diverted by them. Three months into his presidency he explicitly complained that “foreign policy is not what I came here to do.”
Clinton evidently meant what he said, at least until he became better acquainted with the job description that went along with being President of the United States. Focused on budget issues and health care reform, he made only four foreign policy speeches in his first eight months in office, all stressing continuity with his predecessor’s policies. In February 1993 at American University he promoted regional trade pacts; at an April talk to the American Society of Newspaper Editors just days before his summit in Vancouver with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Clinton offered a modest aid package to Moscow. The following month his appearance aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt to discuss modernizing the Navy was sidetracked by the media’s focus on his proposal to allow gays in the military, and his May 29 commencement address at West Point was chock-full of flag-waving sprinkled with a few generalities about global responsibility and the danger of weapons proliferation. These speeches also made clear that Clinton, a proponent of multilateralism, would always prefer to engage in global police action when the UN or NATO was resolutely at America’s side. One security issue, however, was too urgent to ignore: The nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union had been distributed among four new countries (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus) with few safeguards.
If Clinton deserved credit for any single foreign policy initiative in his first term, it would be for the administration’s efforts to dismantle nuclear weapons stockpiles with the former Soviet Union, a process begun during the Bush administration. Clinton’s foreign policy team—led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin (and his successor, William Perry)—regarded the dismantling program as urgent, because control of the Soviet arsenal of tactical weapons was now scattered among scores of local military commanders rather than centralized in Moscow, as it had been during the Cold War. The administration’s effort culminated in the U.S.-Russian-Ukraine Trilateral Statement and Annex, signed by the presidents of all three countries in Moscow on January 14, 1994, which led to the dismantling of all nuclear weapons in Ukraine. A psychological milestone was reached that same month, when President Clinton signed a landmark agreement with Boris Yeltsin to detarget U.S. and Russian strategic missiles. For the first time since the early 1950s no Russian missiles would be aimed at targets on U.S. soil. (Of course, the missiles still existed and could be retargeted in a matter of minutes.) Using nuclear disarmament, democracy building, and a joint belief in open markets as their common ground, Clinton and Yeltsin began to forge a fruitful relationship based on cautious trust.
News of apparent nuclear dismantling made some analysts edgy. What did it mean to “dismantle” nuclear weapons? Were they destroyed? Could they fall into the hands of rogue nations such as North Korea, Libya, or Iraq? The response by Clinton administration officials to such concerns was to point to an increase in the funding of the International Atomic Energy Commission, a watchdog agency that monitors the development, trafficking, and proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials throughout the world. The U.S. Customs Service and the FBI were also ordered to make the prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials a top priority.
To deal with nuclear proliferation in other areas of the world the administration relied on some public scolding and mild arm-twisting. In 1993, for instance, the United States protested China’s export of ballistic missile parts to Pakistan by blocking the shipment to Beijing of three American-made communications satellites the Chinese planned to launch on their own rockets. China was again chastised in 1994, along with Pakistan, for selling missiles to Libya, as was one of the newly formed Russian republics for selling arms to Iran.
Because nuclear devices as small as a softball could be manufactured without much difficulty, nuclear security and keeping plutonium and uranium out of the hands of potential terrorists also became priorities of the Clinton administration. For example, Operation Sapphire involved airlifting nearly 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan for safe disposal in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Other global initiatives targeted improved security at civilian nuclear reactors and prudent management of nuclear wastes. Clinton also made it clear that unaccounted for nuclear weapons, whether in the Balkans, the Middle East, or Asia, would be confiscated, shipped to America, and blended down into low-enriched uranium for use as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors.
The Clinton-Yeltsin nuclear dismantlement effort was a genuine success. In 1990 Russia and the United States each had more than 20,000 strategically deployed warheads. By carrying out the revolutionary START I and II treaties orchestrated by Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, the Clinton administration had reduced the total to about 7,000 by the end of 1996, on the way to an eventual goal for each country to keep 3,000 warheads, a significant reduction in nuclear risk but nevertheless enough nuclear firepower to incinerate hundreds of millions. By January 1997 Ukraine and Kazakhstan were nuclear-free zones, and Belarus was on the path to achieving nuclear disarmament. And no one could doubt that the Cold War was over when Yeltsin ordered the last vestiges of Russian troops to evacuate the Baltic States and Germany.
From the outset of his presidency it was obvious that U.S. economic interests would be central to Clinton’s foreign policy. Clinton saw his primary goal as President to make the world safe for U.S. business and its global system of capital accumulation. Only one other aspect of foreign policy, besides Russian aid and nuclear reduction, seemed to engage Clinton: global trade policy. He spoke repeatedly of the need for global integration and technology sharing, and in July 1993 he spent a fruitful week in Asia cementing security and trade pacts with Japan and South Korea. Only six months into his administration economic acronyms such as G7, NAFTA, APEC, and GATT were sprinkled throughout Clinton’s foreign policy pronouncements. As Clinton saw it, the United States was “like a big corporation competing in the global marketplace.” Many international affairs experts, however, criticized him for confusing a sound trade policy with a coherent foreign policy. “A foreign economic policy is not a foreign policy, and it is not a national security strategy,” cautioned Council on Foreign Relations president Leslie Gelb.
By the late summer of 1993, the criticism of Clinton’s foreign policy had mushroomed. House Republicans, conservative Democrats such as Senator Robert Byrd (DWV), and highly regarded foreign affairs journalists such as the Washington Post’s Stephen Rosenfeld and Jim Hoagland all blasted the Clinton administration for over-reliance on the UN in Somalia, timidity in Haiti, and fickleness in Bosnia. The general sentiment in Washington was that the President was ill-equipped to serve as Commander in Chief. No one disagreed with Secretary of State Warren Christopher that “foreign policy is always a work in progress,” but it seemed to many that Clinton was afflicted by indifference as well as indecision. Republican stalwarts Henry Kissinger and Jeane Kirkpatrick, among others, charged that the President, a foreign policy novice by any standard, had to resort to Band-Aid diplomacy in the absence of a grand design: improvising tactics at each flash point, proposing half remedies that would exacerbate admittedly intractable situations, and treating inaction as tantamount to action—all to protect Clinton’s popularity at home. Brent Scowcroft, NSC adviser during the Bush administration, saw the Clinton administration as running “a peripatetic foreign policy at prey to the whims of the latest balance of forces.”
For the most part, the critics were right about U.S. foreign policy during Clinton’s first year in office: It involved putting out fires, not developing a strategy. But developing a coherent strategy was a tall order in the immediate post-Cold War world. The end of the Cold War meant the loss of a single enemy, the Soviet Union, around which to rally a national and international consensus. Truman himself had no preordained blueprint when he arrived at Potsdam in July 1945; the strategy of containment was nearly two years in the making. An amorphous foreign policy also meshed with Clinton’s style of governance. It allowed him the freedom to maneuver as the day’s headlines dictated, to be a proponent of Metternich one week and Eleanor Roosevelt the next. Even though this type of reactive diplomacy was unsurprising from a politician famous for avoiding being painted into corners, Clinton began to realize that it would take a larger vision to boost him into the ranks of presidential greats. America was now the world’s only superpower, and that reality demanded that global leadership emanate from the Oval Office. Great foreign policy, Clinton grew to understand, was not reactive; it created opportunities.
Unfortunately for Clinton, just as he was gaining deeper insights into foreign policy his administration was sandbagged by a confused Somalia policy he had inherited from the Bush administration. A reluctant Clinton proved unwilling to extract those 25,000 U.S. troops—sent to ensure that emergency food aid was properly distributed from the drought-ridden African nation—before disaster struck.
When Clinton took office, the United States was engaged in a humanitarian mission in Somalia, where 350,000 people had recently died of famine and two million more were threatened with imminent starvation. Somalian leader Mohammed Farah Aidid had requested international assistance in ending the famine in his impoverished country, and a U.S.-led operation, Restore Hope, authorized by President Bush, had begun in December 1992. In actuality, Somalia had no functional government. Rather, this crippled nation served primarily as an anarchistic battleground for rival warlords who now found it even more profitable to engage in systematic looting and theft of donated humanitarian provisions air-dropped to combat the mass starvation. On the surface, the operation seemed to be going well, until events on October 3, 1993, exposed a different reality. In a botched raid on Mogadishu, eighteen U.S. Army Rangers were killed by a well-armed clan, and the naked corpse of a U.S. helicopter pilot being dragged through the streets was flashed across the world’s TV screens. Five months later, Clinton withdrew all U.S. troops from Somalia. The tactical responsibility for the debacle largely belonged to the Pentagon, which had ordered vulnerable Black Hawk helicopters to fly over a hostile urban area without either adequate air cover or armored forces on hand to mount a rescue. The strategic failures had to be shared by the Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as the UN, which had permitted a humanitarian mission to escalate into a counterinsurgency campaign against local militia forces.
The next crisis came closer to home. Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in a 1991 military coup, leading to considerable unrest in the country. Two hundred lightly armed U.S. and Canadian peacekeepers were dispatched to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on the U.S.S. Harlan County in October 1993, only to turn back when the ship was met by an angry mob of Haitians waving machetes and yelling, “We are going to make this another Somalia!” Clinton looked weak and indecisive.
The military embarrassments of Somalia and Haiti occurred on the watch of Defense Secretary Les Aspin, a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Aspin had been appointed to the Pentagon not only to manage an orderly reduction in the defense budget but also for his perceived ability to smooth over political tensions as a Capitol Hill veteran. Failing in the latter and in the face of Republican attacks, Aspin resigned; he was replaced by veteran military affairs analyst William Perry. Sharing the blame, Secretary of State Warren Christopher also tendered his resignation, which Clinton, after days of consideration, declined. Instead, Clinton deflected the blame to the confusion engendered by George Bush’s multinational “New World Order” approach to the post-Cold War world.
The administration’s very public foreign policy failures unfolded against a backdrop of scandal, right-wing rumormongering, and ordinary partisan attacks, not to mention serious, principled criticism by foreign policy analysts. It was in this chaotic climate that the President sought out his pragmatic, unassuming National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, to identify a single “compass” word or concept that would embrace the three foreign policy themes Clinton had articulated on the campaign trail. If “containment” had come to embody the United States Cold War strategy of countering global threats to democracy and open markets, Clinton wanted an equivalent phrase and concept to embody his policy of expanding the community of market democracies.
Lake organized a task force to tackle the assignment. “Democratic engagement” and “democratic expansionism” were the early favorites, until Jeremy Rosner, a speechwriter at the NSC, came up with “enlargement.” The word had struck Rosner as a perfect description of the fluid sort of democracy the end of the Cold War had ushered in. After test-marketing it on several colleagues, Rosner brought his suggestion to Lake, who liked it enough to encourage its use in speeches. To Rosner’s delight, “enlargement” was pronounced the winner, the most concise term for representing the administration’s post-Cold War foreign policy strategy.
Almost immediately Clinton adopted “enlargement” to convey the notion that as free states gained in number and strength, the international order would grow both more prosperous and more secure. In Lake’s words, the successor to the strategy of containment would be an enlargement “of the world’s free community of market democracies.” Lake and Rosner’s blueprint focused on four points: (1) “strengthen the community of market democracies”; (2) “foster and consolidate new democracies and market economies where possible”; (3) “counter the aggression and support the liberalization of states hostile to democracy”; and (4) “help democracy and market economies take root in regions of greatest humanitarian concern.” The enlargement strategy explicitly rejected the idealist foreign policy view that the United States was duty-bound to promote constitutional democracy and human rights everywhere. For Clinton, a politically viable foreign policy had to be centered upon protecting primary U.S. strategic and economic interests. If, for example, China’s political regime emphasized social order over individual rights, under enlargement America’s chief goal then would be to establish a free-market economy and to assume that the rule of law and economic freedom, required for capitalism to flourish, would eventually work their way into China’s political system.
Clinton saw enlargement as a corollary of the domino theory: It predicted that once major Communist economies collapsed, it was only a matter of time for the others to fall. Free markets would eventually arise and flourish the world over. As Martin Walker wrote in the New Yorker, “Now the age of geopolitics has given way to an age of what might be called geo-economics. The new virility symbols are exports and productivity and growth rates and the great international encounters are the trade pacts of the economic superpowers.” Or, as Clinton put it in his 1994 budget message to Congress, “We have put our economic competitiveness at the heart of our foreign policy.”
As for the emerging democracies, Clinton believed that if they developed consumption-oriented middle classes with an appetite for American products, world peace and prosperity could become a reality. Therefore, countries with bright economic futures such as Poland, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, and South Korea would be put on the front burner in his administration; poor, blighted nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America, would be subject to benign neglect. Only if domestic or international public opinion clamored for humanitarian aid would the administration pay serious attention to such nations. By the same token, the United States would no longer concern itself with the bloody, unprofitable civil and religious wars that raged from Angola through the Caucasus to Kashmir.
For the Clinton administration, economic policy was not only the key to domestic renewal but also the key to global leverage. Under the tutelage of his Secretary of Treasury Robert E. Rubin, Clinton created the National Economic Council, which was to coordinate domestic and foreign economic policies. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown began traveling the world with Fortune 500 CEOs to promote the need for open markets and open doors for American business; he died in a plane crash on one such mission to Bosnia. U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor noted the new foreign-policy emphasis: “Trade and international economics have joined the foreign policy table. Clinton is the first President to really make the trade bridge between foreign and domestic policy.” Never before had increasing exports been viewed as a primary national security problem. “Information, ideas, and money now pulse across the planet at light speed,” Lake observed. “This borderless global economy has generated an entrepreneurial boom and a demand for political openness.” When asked about the administration’s obsession with economic globalization, Secretary of State Christopher matter-of-factly replied: “I make no apologies for putting economics at the top of our foreign policy agenda.” Enlargement encompassed Clinton’s worldview that domestic growth was dependent on a foreign policy promoting U.S. exports and global free trade. “For his administration,” political scientist Henry Nau would write in Trade and Security (1995), “trade policy is not only the key to U.S. competitiveness and national economic security in a post-Cold War world but also the cutting edge of domestic economic reforms that create high-wage jobs and accelerate changes in technology, education, and public infrastructure.”
In July 1994 Clinton attempted to weave his foreign policy themes of enlargement into the so-called En-En document: the National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement. At the center of the policy paper is the belief that “the line between our domestic and foreign policies has increasingly disappeared—that we must revitalize our economy if we are able to sustain our military forces, foreign initiatives, and global influence, and that we must engage actively abroad if we are to open foreign markets and create jobs for our people.” By the time two subsequent En-En policy papers were released from the White House, in February 1995 and February 1996, domestic renewal had become the linchpin of U.S. foreign policy. And nowhere was the En-En strategy more relevant than in Russia.
Although Russia remained a nuclear power, U.S. concern shifted from Moscow’s military strength to its economic weakness. The irony did not go unnoticed. “The old rules have been turned upside down,” analyst Ronald Steel noted in Temptations of a Superpower (1995). “Instead of ‘containing’ the Russians, we now subsidize them.” Political concerns over the U.S. budget deficit and a half-century war of words with the Soviets had left Clinton unwilling or unable to explicitly propose a Marshall Plan for Russia. However, his administration came up with $4.5 billion in bilateral assistance to Yeltsin’s government from 1993 to 1996. This aid helped facilitate economic reform in Russia by curbing inflation and stabilizing the ruble. As a result, by 1996 more than 60 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product was generated by its private sector. In fact, the Clinton administration’s assistance helped Russia privatize more property in less time than any other foreign development venture in history: By September 1996 more than 120,000 Russian enterprises had been transferred to private hands, with foreign trade up 65 percent since 1993. Meanwhile, the United States became Russia’s largest foreign investor, with the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency supporting commercial transactions with Moscow valued at more than $4 billion.
This expansion of the global free market, coupled with Russia’s 1995 parliamentary elections and 1996 presidential contest, indicated that democracy had begun to take root there. Clinton used a visit to Russia to reiterate his view that the two were linked: “The political and security partnership between our nations is strengthened by our growing commercial ties. We’ve worked hard to take down the old barriers to trade and investment.” With U.S.-Russian relations normalized for the first time since World War I, the Clinton administration was eager to expedite the export of U.S. goods to Russia’s 150 million consumers. And although Russia had a long way to go before it caught up with Western European nations, Yeltsin’s government had ushered in representative democracy and free-market capitalism by peaceful revolution—albeit primitive examples of both.
A foreign-policy initiative Clinton linked even more closely to domestic renwal was the North American Free Trade Agreement. Recognizing that the U.S. economy did not stand on its own but was the hub of an ever-evolving global economy, Clinton managed to forge a bipartisan congressional coalition to pass NAFTA during his first year in office, despite intense opposition from many Democrats. The trade agreement, which allowed businesses in the United States to form production partnerships with Mexico and Canada, was vehemently opposed by many, especially Ross Perot, the AFL-CIO, and consumer activist Ralph Nader, all of whom perceived NAFTA as undermining the American labor base. Opponents predicted an increase in U.S. companies sending more work overseas, where wages were lower and working rules less stringent. Not only would the United States lose jobs, but tax dollars as well. In Perot’s immortal sound bite: “The sucking sound you hear is all the jobs heading south of the border.” Clinton argued the contrary, insisting that NAFTA would not only save jobs but also open new markets for U.S. products, by combining 250 million Americans with 90 million Mexicans and 27 million Canadians into a no-tariff trading bloc with a combined GNP of some $7 trillion a year. Despite the frontal assault on NAFTA at home, the House passed NAFTA by a 234 to 200 vote on November 17, 1993. Clinton’s enlargement strategy was taking root.
Following NAFTA’s passage, Clinton signed the Uruguay Round Agreement Act of GATT into law in December 1994. The trade agreement lowered tariffs worldwide by $744 billion over a ten-year period—the largest international reduction in history. It also created a new international trade regime called the World Trade Organization. The Uruguay Round did not bring any dramatic lowering of U.S. barriers to foreign trade, because America had been the world’s most open market since World War II, but it did help further open foreign markets to U.S. goods, thereby helping to accelerate American exports.
What Clinton liked best about agreements such as NAFTA and GATT was their link to domestic renewal and their emphasis on ensuring that the United States remained the world’s largest exporter. The mantra of the Clinton administration was that in the post-Cold War era good trade policy was the sine qua non of a sound foreign policy, as a world full of robust, market-based democracies would make the world a safer, richer place. If the Cold War enemy had been Communism, the post-Cold War villain was protectionism, a villain enlargement was designed to overcome.
Aside from risking the split of his own party to force NAFTA and GATT through Congress, Clinton’s boldest execution of enlargement occurred in Asia. He convened fifteen heads of state from the Pacific region at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative forum (APEC) in Seattle in 1993 to push for the creation of a giant free trade zone. A year later, at the second APEC summit in Indonesia, its fifteen members signed an accord pledging themselves to develop a free-trading Pacific Rim by 2010. Since 45 percent of the world’s foreign currency reserves resided in Asia and 40 percent of all new purchasing power would emanate from the region by the year 2000, Clinton wanted to start ripping down trade barriers as a part of his long-range enlargement strategy.
When trade talks between Tokyo and Washington collapsed in February 1994, Clinton decided it was time to brandish a big stick. For the first time in the history of postwar U.S.-Japanese relations, an American President took a tough stance toward Japan. Privately, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor began to threaten Tokyo with trade sanctions for violating a 1989 agreement to open its market to American cellular phones. The President supported Kantor’s threats publicly: “America for ten years tried thirty different trade agreements,” Clinton said in a radio interview on February 17, 1994, “[A]nd nothing ever happened.... [T]he trade deficit just got bigger and bigger. So we’re going to try to pursue a much more aggressive policy now which will actually open markets.” The threat worked, and some of Japan’s markets began to slowly open. Spurred by this initial success, the Clinton administration renegotiated more than twenty individual market access agreements with Japan, resulting in an 85-percent increase in U.S. exports in sectors covered by the new trade pacts.
Clinton’s tenure also wrought change in U.S. military agreements with Japan. In the face of a wave of anti-Americanism that rippled through Japan in the wake of the rape of a twelve-year-old girl by G.I.s stationed in Okinawa in 1995, the Clinton administration not only strengthened the U.S.-Japan security alliance but also forced Tokyo to bear 75 percent of the cost of keeping about 100,000 American troops stationed in the Asia Pacific. The new relationship was not one-sided, for the United States upheld some unusual security arrangements with Japan: According to the Japan-American Security Treaty, the United States continued to obligate itself to send troops to defend the Senkakus—eight tiny islets lying between Taiwan and Okinawa—should China, which claims them, ever make a military move to seize them. Concerned about the over-emphasis on economic policy in Asia, Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye issued an official report known as the United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region in February 1995, which recommended that U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region not be reduced beyond 100,000 and that bilateral ties in the region be strengthened to create a climate of safety.
The Clinton administration was not without diplomatic successes in other areas of the Asia Pacific. In February 1994 Clinton lifted the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam, liaison offices were opened in January 1995, and the normalization of diplomatic relations followed six months later. This long-overdue normalization of relations with Vietnam—a decision harshly criticized by the Vietnam Veterans of America organization—not only led to the fullest possible accounting of U.S. POWs and MIAs but also increased U.S. exports to Vietnam to $253 million in 1995, up 47 percent over 1994. With economic help from Washington, both Vietnam and Cambodia were on the path to joining their neighbors South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia as nations with free-market economies.
Against these encouraging signs in the Pacific weighed the intransigence of China, the one Asian country the Clinton administration proved incapable of dealing with effectively. Despite China’s receiving most-favored-nation trading status, U.S.-Chinese relations were constantly unsettled. Even though 40 percent of Chinese exports were sold in the United States, creating a $30 billion annual trade surplus, Beijing seemed unfazed by Washington’s demands that China dismantle trade barriers, improve human rights, and stop selling missile and nuclear technology to unstable governments. Secretary of State Warren Christopher tried to raise the issue of human rights during his only trip to Beijing, but was scolded by hard-line Chinese premier Li Peng. In total disregard of world opinion, the Chinese government continued systematically to jail citizens whose only crime was speaking out in favor of democratic reform. Ignoring international pleas, in November 1996 Beijing sentenced Wang Den, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, to eleven years in prison. Worse still, the Chinese secret police staged a “crackdown” in Tibet, arresting dissidents who dared to call for independence. Meanwhile, the Chinese politburo obdurately denied it had sold Pakistan ballistic missiles, in the face of CIA evidence that it had.
By the end of his first term, Clinton found himself in the untenable position of threatening trade sanctions against the Chinese for intellectual property piracy—such as bootlegging Holly wood movies or music CDs—while simultaneously promoting most-favored-nation trading status. In an attempt to bridge the widening gulf between Washington and Beijing, Anthony Lake journeyed to China in September 1996 to initiate a “new understanding” between the two great powers. Clinton himself headed to the Pacific Rim soon after, his first foreign trip following his November 1996 reelection. He met with Chinese president Jiang Zemin in Manila to discuss the recent freezing of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, expanding trade, and finding innovative ways to keep the “new understanding” on track. The meeting yielded no breakthroughs: “Only in the precarious relationship between the United States and China could a meeting that resolves no differences be termed a success by both sides,” was a New York Times editorial conclusion about the November 1996 meeting.
While the Clinton administration muddled its way through the post-Cold War seas, the Republicans took over both houses of Congress in January 1995. Conservative and moderate Republicans, regardless of personal conviction, stuck to their partisan positions for most of the next two years and followed Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA). The shell-shocked minority Democrats, by necessity, rallied around President Clinton. To counter GOP claims that Clinton’s foreign policy record was a disaster, the administration had been trying a new tack: the President as peacemaker. If President Theodore Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Russo-Japanese War, Clinton perhaps could do the same by making peace in Bosnia, Haiti, Northern Ireland, or the Middle East.
Washington had traditionally taken the lead in trying to achieve peace in the Middle East ever since hostilities first erupted in 1948. But when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met in Oslo in December 1993 to iron out political differences, Clinton was on the sidelines. The outcome of Oslo, an Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, stipulated the removal of some Israeli troops from Arab towns in the occupied West Bank and granted the Palestinian Authority self-rule by mid-1996. Although the two Middle East leaders signed the declaration at an elaborate White House ceremony on September 13, 1993, the President was more approving spectator than active participant. Compared to the hands-on role Jimmy Carter had played in the Camp David Accords, Clinton was, at best, a genial facilitator, as evidenced by photos of the famous Arafat-Rabin handshake for peace, which showed a smiling Clinton hovering behind the two leaders.
Clinton did try to help Jordan and Israel overcome their differences, clearing the way for the signing of a formal peace treaty in October 1994. He also opened a new dimension of the peace process by organizing economic summits with Middle East leaders at Casablanca, Amman, and Cairo—encouraging and important new steps toward normalizing relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Warren Christopher visited Damascus more than twenty times, hoping to forge a peace treaty between Syria and Israel but instead catching criticism in the press for his empty-handed efforts. Yet there were diplomatic successes, including securing a written agreement between Israel and Syria to end Hezbollah attacks on Israel and provide security to civilians on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border. When Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, Clinton himself led a U.S. delegation to Tel Aviv as an unambiguous show of American support, both for Israel and the peace process. “Those who practice terror must not succeed,” Clinton announced on a visit to Israel a few months after Rabin’s death. “We must root them out, and we will not let them kill the peace.”
On the military front, Clinton remained vigilant in dealing with the Middle East’s wild card, Saddam Hussein. In October 1994, the administration dispatched a full reserve of U.S. planes, ships, and ground troops in response to renewed Iraqi military activity at the Kuwait border. Clinton deployed nearly 30,000 U.S. troops to the Gulf during this crisis in the name of preserving peace in the region. Clinton made it clear in his famous “dual containment” speech to the World Jewish Congress in April 1995 that he was not going to let either Teheran or Baghdad destabilize the Middle East: “[Iran and Iraq] harbor terrorists within their borders. They establish and support terrorist base camps in other lands. They hunger for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Every day, they put innocent civilians in danger and stir up discord among nations. Our policy toward them is simple: They must be contained.”
In Northern Ireland, the Clinton administration played a new and vital role in advancing the peace process by insisting that Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republic Army (IRA), had a rightful place at the bargaining table to determine the future of Ulster. The U.S. State Department issued Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams an American visa in 1994. The British immediately objected, insisting that Adams was a terrorist. Unmoved by British complaints, Clinton, with domestic political considerations in mind, invited Adams to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995. The visit allowed Adams to travel and raise support in the United States for his cause. The President’s initiative led directly to the IRA declaring a unilateral cease-fire in late 1995. Soon thereafter, Clinton visited Belfast and was accorded a euphoric public welcome when he promised U.S. support if the Irish antagonists renounced violence and participated in the peace process. “Only the United States could form a bridge to bring the isolated Republican [IRA] leaders into the mainstream,” Irish journalist Conor O’Cleary wrote in Daring Diplomacy: Clinton’s Secret Search for Peace in Ireland.
President Clinton sent former Senator George Mitchell as his personal representative to the negotiations, and a truce between the British government, the Ulster Defense Association, and the IRA was declared. That cease-fire was broken in April 1996 by renewed IRA bombings in London. Negotiations for a final political solution to the decades-old Northern Ireland dispute began anew in September 1996, with Mitchell again representing the United States. Despite the administration’s good intentions, a permanent peace in Northern Ireland proved elusive.
Clinton had better luck in Haiti. After the public relations defeat the administration suffered in October 1993, increased pressure was put on Haiti’s military rulers, led by the brutal General Raoul Cedras. Unable to persuade the military to restore the exiled Aristide to power, the U.S. government imposed economic sanctions. When sanctions failed to budge the junta’s leaders, Clinton ordered a military invasion of the island in September 1994. The invasion was averted in last-minute negotiations. Clinton’s representatives (former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and retired General Colin Powell) managed to convince Cedras of the merits of stepping down. If Carter was lionized for his “peace intervention,” the Clinton administration was criticized for farming out its foreign policy. To some foreign affairs analysts it also seemed misguided for the United States to be getting mired in such a backwater nation as Haiti. But Clinton weathered the attacks and implemented a policy that proved effective.
Clinton deployed more than 20,000 U.S. troops to Haiti, part of a multinational force (MNF) made up of contingents from thirty nations, to rid the island nation of the military regime and restore the democratically elected Aristide to power. The MNF dismantled the brutal FAd’H (the army of the de facto regime) and F-RAPH (the right-wing paramilitary organization) quickly, making the streets of Port-au-Prince safe in a matter of months. The U.S. government also oversaw the establishment of a new national police academy and trained a new Haitian national police force. More impressive, the United States and the United Nations assisted the Haitian government in conducting three rounds of national elections, culminating in the internationally monitored free and fair election of President René Preval in December 1995, succeeding President Aristide. This was the first democratic transition of power from one president to another in Haiti’s history. On March 31, 1995, the thirty-nation multinational force pulled out of Haiti, turning peacekeeping over to the UN In a transition ceremony in Port-au-Prince, Clinton could honestly boast that the “mission has been accomplished on schedule” and with “remarkable success.”
Another milestone on Clinton’s road to peace was a historic moment in arms reduction. On September 25, 1996, the President addressed the UN General Assembly and announced that he would sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Holding the same pen his boyhood hero, President John F. Kennedy, had used to sign a partial test-ban treaty in 1963, he joined the leaders of fifty other nations in signing what he called “the longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history.” If implemented, the CTBT would thwart the development of new generations of dangerous weapons, encourage further reductions in nuclear weapons stockpiles, and spare the environment the shock of further underground nuclear blasts.
It was a post-Cold War moment to savor. After having conducted more than 20,000 nuclear tests on flyspeck Pacific islands and in underground Mojave Desert bunkers, the U.S. government was leading the international effort to ban all nuclear explosions. “This week, in this place, we take a giant step forward,” Clinton told the General Assembly as the foreign ministers of the other four acknowledged nuclear powers—Qian Qichen of China, Herve de Charette of France, Yevgeni Primakov of Russia, and Malcolm Rifkind of Great Britain—followed the American’s lead and signed the highly publicized treaty. For antinuclear groups Clinton’s giant step forward toward a nuclear-free world was cause for celebration: Church bells tolled, rallies were held, and prayers of thanks were uttered the world over. But like many other commendable Clinton administration diplomatic initiatives, once the confetti settled, the herculean task of implementation remained.
In this case the administration foundered by failing to persuade India, which first began testing nuclear weapons in 1974, to stop. India’s representative at the UN, Prakash Shah, was adamant: Only if all existing nuclear weapons were abolished would his country adhere to the test ban, a proposition the United States, for obvious political and military reasons, could not possibly accept. Without India’s signature, the treaty was a technical nullity, a semantically absurd Partial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that was, critics claimed, little more than a photo-op conveniently orchestrated six weeks before the U.S. presidential election. For the treaty to achieve its objective, Clinton would have to put great economic and political pressure on New Delhi, which was unlikely in an atmosphere in which the Indian government was embracing economic protectionism while it decided whether or not to align itself with the West.
But by far the most serious foreign policy problem Clinton inherited in 1992 was the Balkans. The former Yugoslavia had disintegrated into ethnic battle zones over which three warring factions lay claim: Serbs (Eastern Orthodox), Croatians (Catholic), and Bosnians (Muslim). Sarajevo, which had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, was now a killing field. During-the Tito era, Yugoslavia had managed to submerge its ethnic and religious animosities, but once the hatred was unleashed, the world was shocked by reports of ethnic cleansing, genocidal acts by Serb troops on Bosnia’s civilian population, arid atrocities committed by Serbian forces against Bosnians held in detention camps.
Because the slaughter was extensively covered by television, the domestic political debate over what role Washington should play in ending the war threatened to become a foreign policy crisis for the Clinton administration. While Congressional Republicans strongly favored providing arms to the Bosnian Muslims so they could better defend themselves against the Serbs, Clinton steadfastly supported the ineffective multinational UN peacekeeping efforts. While the UN made some strides—the sustained artillery shelling of Sarajevo’s civilian population was sporadically halted and a war crimes tribunal was established—the war continued.
A turning point in the Bosnian war occurred on February 5, 1994, when sixty-eight civilians in Sarajevo died in a mortar attack. This time the Clinton administration called on NATO to protect Bosnian Muslim “safe havens.” By April NATO jets were hitting Serb ground targets at Gorazde. Then a Bosnian-Croatian peace agreement was signed, under U.S. prodding, ending the “war within a war” and suspending the second front. But a genuine and lasting ceasefire proved elusive despite the efforts of the UN, the U.S., the European Union, and NATO. Clinton found himself buffeted between the need to maintain NATO and UN credibility, and an unwillingness to commit U.S. troops. In July 1995 the so-called Bosnian Muslim “safe havens” of Srebrenica and Zepa fell—thousands of Muslim civilians were killed. Washington’s promise to protect the Bosnian Muslims, not to mention the credibility of NATO, was severely tarnished by the Serbian capture of these towns. Soon after the Croatians, with Bosnian army support, launched a lightning offensive against Bosnian Serbs. In August, NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb air defenses began in earnest, following a Bosnian Serb attack on Sarajevo. This exertion of NATO military might brought the rivals to the negotiation table. On October 5, a Bosnian cease-fire was announced and hopes of a lasting peace swept the world.
Relying heavily on special envoy and Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, Clinton immediately called for a peace summit to be held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, far from war-ravaged Bosnia. With Slobodan Milošević representing the Bosnian Serbs and Alija Izetbegović serving as the voice of both the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croatians, Holbrooke, a tenacious mediator, brokered a peaceful settlement, believing that someday Dayton would become synonymous with Camp David as diplomatic shorthand for successful conflict resolution. The Dayton peace agreement had solved territorial differences and constitutional questions, while forcing everybody involved to lay down their armaments.
The tenets of the agreement reached at Dayton on November 21 were officially memorialized in the Paris Peace Accord signed December 14 by the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. That same month Clinton, in the face of staunch opposition, committed American troops to Bosnia as part of a NATO-led multinational force, in an effort to prevent further bloodshed and support the new Dayton peace agreement. Sending in U.S. troops, Clinton told the nation in a televised address, would signal to other countries that America was not shirking its responsibilities as the world’s most powerful nation. Clinton went forward with the deployment, and 20,000 U.S. troops joined 40,000 troops from other NATO and Partnership for Peace countries. The U.S. Congress never officially supported the President’s decision to deploy U.S. troops, but it did not try to block it.
From the start the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) did an exceptional job of maintaining the ceasefire, stopping the widespread killing of civilians, and restoring security to Sarajevo, where people could once again walk the streets in safety. “We stood for peace in Bosnia,” Clinton noted in his January 23, 1996, State of the Union address. “Remember the skeletal prisoners, the mass graves, the campaign to rape and torture, the endless lines of refugees, the threat of a spreading war. All these threats, all these horrors have now begun to give way to a promise of peace.” Only a few months after the deployment of troops, Clinton deemed the NATO Bosnia mission “a terrific success.” Morton I. Abramowitz, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, jumped on Clinton for gloating: “It’s wrong to say something is a success when there was massive ethnic cleansing and two million people [were] displaced.” Both Clinton and Abramowitz were right: The slowness in Western response in Bosnia was shameful, but the cease-fire had taken hold. Six months after the deployment, with only a few casualties, the Dayton accords had, at least temporarily, brought to a halt the worst fighting in Europe since World War II.
To the surprise of many, NATO was proving to have a viable role in the post-Cold War world. After the Berlin Wall fell, many analysts assumed that with no Soviet threat NATO itself would disintegrate. After all, logic dictated that for a military alliance to exist, it had to have enemies. But the Bosnian NATO mission proved to be a model for cooperative deployments in the burgeoning catchall of “operations other than war.” NATO’s credibility was enhanced by its performance in Bosnia, and the transatlantic link was suddenly touted as more important than ever. Even France, which had withdrawn from NATO’s military structure nearly three decades before, announced that its defense minister would once again join NATO’s military committee. Many countries in Europe were anxious to huddle under NATO’s security umbrella, even if the alliance had no clear-cut enemy.
With his top three State Department advisers—Richard Holbrooke, Strobe Talbot, and Warren Christopher—strongly behind it, Clinton viewed NATO enlargement as a means toward the larger objective of European integration. If Ronald Reagan was associated with ending the Cold War and George Bush with German reunification, Bill Clinton saw himself as having the potential for leaving a lasting legacy as the President who presided over a united Europe. At the Brussels NATO summit in January 1994, President Clinton first put forth his proposal to “enlarge” the transatlantic military alliance to include the new free-market democracies emerging in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Encouraged by the United States’ lead, the leaders of the NATO countries agreed in principle to a process of NATO enlargement that would, as Clinton put it, “reach to democratic states to our east as part of an evolutionary process.”
Clinton also led the way toward creating the alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) in 1994, a commitment by NATO’s members to an orderly process of enlargement that would admit new members while modernizing and strengthening the organization. “Partnership will serve one of the most important goals in our enlargement strategy,” Lake noted, “building a stable environment in which the new democracies and free markets of Eastern and Central Europe and the former U.S.S.R. can flourish.” In its early stages the Partnership for Peace proved successful: In Bosnia, for example, soldiers from more than a dozen “partner” states joined with U.S. and NATO troops, and Hungary actually became the largest staging ground for American troops serving in Bosnia. “PFP is not just ‘defense by other means’ but ‘democracy by other means,’ ” wrote Secretary of Defense William Perry in the November-December 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs, “and it is helping turn George Marshall’s dream of a democratic and unified Europe into a reality.”
Clinton made an important speech on NATO enlargement on October 22, 1996, in Detroit. He called for admitting the first of the former Warsaw Pact nations in 1999, a year that would mark NATO’s fiftieth anniversary as well as the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “If we fail to seize this historic opportunity to build a new NATO—if we allow the Iron Curtain to be replaced by a veil of influence—we will pay a higher price later,” the President asserted. (Although Clinton did not identify the nations to be admitted, nor would he until July 1997, it was widely assumed that the first round would include Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland.) He went on to urge Russia to reconsider its opposition to NATO expansion on the grounds that it would “advance the security of everyone.”
The Republicans tried to score some political points from the Detroit speech, delivered, as it was, in the midst of the 1996 presidential campaign. His opponent, Bob Dole, cited it as evidence of Clinton’s “election-year conversion” to NATO enlargement. Questioning Clinton’s bona fides, Dole charged that Clinton had “been dragging his feet since 1993,” and during one of the nationwide campaign debates accused the President of pursuing a “photo-op foreign policy.” For all Dole’s criticism, there was no substantive difference over NATO enlargement between the two candidates, according to European analysts: “Republicans are trying to score points by saying Clinton’s not moving fast enough, but from the European perspective, it’s been the Americans pushing this idea from the start,” noted Philip Gordon, a senior analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. He pointed out that it was Clinton who had announced in January 1994 that it was not a question of whether NATO would enlarge, but ofwhen. In the end, the lack of a sharp difference over NATO’s future rendered it a nonissue in the 1996 campaign.
There may have been a general consensus in the United States and Europe for NATO enlargement, but, not surprisingly, Moscow fretted, arguing that since the military alliance was a hostile Cold War creation, the ultimate post-Cold War aim of an expanded NATO was to isolate Russia from the West. Although resigned to the fact that the first round of NATO enlargement would occur, Moscow became intent on making sure that there was no second round. It remained to be seen how fully Moscow trusted Clinton’s assertion in the Detroit speech that “NATO enlargement is not directed against anyone. I know that some in Russia still look at NATO through a Cold War prism, but I ask them to look again. We are building a new NATO just as they are building a new Russia.”
If Republicans were not bestowing passing grades to the Clinton administration as the 1996 presidential campaign hit full stride, attention turned to the voters’ assessment. A New York Times/CBS poll taken during the home stretch of the campaign found that Clinton’s foreign policy approval rating was a solid 53 percent. The Times’s political analyst, R. W. Apple, Jr., concluded that Clinton had clearly “escaped any significant damage from crises overseas.” Apple went further, arguing that the polls revealed how little foreign policy had to do with Bill Clinton’s reelection, because the voters were focused on the economy, as they had been in 1992. If the voters failed to make the connection between foreign policy and domestic policy, Apple should have. From the start, Clinton viewed domestic renewal as linked to foreign policy, especially from foreign trade issues. From 1993 to 1996 more than a million new export-related jobs were created and the strength of the dollar increased, largely because of trade policy. In his 1997 farewell address, passing the torch to his successor Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State Warren Christopher would boast: “Thanks to over 200 new market agreements we have created 1.6 million American jobs.” One of Christopher’s predecessors, John Foster Dulles, had often been accused of “pactomania” for engineering so many security treaties; the Clinton administration was becoming the “pactomaniacs” of free trade.
Republicans tried to shift the campaign debate from Clinton’s obviously successful trade policy to what they saw as deficiencies in the military and security aspects of Clinton’s foreign policy. They pointed to the President’s failure to revitalize the national missile defense program and his sending U.S. soldiers to fight for the UN flag. They also argued that he was too weak with Russia and too slow on NATO enlargement. Worst of all, he had no grand design. Republican political strategists William Kristol and Robert Kagan attacked Clinton’s enlargement strategy in the July-August 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs. In an elegiac burst of romantic militarism, they called for a “heroic” foreign policy based on “elevated patriotism” that “educate[s]” the citizenry “about the virtues of militarism” and shuns “cowardice and dishonor” in favor of “destroy[ing] many of the world’s monsters.” Other Republicans would also fault the Clinton administration for failing to develop a grand design, although in less florid terms. “My biggest criticism is that this administration lacks a conceptual framework to shape the world going into the next century and [to] explain what threatens that vision,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) complained about Clinton during the 1996 election campaign. “Without that global strategy, we keep getting ourselves involved in peripheral matters such as Northern Ireland and Haiti.”
Clinton’s foreign policy also received flak from the Democratic side. Proponents of the UN faulted him for humiliating the organization by not spearheading the drive to pay America’s bills and scapegoating UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali over Somalia and Bosnia. “Instead of defending the UN as the most logical instrument for peaceful settlement of Third World crisis in a chaotic post-Cold War world,” Los Angeles Times UN correspondent Stanley Meisler griped, “the Clinton administration has chosen to berate the organization as unwise (in Somalia), cowardly (in Bosnia), and inept (in its bureaucracy).” Blaming the administration for allowing the UN to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, UN advocates chastised Clinton for allowing FDR’s world organization to become another unempowered League of Nations.
Clinton was also denounced by the left for his indifference to the global environment. Liberals were hard-pressed to understand how a president who professed concern with peace, mediation, nuclear arms reduction, abolition of chemical weapons, and the universal removal of land mines virtually abandoned any leadership role in developing global environmental policies. Clinton might have talked the talk at a 1995 Earth Day rally in Maryland—“Our natural security must be seen as a part of our national security”—but he consistently failed to walk the walk. Why a country as powerful as the United States did not take the lead in curbing the world’s pollution was deemed by global environmentalists as unconscionable. Vice-President Al Gore, in his 1992 bestseller Earth in the Balance, sounded the environmental alarm bells loud and clear. But once in office, Clinton-Gore buckled under, partially over political concerns of being labeled “Green.” With powerful corporations lobbying against both domestic and international environmental regulations, the administration was silent, particularly because of its own guiding principle of economic enlargement. Without its own environmental moral compass, the administration was scarcely in a position to move America’s corporate citizens toward becoming responsible global citizens, especially when the compass readings were distorted by the lodestone of a domestic and foreign policy of economic growth über alles.
Critics on both sides dismissed Clinton as an amateur juggler when it came to foreign policy, and they were half right. While Clinton got off to a rocky start, he eventually developed into an able practitioner of Band-Aid diplomacy, demonstrating the flexibility necessary to deal with such troubled areas as Haiti, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, North Korea, and the Taiwan Straits. At least one observer regarded what many analysts saw as a major flaw in Clinton’s foreign policy, the lack of strategic vision, as a major strength: “U.S. foreign policy has been increasingly successfully precisely because Bill Clinton has refused to embrace chimerical visions,” Jacob Heilbrun observed in a November 1996 New Republic . “As a result, he has skillfully piloted the U.S. through a sea of new world disorder.”
Whatever the current world hot spot, free trade remained the core of Clinton’s foreign policy, the heart of enlargement. When Clinton went to Madrid in December 1995 to create a new transatlantic agenda with European Union leaders, he was merely continuing a half century of U.S. efforts to economically integrate North America and Western Europe. While Reagan was chiefly responsible for engineering the trade pact with Canada and Bush brought Mexico into the NAFTA framework, it was Clinton who most fully realized that in the post-Cold War world democracy could be built through free trade as well as through ballot boxes. “The elegance of the Clinton strategy was that the Pacific, the European, and Western Hemisphere blocs should all have one thing in common: Clinton’s America was locking itself steadily into the heart of each one,” Martin Walker observed.
Clinton emphasized enlargement over gunboat diplomacy, preferring to help American industry flourish abroad over dispatching Marines to quell civil unrest in a nation of marginal consequence to U.S. interests. “With our help, the forces of reform in Europe’s newly free nations have laid the foundations of democracy,” Clinton claimed. “We’ve helped them to develop successful market economies, and now are moving from aid to trade and investment.” New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman captured the heart of Clinton’s enlargement doctrine on December 8, 1996: “No two countries that both have a Mc-Donald’s have ever fought a war against each other.” In the Clinton worldview, it is GATT, NAFTA, APEC, the Summit of the Americas, the World Trade Organization, and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas that will forward Washington’s global agenda far into the next century while promoting domestic renewal.
Some critics of Clinton foreign policy strategy saw his emphasis on economics as narrow, short-term and superficial. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger complained that there was little “hard strategic thinking about how we want to see the world in the first part of the next century,” implying that the President could not treat economic growth in a vacuum, as if it existed in a different realm than political and military considerations. These critics might say of the Clinton mind-set what Dean Acheson said of John Foster Dulles, his fierce ideological opponent—he was “a single-minded concentrator.”
Clinton was not without a defense to such charges. Martin Walker argued that by adopting the strategy of democratic enlargement Clinton had become the leading architect of a new world order, the free-trade leader who “abandoned the militarized slogans of the past to the commercial realities of the future.” With U.S. defense spending still at 235 billion annually, the United States clearly was heading into the next millennium as both the world’s largest military and economic power. And as America prepared for the next millenium, democracy was sweeping the globe. In 1974 only thirty-nine countries—one in four of the world’s independent countries—were democratic. By the end of Clinton’s first term, 117 countries—nearly two of every four independent nations—held democratic elections to choose their leaders.
Of course, all was not smooth sailing on the Clinton foreign policy front. With China ignoring Clinton’s economic and human rights demands, U.S. troops still stationed in Bosnia, environmental degredation rampant, and international terrorism always a threat, the world was still an unstable place no matter how many McDonald’s Golden Arches dotted the planet. As Clinton began his second term, no one would claim that he had wrought a global utopia of free-market democracies, but he had made genuine progress.