Sad Foreign Policy Legacy
Albright, as Agence
France-Presse recently reported, closed out her final mission
abroad in style. The comfortable converted Boeing 757 used by the
Secretary of State for trips abroad, on which la Albright has logged
almost a million miles in four years, was stocked with fine champagne
and French cheeses for the final Albright trip from Europe
another one of those foreign-minister shindigs to the United
showed off a gift from French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, a
rare 1839 edition of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.
If only one might hope that she would read it with even a modicum
of comprehension. But that's unlikely. De Tocqueville celebrated
(although hardly with blinkered eyes) a hardy frontier democracy
that featured self-reliance and placed high value on the notion
of minding one's own business unless one's neighbor was really in
trouble or asked for help. Madame Albright represents a micromanaging
empire of the type de Tocqueville feared might develop in America,
and one that simply can't help sticking its nose into other peoples'
business, not just at home but all around the world.
the maintenance and development of what is coming to resemble a
worldwide nanny state is likely to be Bill Clinton's legacy in foreign
affairs. He had an unparalleled opportunity, coming into office
after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of communism as
an imperial superpower, to develop policies that would increase
American prosperity at home and respect around the world. Instead,
he continued and expanded the policies of his predecessors. Thus
prosperity is in peril and respect almost nonexistent although
more than a few governments are still willing to have Uncle Sam's
taxpayers and military personnel pay the price and bear the burdens.
Bill Clinton assumed office a few people hoped that as a member
of the generation that opposed the undeclared Vietnam war indeed
personally protested against it he might be inclined to rein in
the modern tendency of the Imperial Presidency to involve U.S. military
forces overseas without bothering to consult Congress, let alone
ask it to declare war. Any such hopes were to be bitterly disappointed.
As president, Mr. Clinton took unjustified military intervention
to new heights or new depths.
the most significant foreign-policy legacy of the Clinton era will
be the demolition of even the pretense that the United States involves
itself in wars only to deter aggression or as a defensive move.
Clinton US presidents were generally careful to cast US military
action as defensive in nature. Sometimes the protestations were
shaky, as with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that, on closer examination,
turned out to be a pretext rather than a response to a clear-cut
Caribbean leaders who ostensibly begged for American intervention
during the Reagan years sounded coached. But at least there was
appearance of a plea for help from a foreign country in peril.
Clinton, American presidents by and large made an effort to appear
to be responding to aggression rather than initiating it. In part
this was because most Americans like to think their country is a
defender of freedom and a responder to aggression rather than an
imperialist aggressor, and was designed to hornswoggle the people.
But at least most presidents tried to keep up appearances.
Clinton abandoned almost all pretense to a defensive posture; indeed,
some of his foreign attacks could easily be interpreted as cynical
"wag the dog" gestures designed to deflect attention from
domestic or personal embarrassments.
DRUG WAR ON ASPIRIN
missile attacks on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and on targets
in Afghanistan in August 1998 were said to be linked to Saudi terrorist
Osama Bin laden, who was suspected of orchestrating bombings of
US embassies although it turned out the pharmaceutical factory was
not a chemical-weapons facility and it is almost certain that Clinton
knew this and ordered the attack anyway. Monica Lewinsky testified
before a grand jury that day.
Bill Clinton ordered the cruise missiles to fly. Not only did he
hit a pharmaceutical factory that was a major source of medical
supplies for the impoverished country of Sudan, he didn't hit anything
resembling an Osama Bin Laden terrorist encampment in Afghanistan.
So the attacks were either informed by incredibly incompetent intelligence
or were incredibly cynical in nature or both.
pretense of defensiveness was scuttled with the December 1998 missile
attacks on Iraq. As it became obvious that the House was going to
go through with impeachment, the president seized on the fact that
Saddam Hussein had kicked UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq two
months earlier to launch "Operation Desert Fox," several
days of airstrikes against Iraq. In November Clinton had UN support
for such strikes, but by December he had none; he did it anyway.
key factor is that although Saddam was undoubtedly intransigent
with UN inspectors, there was no evidence none that he had attacked
another country or had any near-term intention of doing so, as was
at least the case after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. The airstrikes
amounted to naked aggression against a country that, while undoubtedly
led by a murderous tyrant, had not invaded or threatened its neighbors.
1999 air war against Kosovo and Serbia followed the same pattern.
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic is a villain, but when Clinton
pushed NATO to launch an air war against him he had not invaded
or threatened to invade any foreign country. He was putting down
a rebellion in Kosovo rather brutally (though not as brutally as
NATO propaganda insisted), but Kosovo was recognized by every member
of the vaunted "international community" as a province
of Yugoslavia. That made the NATO war against Serbia an undeclared
(of course) war of aggression.
Clinton's interpretation of executive warmaking authority was positively
Nixonian in its audacity. He also waged war without congressional
approval in Haiti and Bosnia. He insisted that the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty and the Kyoto global warming treaty were in effect
although the Senate declined to ratify either.
Pilon of the Cato Institute has edited a book called The
Rule of Law in the Wake of Clinton that details how these
and other activities that are not only beyond the scope of the US
Constitution but beyond the scope of existing statutory authority
have made a mockery of the very concept of the rule of law, a concept
that arguably is the essential underpinning of liberty and of civilization
OF THE SAME?
the next administration be more restrained in making war? Reading
some of the near-hysterical assessments of Colin Powell's policies
and doctrines from people like the New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan,
one is tempted to hope that he will be the neo-isolationist some
fear. But I'm skeptical. Powell is unlikely to be quite so eager
to indulge in "nation-building" or "humanitarian"
interventions as was the Clinton administration or as a Gore administration
would have been. But he and most of the Bushies see the United States
as an imperial power with essential global "responsibilities"
that must be met lest we flunk the test of world leadership.
Congress, therefore, move to take back its constitutional power
at least to have the final word when it comes to making war? (I'm
not so utopian as even to dream of more.) Unfortunately that's even
more doubtful than the prospect that peace in the Middle East will
break out next week.
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