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October 4, 1992
The 1992 CAMPAIGN -- Issues: Foreign Policy - Looking Abroad: Clinton and Foreign Policy/A special report.; Clinton's Foreign-Policy Agenda Reaches Across Broad Spectrum
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN,
Under the pressure of a Presidential campaign, Gov. Bill Clinton has been trying to outline his own unique foreign policy, while at the same time fending off criticism from the Bush White House that he is a closet dove masquerading as a hawk and that his experience in world affairs is limited to breakfast at the International House of Pancakes.
Although foreign policy has not been a big issue in this first campaign after the cold war, Mr. Clinton has laid out his internationalist vision in four speeches over the last year, knowing that he cannot pass the Commander in Chief test without appearing credible in this area.
The Clinton foreign policy is hard to summarize in a single phrase, but it is a blend of idealism and pragmatism, internationalism and protectionism, use of force and reliance on multinational institutions. Mr. Clinton's critics say it is all of these things, because he wants to be all things to all men and has not really made up his mind. He and his aides contend that after the cold war alot of the old divisions in foreign policy, which particularly plagued the Democratic Party, can be bridged and that this is what "Clintonism" is all about.
Indeed, Mr. Clinton's team of foreign policy advisers is an ideological peacock made up of every wing of the Democratic Party. It is dominated by old hands from the faction of the Carter Administration most averse to using force abroad, but there is also a heavy representation of members of Congress like Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and Representative Les Aspin of Wisconsin who are associated with the more conservative wing of the party, as well as neo-conservative Reagan Democrats and a new generation of foreign-policy thinkers who might be called "Clintonites."
In fact, Mr. Clinton has embraced so many advisers that he relies on no single elder statesman and no single adviser stands out as first among equals. The question of whom he might appoint as Secretary of State or national security adviser is a mystery, even to his closest aides. Mr. Clinton rebuffed repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.
At the core of Mr. Clinton's thinking is the contention that with the cold war over, American foreign policy needs a whole new focus. For him, that begins with revitalizing the American economy. Without doing that, he argues, the next President will have no chips with which to play abroad and will have no mandate from the American people for engagement abroad, because the public will be obsessed with domestic affairs.
"In this new era our first foreign priority and our domestic priority are one and the same: reviving our economy," he said in a recent speech in Los Angeles. "This has been the Administration's most glaring foreign policy failure. An anemic, debt-laden economy undermines our diplomacy, makes it harder for us to secure favorable trade agreements and compromises our ability to finance essential military actions.
"I will elevate economics in foreign policy, create an Economic Security Council, similar to the National Security Council, and change the State Department's culture so that economics is no longer a poor cousin to old-school diplomacy."
Though he emphasizes the importance of economics in his foreign policy, Mr. Clinton up to now has avoided coming out either for or against the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, for fear of alienating union voters. Aides say he has finally decided to support the trade accord, but wants to couple any endorsement with a proposal for legislation that will retrain American workers who lose jobs. Some Call It Waffling
"Waffling is too kind to describe his position" on the agreement, said Peter Rodman, a former member of the Bush National Security Council.
Mr. Clinton has argued that he will also diverge from the Bush Administration in two other fundamental areas. One is the question of values, where he says he would assign a much greater weight than Mr. Bush to promoting democracy abroad, rather than settling for stability based on authoritarian governments that repress human rights. In that vein, for instance, he has said he would support the use of selective trade sanctions against China to get that country to ease its repression of human rights.
As Mr. Clinton put it in a speech in Milwaukee this week, "I believe our nation has a higher purpose than to coddle dictators and stand aside from the global movement toward democracy." Mr. Bush's aides counter that the President helped to foster the rise of democratic governments from Nicaragua to Poland, and that extrapolating from his less-than-successful China case is wildly unfair.
Mr. Clinton also declared, long before the Bush Administration was ready to consider military action, that the United States should be prepared to join with a multinational coalition to "shoot its way into" the Sarajevo airport to make it safe for a relief airlift if necessary. He said the United States should "take the lead in seeking U.N. Security Council authorization for air strikes against those who are attacking the relief effort." Bigger Saving on Arms
The second area where he says he would differ from the Bush Administration is military strategy. Mr. Clinton has proposed a five-year plan that would reorganize American forces in a way that he contends would save $60 billion more than the Bush plan would through 1997. He would shift money away from the full-scale, space-based "Star Wars" program and focus on a more limited, ground-based anti-missile plan. And he would reduce the forces on the old Soviet front in Europe to 100,000 troops from 150,000, emphasizing instead smaller, more mobile forces to meet regional threats elsewhere.
But would Mr. Clinton, once in office, act on these stated views?
"It is impossible to predict," said Michael R. Beschloss, a historian of American foreign policy. "With any political leader, and especially a President, what they do in foreign policy is made up of two things: one is past experience and general philosophy, and the other is the pressure of events. In the case of Clinton, the past experience is severely limited. As far as the press of events, with the cold war now over, our ability to predict the foreign policy challenges of the next President are as unpredictable as at any time in 50 years."
As a man who has spent his entire career in state government in Arkansas, Mr. Clinton has no foreign policy record to run on or be judged against. Therefore, critics say, he has had the luxury of defining himself purely through a series of speeches. None of his ideas have had to meet the test of the real world.
For instance, while Mr. Clinton has supported the use of force to bring aid to Bosnia under United Nations supervision, what would he do if the United Nations or the allies were not ready to cooperate? Would he go it alone? What if American troops got shot at or bogged down in Sarajevo?
Mr. Clinton now says he supported the use of force against Iraq in the Persian Gulf war. But in the weeks before Congress was scheduled to vote on a use of force resolution in January 1991, a group of hawkish Democrats approached Mr. Clinton about signing a full-page ad that would run in various newspapers around the country urging Congress to back the President. Mr. Clinton told them that he would consider it and get back to them. He never did.
Later, after the vote, Mr. Clinton said: "I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made." The statement does not seem to indicate with any certainty how he would have acted in the Oval Office.
"Some of the things that he is saying are the right things, but let's look at the record," Mr. Rodman said. "The gulf war was the biggest national security issue in a decade and he totally muffed it. What it tells you is that there is a lot of the standard liberal weakness underneath all the posturing about being in the center of his party." His Instincts
Background Clues To Future Policies
In some ways, the better question to ask is not what is in Mr. Clinton's speeches, but what sort of long-held instincts would he bring to the foreign policy task if elected?
By his own admission, Mr. Clinton is not a man who has thought as long and hard about the nation's imperial role, as he had about the challenges of welfare or health care reform. And his insecurity shows up in his speeches by the way he repeatedly invokes the names of others to make a point, as if his own word is not good enough. His speeches are laced with: "As Admiral William Crowe says" or "As Senator Sam Nunn says" or " As Senator Al Gore says."
Mr. Clinton's personal attitudes on foreign policy seem to be a combination of instinctive and acquired tastes. If World War II was the defining moment in the formation of George Bush's instincts on foreign policy, going through the Vietnam War while a student at Oxford University in England, was the parallel defining moment for Bill Clinton.
He rubbed shoulders at Oxford with students from all over the world and traveled extensively around Europe during vacations, and when he returned home from Oxford, he served as George McGovern's campaign director in Texas in 1972. These experiences, say friends, seem to have shaped him into what might best be called a sober internationalist.
As one old friend from the Oxford days put it: "His world view is shaped by Vietnam. Underneath the internationalism is a lot of caution. You don't want to get involved in foreign problems unless there is a direct American interest, or unless there is such a horror, like Nazi Germany, going on that it could easily begin to affect the rest of the world."
But Mr. Clinton is no starry-eyed moralist either, says Samuel Berger, his old Yale Law School classmate and now a foreign-policy adviser. He knows the history of the world is not the history of arms control. He grew up in the deep South, where it was never fashionable to see America as the source of all evil in the world. And, according to Mr. Berger, he never bought into the isolationist, Come-Home-America, shun-the-use-of-force ethos that came to symbolize McGovernism in subsequent years. Opposition to Vietnam War
"What brought us to the McGovern campaign was opposition to the Vietnam War -- period," Mr. Berger said.
Mr. Clinton's instinctive internationalist outlook seems to have been reinforced by his political experiences, in two ways. First, as a governor of a small state heavily dependent on foreign trade in both agriculture and manufactured products, he learned on the job that what happens inside nations is often much more important than what happens between nations. His foreign policy travels as Governor consisted of three trade missions to Japan, Taiwan and other East Asian nations, two to Western Europe and one to the Soviet Union.
Second, Mr. Clinton had the unpleasant experience of watching every Democratic Presidential candidate in his adult life, save for Mr. Carter, be defeated in national elections in large part because they were perceived to be unwilling to use force to confront the Soviets in various regions around the globe and because they were too willing to cut the military budget.
With his eye on the Presidency, Mr. Clinton, one aide said, calculated that to "pass the Commander in Chief threshold test" he had to make clear that he viewed the use of force as a normal part of foreign policy. As such, he gravitated to the more muscular foreign policy articulated by the Democratic Leadership Council, the group of moderate Democrats who banded together in 1985 to move their party back from the left to the center in all fields.
Which brings to mind another of Mr. Clinton's instincts that seem relevant to foreign policy: He is a skilled political animal, which can be an asset and a liability in a statesman. It could be a liability in that Mr. Clinton has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to try to be all things to all people, and to avoid clear-cut decisions that could alienate constituencies. Such waffling in foreign policy can be deadly, literally.
But as Franklin Roosevelt, another untested state governor who became a consummate player of the game of nations demonstrated, political skills are the greatest asset any President can bring to the job of foreign policy, which is primarily a matter of politics, deal making, consensus building and getting opposing factions all to buy into a single decision.
Will Marshall, one of the founders of the Democratic Leadership Council and a Clinton speech writer, asserts that the next President will have to spend more time than any in 50 years justifying foreign policy, fighting off isolationist instincts and persuading Congress to spend money on foreign endeavors, "and that is something for which Mr. Clinton will be very well suited." His Advisers
Former Opponents Narrow Differences
At a recent briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, a team of foreign policy advisers to the Clinton campaign answered questions from foreign reporters when a Panamanian journalist asked: "What would be the Carter -- excuse me, the Clinton Administration policy?"
Mr. Berger, who was moderating the panel, quickly responded to the reporter's slip, saying, "A very important correction!"
But also a very revealing slip, for many of the advisers to the Clinton campaign, both formal and informal, seem to be veterans of the dovish, Cyrus Vance wing of the Carter Administration, who have been out of office for 12 years. Mr. Berger, Anthony Lake, who headed the State Department Policy Planning staff for Mr. Carter, and Warren Christopher, who was Deputy Secretary of State for Mr. Carter, are among the most prominent.
Another important group, though, are the new generation of Democratic foreign-policy thinkers like Mr. Marshall and Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins University, as well as members of the Senate and the House, who found that as Democrats the only way to get foreign-policy experience in the last decade was by getting elected to Congress. Many Sources of Advice
Mr. Clinton consults regularly with Representative Aspin, who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and supported the use of force against Iraq, as well as two other Democratic hawks, Representative Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Stephen J. Solarz of Brooklyn. But he draws equally heavily on Senator Nunn, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who opposed the use of force and Representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana, who is slated to be the next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A fourth group, though is emerging: neo-conservative Reagan Democrats, a hawkish faction that split off from the party's liberal majority after Vietnam and remained split on issues from Nicaragua to detente with Moscow. This hawkish group, who were at odds with the Carterites and frozen out of that Administration, includes the likes of Richard Schifter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights in the Bush Administration, Josh Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute, and Penn Kemble, a senior associate at Freedom House, a human-rights group.
On July 21, Representative McCurdy organized a lunch between the Reagan Democrats and the Carterites to bury the hatchet once and for all. "It was an opportunity for people to begin to build bridges," Mr. McCurdy said. "People just reintroduced themselves." Producing Accommodations
Since then the neo-conservatives have been consulted on Mr. Clinton's foreign-policy speeches. The philosophical basis of the reconciliation, one of the neo-conservative advisers said, was that with the end of the cold war, the Carterites are now much more willing to contemplate the use of force, because there is no longer the risk that it will lead to a global confrontation, and the neo-conservatives are much more willing to pursue a human rights and pro-democracy agenda abroad, because they no longer fear it will destabilize allies needed to confront the Soviet Union.
"There is an agreement," said Mr. Lake, Mr. Clinton's longest-serving foreign affairs adviser. "American foreign policy now has to be based on being prepared to meet the likely military threats of the 90's, not fighting the wars of the 1970's; on promoting Democracy in practical ways, and on rebuilding our domestic economy to remain engaged abroad. If you sat in on some of our debates on Bosnia you would not have been able to determine who were once perceived as hawks and who were once perceived as doves."
But for how long? All of these different advisers can coexist around Mr. Clinton not only because philosophical differences have eased, but also because in the absence of any serious foreign-policy debate, Mr. Clinton has not really had to choose between them, or between their nuances of difference that remain just beneath the surface. A Clinton List?
The names most often mentioned for Mr. Clinton's Secretary of State have been Mr. Christopher and Mr. Hamilton, and more recently Senator Nunn and Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. But those close to the candidate insist that this list is a media invention. Mr. Berger said: "There is no list. I have never heard Clinton talk about it. Does he have some ideas? Possibly. Has he thought through fully who exactly he would want in these positions? I doubt it."
Some Democrats, and even Clinton advisers, fear that because he is insecure about his foreign-policy expertise, and because he intends to focus primarily on domestic affairs, Mr. Clinton will choose safe establishment types to run his State Department and National Security Council.
"My main concern about the Clinton foreign policy, is that while he is rightly confident about his abilities in domestic affairs, he seems less confident about foreign policy," said Michael J. Sandel, a political theorist at Harvard University. "There is a risk, therefore, that he will embrace the conventional wisdom in foreign policy of the old Democratic Party establishment."
This would be a mistake, Mr. Sandel said, because America's role in the world at the end of the cold war is badly in need of imaginative redefinition, and that is not usually the forte of the foreign-policy or diplomatic establishments.